FoxNews is the main sponsor of the upcoming Iowa Republican presidential debate being held on August 11th in conjunction with the Ames straw poll. Going into the debate they laid out some basic rules, in conjunction with the Iowa Republican Party, for who could participate. Candidates had to be:
“1. Registered with the Federal Elections Commission as a presidential exploratory committee or presidential campaign
2. Meet all U.S. Constitutional requirements
3. Garnered at least an average of one percent in five national polls based on most recent polling leading up to the registration day.”
Pretty straightforward stuff. And based on these criteria I was one of many who assumed that New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson would be included in the debate. In the polls of declared candidates which have included him during the past month he has scored 1% or more and he obviously meets the other requirements.
Yet today the FoxNews website suggests that Johnson will not be included in the debate, saying:
“Johnson’s low poll numbers make him ineligible for next week’s Fox News debate in Iowa. He wasn’t allowed to participate in CNN’s New Hampshire debate either. The latest polls show him with less than 1 percent of voters.”
Yet, as was the case with the last New Hampshire debate, the only basis on which Johnson can reasonably be said to not meet these criteria is if you count him as failing to receive 1% or more in polls in which he was not actually included as an option, and in those polls results like “someone else” get 2% or more, suggesting that participants might have selected Johnson had they been given the option.
If you look at the actual polls taken during the month of July (there have been no polls in August) there were 9 major polls conducted and here is how Johnson fared:
PPP – Not Included
Rasmussen – Not Included
Pew – Not Included
Gallup – Not Included
CNN – 1%
Fox – 1%
ABC – Not Included
NBC – Not Included
Quinnipiac – Not Included
So in the only polls where he was included he received 1%, including in Fox’s own poll. But since only two polls asked about him it was impossible for him to have 5 qualifying polls. It’s also troubling that many of these polls included as yet undeclared candidates like Thadeus McCotter or Rick Perry but left Johnson out, despite the fact that he is actively fundraising and campaigning and has an established nationwide following.
It’s not unreasonable to conclude from the polls in which he was included and from polls in previous months that had Johnson actuallly been listed in the other 7 polls taken in July he would have scored 1% or more in at least 3 of them, thus meeting the requirement. But if people are not allowed to vote for him then he is being excluded based not on his popularity but on the decision of the pollsters not to include his name.
This, unfortunately, raises the question of motive. Why would a two term governor with a nationwide following who is better qualified than many of the oither candidates and was included in most of the polls just a couple of months ago, be left out of these critical polls when there is no indication that his support has declined. The only answer that I can think of is that Johnson’s particular brand of Republican politics, which could be characterized as moderately libertarian doesn’t fit the image of the Republican party which the media groups sponsoring the polls wants to see on display.
Johnson’s pragmatic views have the potential to be enormously appealing to independents and to crossover Democrats who are unhappy with the war on drugs and if he were to be the Republican nominee he might stand a much better chance of beating President Obama than other candidates who the media favors more. Johnson doesn’t fit the definition of a Republican candidate which the media wants to present. They want stark contrasts. They want their Republicans to be Bible-thumping, warmongering, homophobic, corporatist extremists, and Johnson is none of those things. He’s a sensible politician with good ideas who could launch the kind of radical renewal in the party you saw with Teddy Roosevelt in the early 1900s. He defies conventions and would return the GOP to a more traditional set of Republican values which would be much harder for Democrats and the media to campaign against.
I can’t swear that someone in the backroom of a bar in DC sat a group of pollsters down and told them “let’s bury Johnson by pretending he doesn’t exist.” But it sure looks like the only thing keeping him out of the debates and out of being able to compete on an equal footing with other candidates is someone’s decision not to give him a fighting chance by leaving him out of the polls.
As a Republican I find this situation outrageous. I want Republican voters to have the chance to hear the best and most diverse selection of candidates in our debates and to then get to vote on all of the contenders, not just a pre-selected group. What I certainly don’t want – and I hope other Republicans would feel the same way – is for pollsters and the media to decide which candidates I get to choose from and exclude some of them based on criteria which I never signed off on. Who runs the Republican party? I hope it’s the grassroots members and the people we elect to party offices. It certainly isn’t ABC, NBC or Gallup and we sure didn’t authorize them to pick our presidential candidate.