One thing we've harped on a bit on these pages is that many of the GOP candidates who haven't been granted access to the debates are basically caught in a catch-22. The debate organizers typically require their participants to have a certain standing in "the polls." But in order for some of these candidates to receive the sort of attention that allows them to ascend in the polls, they need the exposure of a nationally televised debate.
This has led to all kinds of contention. Fred Karger, for example, put together a strong brief arguing for his inclusion in the recent Fox News debate, but Fox News didn't accept his argument, and so he was excluded. Meanwhile, Buddy Roemer and Thad McCotter wait for their first opportunity to meet the electorate, and Gary Johnson is looking for a way back to the dais.
(According to a press release from the Karger campaign, the Federal Election Commission has agreed to look into Karger's complaint: "The FEC considers it an official 'Matter Under Review,' and assigned Karger’s request for investigation an FEC case number -- MUR 6493." "MUR" for Murdoch, it seems.)
In the meantime, what's happened in the field of GOP candidates is that many of the candidates who were once considered "established" have seen their poll numbers drop perilously close to the Karger-Roemer-McCotter levels. But, as Dave Weigel reports, the organizers of the CNN debate have a unique way around that. Did you used to be kind of a big deal, according to some polls that were conducted way back when, selected at random? Then don't worry, we'll find room for you somehow. Per CNN:
– A person must have received an average of at least 2.00 percent in at least three national polls released between July 1 and July 31 that were conducted by the following: ABC, AP, Bloomberg, CBS, CNN, FOX, Gallup, Los Angeles Times, Marist, McClatchy, NBC, Newsweek, Pew, Quinnipiac, Reuters, USA Today and Time.
– A person must have received an average of at least 2.00% in at least three national polls released between August 1 and August 31 that were conducted by the following: ABC, AP, Bloomberg, CBS, CNN, FOX, Gallup, Los Angeles Times, Marist, McClatchy, NBC, Newsweek, Pew, Quinnipiac, Reuters, USA Today and Time.
Once again, we've got standards that help out certain candidates even though they don't really have a bearing on who can win the nomination. According to RealClearPolitics, which tracks all national polls, Jon Huntsman has only averaged 1.8 percent support in national polls in August. But if you take out the Public Policy Polling survey, and count the two CNN polls -- one of which, an outlier, had him at 4 percent -- boom, he's in. Santorum was only at 1.75 percent in July, in the poll list that CNN is using, and at 1.9 in August.
But if you hopscotch around all those polling organizations, there's a magic combination that keeps Santorum in the mix, despite the fact that his entire candidacy has devolved into waving paper towels around in some anti-gay performance art piece. In addition, this bizarre set of standards compelled CNN to invite Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin to the debate, for reasons that defy all understanding. (This decision by CNN is what caused a colleague of mine to ask me earlier today, "Wait, is Rudy Giuliani running for president now?" The answer to that is, "No, but he is not not-running hard enough.)
Weigel says Giuliani has declined the invitation, and no one's heard from Palin yet. If things stay true to to form, CNN will be apprised of Palin's decision to opt-out of the debate the moment the lights go up on the debate stage and she is not standing there.
If these debate organizers could be compelled to just tell the truth, I'm sure they'd simply say something like, "We just don't take Karger/Johnson/McCotter/Roemer's campaign seriously." That would probably raise the question, "Well, why are you taking Gingrich/Huntsman/Santorum's campaign seriously?" And the answer -- we have the debate organizers bound by the Golden Lasso of Truth now, remember? -- would essentially be, "Those dudes are part of the de facto Washington establishment."
It's too bad, because I think that including some of these other candidates -- who are now just as "long shot" as some of the participants, but can at least claim that they aren't trending in a downward direction -- could make for some compelling television. Karger would fight with Romney! Roemer would yell about everyone's Super PACs! McCotter would compete with Huntsman in the field of zen atmospherics and maybe occasionally say something nice about unions. But what can you say? The fix is way in.
(Memo to all of the aforementioned excluded candidates: the Speculatron is prepared to offer you the same deal we've offered Fred Karger. If you're on the outside looking in at these debates, send us your comments, answers, complaints and responses during the debate and we will put them in our Debate Liveblog.)
READ THE WHOLE THING:
CNN Debate: No Johnson, No Roemer, But We Invited Rudy and Palin! [Weigel @ Slate]