Carly Fiorina and the GOP’s debate-criteria mess (Updated)

Carly Fiorina's campaign is headed straight up, but that may not be enough to get her into this month's prime-time GOP debate. (AJC Photo / Hyosub Shin)

Carly Fiorina’s campaign is headed straight up, but that may not be enough to get her into this month’s prime-time GOP debate. (AJC Photo / Hyosub Shin)

UPDATE: Hours after I wrote this post, CNN relented and broadened its criteria to include those who are also in the top 10 of post-Aug. 6 polls. Hey, do I get results or what?

Kidding, of course. Anyway, this is probably as good a compromise as was possible. Like Fox’s change, it is more inclusive, which was probably the only way to make a change without pushing another candidate off stage and giving him a reason to raise a ruckus. But this raises a question: If CNN can admit it was wrong, why does it seem so hard for politicians to do?

***

ORIGINAL POST: This is one of the things people hate about politics.

Anyone paying attention to the GOP presidential primary could tell you that Carly Fiorina has worked her way into the top 10 of the field. Since her well-received performance in the “kids table” debate before the prime-time main event on Fox News last month, the former tech executive has basically tripled her share of the fragmented vote. She has been in the top 10 of at least 15 straight polls since the Aug. 6 debates, landing her in sixth place of the Huffington Post’s Pollster average and seventh place in the Real Clear Politics average.

In the scarcer polls of early primary/caucus states, the story is the same:

  • In Iowa, RCP has Fiorina in fifth place. Individual polls since Aug. 6 show her in third, seventh, fifth and tied for fifth (twice).
  • In New Hampshire, she’s in fourth place, with individual showings since Aug. 6 of third and fifth.
  • In South Carolina, she’s in ninth place — but in the only poll taken since the first debates, she was tied for fourth.

Then there are the non-numerical factors. Along with the also-surging Donald Trump and Ben Carson, she’s a candidate who’s never held elective office, in a year with a noticeably anti-establishment bent. She’s the only woman in the Republican field, in a year where Hillary Clinton remains the front-runner (albeit a shaky one) on the Democratic side. She strikes a tone somewhere between Trump’s “bombastic” and Carson’s “soft-to-the-point-of-inducing-sleep.”

And yet, as of today it looks like she’d be left off the main stage when CNN broadcasts the second debate in two weeks.

Like I said, this is one of the things people hate about politics.

CNN says its hands are tied: that because it previously set criteria that includes poll results from well before the Aug. 6 debate, federal law prohibits a change in criteria. (At least one Republican elections lawyer thinks CNN might be able to exclude the earlier polling data and still comply with the law.)

To some extent, I understand’s CNN’s damned if we do, damned if we don’t predicament. Then I remember why the situation is so damning.

Why do we have debates in the first place? So voters who haven’t been following the campaign closely can get a better look at the candidates. What tends to happen when they do that? They tend to change their minds, and poll results change accordingly.

Debates are inflection points in campaigns. They change trajectories. Sometimes those changes don’t last — there are other inflection points, too — and sometimes they happen at the top rather than toward the middle or bottom of the standings. But they do spark changes.

For CNN to have developed — and the Republican National Committee to have at least tacitly approved — debate criteria that included almost as much polling from before the Aug. 6 debates as after is for them to have ignored this basic fact of campaigns.

So we have people claiming to just be following the rules, when the rules are plainly stupid — and they’re the ones who wrote the rules in the first place.

Yeah, this is one of the things hate about politics.

Reader Comments 0

49 comments
Dusty2
Dusty2

I don' t know how Carly got into politics.  Was she tired of running a big company or what? Her presence in the field is of no interest to me.  Too many others with more credits.  We have tried the nouveau politicians and that has been a failure for almost 8 years.  

MANGLER
MANGLER

Part of me wishes that CNN could hire Megyn Kelly specifically to co-host their debate.  You know, for old time's sake.

CommonSenseisntCommon
CommonSenseisntCommon

This is also a sign of the times that there are way too many candidates in the field. Too much money being spread around or personal wealth funding campaigns. Sad to see it come to this point where you have to have multiple debates between the first tier and all second tier candidates.

TicTacs
TicTacs

CNN has no nads. If the format is like Faux, that's not a debate, just a BS session.  Get all of them up there ask them all the same questions and let them rebut the opposition.


That GOP woman has zero chance of being elected.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

Well, no matter how much Carly complained and the people lobbied, CNN held fast to the obvious lie that they couldn't change the rules.  Now Kyle weighs in and they crumble and admit they could have changed the rules all along.  Shows how powerful Kyle is and how dishonest CNN was.  Yeah, Kyle. 

M H Smith
M H Smith

The kids can hang around the  rules they are a changing it appears. The circus continues. 

Finn-McCool
Finn-McCool

Obama walked into a crap hole and look where we are coming out ahead now. Carly walked into a crap hole and look what she did with it -drove it further into debt, layoffs, and woe.


You want Donald Trump, America, here he is!

lvg
lvg

Just received this lovely message from the esteemed Senator Perdue:


"My top goal as your Senator is to tackle the major crises we face as Americans. First, we need to reinvigorate the economy and get people back to work. 

