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Slouching Toward Bedlam: Choosing The Fox Debate Candidates

As Roger Ailes huddles with his number-crunchers, it's increasingly evident that the first Fox debate is a joke with no punch line.
Slouching Toward Bedlam: Choosing The Fox Debate Candidates
Image from: DonkeyHotey

Today will mark the end of seven campaigns for the Republican nomination. Roger Ailes and his number-crunchers are huddled in a room somewhere deciding which candidates will be featured in Thursday's opening Republican debate and which will be sent to the 'kids' table' airing at 5 pm.

This week, Fox News will host the first primary debate of the cycle. The event is something of a coup for the network, which has been exerting increasing control over the Republican electoral process over the past decade. The debate will be limited to 10 candidates, based on their standing in a series of national polls that Fox itself is selecting. Fox News' debate rules have been criticized by several candidates and Republican activists for a variety of reasons, including that the network is overriding the importance of early voting primary states by essentially narrowing the field several months early.

People inside the network have also expressed frustration with the debate process with an anonymous Fox personality reportedly telling New York magazine that it's "crazy stuff" to have Fox News head Roger Ailes essentially "deciding who is in - and out - of a debate."

In comments to Media Matters, veteran campaign reporters, media reporters, and ethicists criticized Fox's influence.

"Should Fox be playing this role?" asked Eric Engberg, a former CBS News correspondent who covered presidential campaigns from 1976 to 2000. "I think given Fox's ideological bent and that Roger Ailes has spent most of his career working on political campaigns, this whole thing is a sham."

As Media Matters has documented, candidates have been flocking to the network to get face time with its influential hosts and reach its conservative audience, which in turn boosts interest in Fox. In some cases, candidates and groups supporting them have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Fox ads to help bolster their image and hopefully increase their national polling ahead of the debate.

Of course it's a sham. What else could it be when the candidates are hand-picked by Roger Ailes for their moment in the sun after spending millions on advertisements to bulk up the revenues to the GOP Broadcast Network?


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Honestly, if you have a look at all seventeen candidates, they're all saying the same thing, more or less. There's no need for so many to be crammed in the clown car, but they do bulk up network revenues while shutting off available time for Democrats. Perhaps in the end, that's what they were looking to do. Realizing that Mitt Romney lost 2012 after being hammered in summer by the Obama campaign, maybe Republicans developed a strategy to have a ton of candidates all say the same thing but with different ad buys on and offline in order to shut Clinton and other Democratic candidates out.

The problem with that strategy? 17 candidates saying things that are repugnant to most people will not win an election, and I seriously doubt this debate will change the opinions of those observing. Juan Williams:

Given the nation’s historical preference for switching the party in the White House every eight years, the Grand Old Party should be having a grand old time heading into the 2016 races.

But a new Pew poll shows the party’s brand falling off a cliff, even among Republicans.

The late July poll found only 32 percent of voters holding a “favorable impression” of the GOP and 60 percent taking an “unfavorable view.” An early July Gallup poll also finds the Republican Party struggling for its footing on a steep downward slope, with only a 35 percent approval rating.

The biggest surprise is Pew’s finding that the slide in GOP support is primarily the result of Republican voters pulling away from Republican politicians.

At the start of the year, 86 percent of Republicans had a favorable view of their party. That figure has now fallen to 68 percent. According to Pew, that is “the lowest share in more than two years.” The poll also found an 8-point drop in the number of independent voters who view the GOP favorably, from 37 percent down to 29 percent. It is not surprising that, among Democrats, the view of the GOP has worsened amid its disarray. Only 14 percent of Democrats hold a favorable view of the GOP, down from 18 percent.

It is a surprise that backbiting, anger and contempt are this summer’s themes for Republicans. Just last November, after midterm election victories, the GOP base was energized and slinging darts at President Obama.

Now those same Republican are firing inside the tent, and with special delight at Republicans in Congress.

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