Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

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


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?

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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.


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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.