In order to do this, we must get back to our founding principles of economic opportunity, fiscal responsibility, limited government, and individual liberty.

Most of all, we must strengthen our national security and combat global security threats by advancing American leadership around the world.""""


It is BS garbage of nonaccomplishnents by GOP in Congress like this that  make outsiders like Trump, Carson and Fiorini surge ahead. Tell me about GOP accomplishmnents since W ran the econimy off hte cliff in creating jobs. where ? overseas?? Last sentence sounds like founding statement of unilateral  and preemptive warfare and world domination contained in Project for a New American Century authored by Jeb, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz et. al. Where did that get us? Yeah bring in some outsiders please.


LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@lvg

Our President Bush didn't run the economy off a cliff.  Democrats who stopped paying their mortgages did that.  Bush fixed their mess and TARP was fully repaid, and the recession ended June 2009.

lvg
lvg

@LilBarryBailout @lvg I suggest you take your medication for those delusions. Who securitized the no doc loans and sold them as grade A secrities and created bogus derivatives??? the homeowners?

Yeah just like a con to blame it on the little guy while letting the 1% skate away with ill gotten gain.What  investment firm had a total lock on W's administration and how much money did they make off the crash? Or is that too complicated for you?

stogiefogey
stogiefogey

The fact that Carly is being left out of the debate has received so much publicity that it might actually have the effect of helping her. People instinctively sense unfairness and we like an underdog.

I'll bet they won't leave her out of the next (third) one.

bu2
bu2

@332-206


Seems like a good compromise.  Nobody gets thrown out to try to include someone.  You just have a larger field.

Recon2/3
Recon2/3

Evidently, CNN has relented and Fiorina, will participate in the debate. Good news if accurate.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Put them all on at one time. Then we will REALLY see who rises and who falls!

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Ms.Fiorina has one glaring thing going against her, and it is doubtful she can change it among the GOP "leaders:"  She is female.  She will never be taken seriously by the GOP.  Oh, they might consider her as VP, as the "little woman."

Recon2/3
Recon2/3

@Wascatlady 

If she's considered as a VP, then she's also considered as a President.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout


@Wascatlady 

Meanwhile, on the Democrat side, corruption, dishonesty, and incompetence are no bar to leading the pack.

NorthAtlanta
NorthAtlanta

@Wascatlady 

Oh, really?  I thought I recalled a woman as our VP candidate not too long ago, plus a woman Secretary of State, too.  Your comment is absurd.

Recon2/3
Recon2/3

She's very knowledgeable about the issues including having had personal interactions with world leaders. Her private sector business experience and forthright manner makes her an attractive candidate. Unfortunately, she isn't that well known among the voters but it's still early and she'll probably continue to advance in the polls. Most certainly running mate material for the eventual nominee.

Finn-McCool
Finn-McCool

@Recon2/3 "Her private sector business experience and forthright manner makes her an attractive candidate."


Unless you like people who actually run companies well and make them work.

dreema
dreema

@Recon2/3 And she bombed as a CEO. Nothing fails like failure.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

The rules, as they exist whether they were set up for that purpose or not, favor the establishment candidates.  The folks who were well known and "in the system" benefited from early name recognition to score well out of the gate.  This is a travesty and needs some one to intervene.  11 on the stage would not push Christie off and would allow someone polling much better, Fiorina, on.


John Kasich kinda let the cat out of the bag yesterday on how little power the people have anymore.  His quote was something like," My immigration plan hits the sweet spot between what the people so desperately want, and what Congress will accept. "


Whoa, I thought Congress was to represent the people.  I guess based on his comment we are indeed ruled by the ruling class elites.   Based on that looks like Carly will be frozen out by the ruling class.

Pub Heaven
Pub Heaven

Kasich has real potential. Hope he does well in this next opportunity.

M H Smith
M H Smith

When are the rules dumb?


When the rules throw my kid out of the game! 



Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@M H Smith I'm not sure what makes you think I'm all in for Fiorina. I haven't written about her any differently than about anyone else ... besides Trump, of course. But there's no disputing that she's currently in the top 10 of the field and deserves to be on the stage, and that -- prior to the rule change -- the prospect she'd be left out was clear evidence the rules were poorly conceived.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

I agree the rules are kind of dumb.

How about, at minimum, making the "kids table" debate a little less obnoxiously low-rent than it was on FNC? 

How about, for example, allowing them to have an actual audience? and maybe put them on closer to prime time, rather than at 5 o'clock? Is CNN planning to do either of these things, does anyone know?

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

There's debates and then there's free media coverage. Trump's getting all the free media coverage.

Carly should go after some of that.

FNN has had all the GOP candidates on with the panelists. Hard questions are put forth and answered.

There's more than one way to get their message out there. 

