CNN Revises Debate Criteria, Fiorina Now Likely To Make The Cut For The Main Debate
CNN has revised its criteria for the main September 16th debate such that Carly Fiorina will now most likely make the cut.
CNN has made a change to criteria for the main Republican Presidential debate on September 16th that seems to largely be in response to complaints from one candidate about her exclusion under the rules that had previously been established:
CNN is amending the criteria for its Republican presidential debate on September 16, possibly opening the door for Carly Fiorina to join the other top-tier candidates on the stage.
The cause: a lack of national public polling following the August 6 debate has so far provided only three new polls to determine the lineup for the Reagan Presidential Debate, according to a CNN statement.
As a result, CNN reevaluated its criteria and decided to add a provision that better reflects the state of the race since the first Republican presidential debate in August, the network announced Tuesday.
Now, any candidate who ranks in the top 10 in polling between August 6 and September 10 will be included.
The adjustment may result in additional candidates joining the top-tier debate, but the final podium placements will not be known until the eligibility window closes on September 10.
“In the event that any candidate is polling in the top 10 in an average of approved national polls released between August 7th and September 10th, we will add those candidates to our top tier debate, even if those candidates did not poll in the top 10 in an average of approved national polls between July 16th and September 10th,” CNN said in a statement. “We have discussed these changes with the Republican National Committee and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, and they are fully supportive.”
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus endorsed CNN’s decision on expanding the number of candidates participating in the second segment of the debate if they qualify.
“I applaud CNN for recognizing the historic nature of this debate and fully support the network’s decision to amend their criteria.”
CNN, which is telecasting the Republican National Committee-sanctioned debate, released criteria for the debate May 20 that outlined specific polls and a timeframe to determine eligibility for this event. As of Tuesday, only three polls recognized by CNN have been released, and it appears there will not be enough to make a fair editorial judgment before the September 16th debate, according to the network.
The network said that from August through mid-September 2007, there were 16 polls released. During the same period in 2011, 15 polls were released. Based on previous poll releases, CNN created its original criteria.
“In May, we announced criteria for our September 16th Republican debates at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library,” CNN said in a statement. “We said that we would use the average of approved national polls from July 16th through September 10th to determine the makeup of the debates. At the time, we expected there to be many more national polls following the first Republican debate, in August, than there appears there will be.”
CNN continued, “We learned this week that there will likely be only two more polls by the deadline of September 10th. In a world where we expected there to be at least 15 national polls, based on historic precedent, it appears there will be only five. As a result, we now believe we should adjust the criteria to ensure the next debate best reflects the most current state of the national race.”
All of this is unfolding, of course, in the wake of complaints from Carly Fiornia campaign that the criteria that CNN established back in May would lead to her exclusion from the debate notwithstanding the fact that she has risen in the polls since the August 6th debate. This was largely because, while Fiorina has been averaging around 5% in the polls over the past month, she was averaging closer to 1-2% in the polling prior to the August 6th debate. When all those polls are considered together, she still was averaging below 2% overall, which not only left her out of the top ten but put her behind Texas Governor Rick Perry whose polling numbers have been dropping since mid-July. Fiorina’s campaign argued that it was unfair to use polling from before the first debate, or that it was at least unfair not to give the polling from after the debate a greater weight in determining who would receive an invitation to the main debate. Many pundits on the right echoed Fiorina’s complaints, not the least because they fed into the long standing complaints about the so-called “liberal media.” The fact that CNN had cleared these rules with both the Republican National Committee and the Reagan Library apparently escaped the attention of these critics.
Chris Cillizza argues that CNN had to change its rules:
in truth CNN is really righting a wrong of its initial debate rules. Remember that the first two Republican debates — a top 10 debate and an undercard debate that Fiorina won going away — were on Fox News Channel on Aug. 6. Including polls conducted even in the three weeks before the first debate never made much sense since it robbed a candidate like Fiorina of reaping the full rewards of the momentum she’s enjoyed since then.
By using all polling conducted for two months prior (rather than the five most recent polls, as Fox did), CNN basically assured that its debate stage would look a lot like Fox’s. Combine that with the VERY crowded field — it’s hard to move your numbers much when even big-name candidates are around 5 percent — and CNN was setting itself up for failure.
Fiorina’s likely presence on the CNN debate stage will be a welcome relief to Republicans who fretted privately in advance of the Fox debate that it didn’t look good for their party to have 10 men on stage during a primetime debate, while excluding a female candidate with demonstrated momentum — especially in an election in which Hillary Clinton is widely expected to be the Democratic nominee.
As I said when I first wrote about this, I really didn’t see any reason why they needed to be changed. Cillizza’s criticisms are well-noted, but it would have been just as flawed for CNN to only use the polls that have been released since the first debate. Fox News used criteria similar to that in determining who would receive their invitations and ended up only considering five polls taken over the course of one week. CNN’s criteria sought to take a broader look at the race rather than have the whole process be influenced by a candidate who received a temporary bump in the polls for one reason or another, or by a flawed poll. At the same time, the revised rules at least have some logic to them. CNN does have a valid argument when it points that there will a relatively small number of polls released after August 6th that they will be able to consider in the first place and that they based the original criteria on how many polls had been released in previous election years. That reason alone gives them at least some face-saving reason to change the rules to allow for broader consideration for the polling after the first debate. At the same time, though, it’s rather obvious that the change came about largely because of the Fiorina campaign’s whining, and that the only reason that none of the candidates will challenge rule, which they might be able to do under the relevant FEC rules, is because this change will not result in any other candidates being excluded.
As things stand right now, the main debate on September 16th will consist of Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, John Kasich, Chris Christie, and, thanks to the new criteria, Carly Fiorina. The only way Fiorina would not make the debate at this time would be if she took a massive drop in the remaining national polls that CNN will consider which will be released between now and September 10th. Since that’s unlikely, it looks as those Fiorina’s complaining has paid off. Whether she can make anything out of it at the debate will be up to her.