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

Kyle, you answered your own rhetorical question. Don't act like you don't understand the rules were calculated and written with a purpose in mind. If you don't understand the purpose well enough to comment on it, please defer to a conservative columnist who does and can.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

@Kyle_Wingfield @DawgDadII Ok, I had to step away yesterday. These are smart people, they wrote the rules to help themselves control the process. The poll weighting serves to water down the impact of the Fox "debates" and make it tougher for candidates with populist conservative messages to gain lasting traction. This is purposeful. Why so many candidates? Same reason, they cannibalize each other's poll ratings without costing the Bush backers a cent or requiring potentially messy hit-job takeouts.


They don't want Carly on stage for the CNN debates if they can avoid it because she's going to attract a lot of women and independents in the CNN audience that Bush wants. Fox, yes, they want her there for that audience, to sustain their play on the base.

M H Smith
M H Smith

Oh goodie Carly is all but gone, outsourced to China hopefully. Remember Carly like you once said, "it is good when Americans lose jobs".   

bu2
bu2

Seems like she was helped by not being in the 10 person debate last time.


If you change the criteria after the fact, its kind of like Gore trying to change the rules on the election after the fact in 2000.  All the candidates agreed to it.  Now its not beneficial for one, so she wants something different.


What if this was a fluky week of polling?  Or its a temporary blip?  We all know people go up and down.


Now it does seem CNN should have weighted the more recent polls heavier or used a shorter term.  And maybe the next group doing the debate needs to re-think their criteria.  But otherwise, you are changing the rules to discriminate in favor of someone.  You could endlessly change the rules and have different people involved depending on the criteria.  That's why they set up the rules in advance, to avoid favoritism.


I don't see how this is a complaint about politics.  Just about CNN's choice of polls.

JeffreyEav
JeffreyEav

That is so stupid. Imagine if another candidate, say Trump, went into a free fall after the first debate but still placed because of earlier polls. That is phoney baloney.

JackClemens
JackClemens

Carly Fiorina is one of the better candidates, one who might just help the Republicans ... if GOP voters and independents can just get a look at her.

HDB0329
HDB0329

@JackClemens ....there are at least 50K people who know about Fiorina....after she had them FIRED from HP....and they paid for her $21M golden parachute......

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

CNN's hands are tied "federal law prohibits a change in criteria."


I guess I missed the federal law of partisan debates.  Didn't the party come up with the criteria?  How is federal law applied to partisan debates?  


Republicans should be able to fix this for their own debates, I would think.   I completely agree with you Kyle, that support shifts during debates, and criteria should match the flow of support so the top candidates get their time in front of the people.   Either that, or each party should try to restrict the number of candidates in the first place.  But with the amount of available PAC money, dark funds, and financial benefit; I still see a large number of candidates in future elections. That will not change until there is election finance reform. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LogicalDude Wait, you're surprised federal law extends into things it seemingly doesn't need to???

The rule apparently says TV networks hosting a debate ""must use pre-established objective criteria to determine which candidates may participate…" CNN made the criteria, not the party. It seems to be the case that this was the network's call, not the party's -- although I would imagine the network at least checked with the party before issuing the criteria. So the party's hands probably aren't totally clean here.

There are elections lawyers who say CNN could probably get away with changing its criteria, but that seems premised on the idea the FEC wouldn't enforce the rule. They point out that Fox changed one of its criteria, letting candidates into the "kids table" debate even if they didn't pass the 1 percent threshold. But that, of course, was a change that made the debate more inclusive; this would mean someone was bumped off the stage to make room for Fiorina. That someone could sue and ask the FEC to enforce its rules, which would seem to change the equation. And given that the likely someone Chris Christie, recently talked about "going nuclear" in the next debate if he has to endure another long period of time without being asked a question, I doubt he'd respond meekly to being told he was off the stage because the rules had been changed.

It's a mess, and it's a mess born of all involved parties' unwillingness to rethink the way they do debates.

Caius
Caius

@Kyle_Wingfield @LogicalDude  And any attempted change by Congress would require 60 votes in the Senate, so kiss that idea goodbye. (Can we go back to 1789 and start over?)

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Kyle_Wingfield @LogicalDude thank you for the clarification.  It sounds like CNN  set rules and then claimed federal rules make them stuck in the rules they made up. (Republicans should have had some input, but can see that a media outlet would want to be seen as non-biased so wouldn't take every single Republican recommendation.) 

Let's hope the next host has rules made with more common sense. 

Pub Heaven
Pub Heaven

Once again, with feeling: why a national Party would agree to let any entity with a different agenda set the rules for how, and which ones, of their candidates for President gets their opportunity to be heard is just beyond comprehension. It begs the question, "Who's in charge here"?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@332-206 According to the RNC, federal rules require the sponsor of the debate to set the rules:

"It is important to acknowledge that the networks and the networks alone are responsible for determining such criteria. Federal election law states that only two types of entities may host a debate: a 501(c)(3) organization or a media outlet. The Republican National Committee is neither. It is therefore up to the staging organization to set the criteria and the format. Those who call on the RNC to change the criteria misunderstand the law."

More here: http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-we-improved-the-gop-debates-1437949856


straker
straker

Why not have a number of debates that feature only four candidates at a time?


This way, all the candidates would get equal air time.