WASHINGTON, Nov. 9, 2015 – There was one particularly bright and shining moment during October’s controversial CNBC GOP debate. That moment occurred when Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas exposed for all to see the depth and breadth of the liberal media’s agenda to transform the Republican race for the White House into a circus. The Texas senator moved up sharply in the polls, and pundits on both the left and right readily acknowledged he was the standout performer in that debate.
More surprisingly, the mainstream media itself became critical of CNBC, as that network’s moderators did indeed appear more interested in creating drama than a meaningful dialogue that would help voters better understand each candidate’s positions on the issues.
Early on, there was a general consensus among Republican candidates that the media needed to get in line, while the voters – as well as the candidates – deserved to hear a substantial debate on today’s critically important issues. In fact, during the debate, even New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie joined the media criticism, pointing out how odd it was to discuss online betting in a world suffering from global terrorism and with the U.S. itself struggling with a nearly $20 trillion debt load.
By the end of the CNBC debate, it became abundantly clear that the candidates had had enough with debacles like this one and that the party itself was ready to establish new guidelines for future events. Along those lines, GOP chairman Reince Priebus abruptly and publicly terminated the GOP’s partnership agreement with CNBC to host future debates nearer to the 2016 election date.
However, just over the last week, things have certainly changed.
In their anger over the CNBC debate, GOP candidates were ready to sign a joint letter demanding a “better way” going forward. Support for this proposition seems to be shrinking precipitously.
The Huffington Post reports:
Republican presidential candidates John Kasich, Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina made it clear Monday night they will not sign a joint letter to TV networks outlining conditions for their participation in upcoming Republican debates. Their decisions followed an announcement from Donald Trump’s campaign Monday afternoon that the business mogul turned presidential candidate would negotiate independently with the TV networks hosting the debates.
So what happened to the great GOP revolt?
Reality has finally settled in for at least some of the GOP candidates. Those with campaigns on life support began to realize they needed all the cheap (or even free) exposure they could get. What’s better, they seemed to be reasoning: a meet-and-great in a Manchester, N.H., bakery or a major television audience with the possibility of reaching millions of viewers? For those campaigns on the brink of oblivion, the choice of playing and staying is obvious.
However, it is also clear that rank-and-file Republicans have had it up to here with the liberal media and consider it to be the enemy, aligned as it clearly is with the Democrats themselves. Based on the temperament of the average Republican voter, fighting the media is about as sexy and appealing as it gets.
In point of fact, two of the biggest critics of the media in the GOP race − Trump and Carson − have actually thrived under the constant scrutiny and criticism dished out by the press. The harsher the reviews, the better their numbers. The recent rise of Ted Cruz is also linked to his recent and articulate attacks on the press.
This paradox creates a catch–22 for the minor-league Republican candidates who continue to flounder in the single digits: Should you remain critical of the media but potentially lose your opportunity to grow your voter audience by not initialing that joint letter? Or should you maintain a consistent hard line, sign the letter and fall off the radar screen altogether as an also-ran if you lose the media coverage?
It appears some of these minor candidates have made their decision. Chris Christie, who was among the most critical of the media, has now said, “Whatever debate they set up, I’ll show up and I’ll answer the questions that get asked, If I think it’s a dumb question like the other night on fantasy football, I’ll say it’s a dumb question. I’m not worried about this nearly as much as the other guys.”
Meanwhile, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio seems to be dismissing the CNBC debacle altogether, stating, “I haven’t really given it any thought. That’s all process. Other people think about that, I don’t.”
It is no surprise that Kasich does not get the public zeitgeist. He has emerged as one of the most tone-deaf of all the Republican candidates. He continues to cite his career politician credentials in an era where Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has been in political office only since 2011, is already considered “too experienced” for the job by many of today’s skeptical GOP voters.
Donald Trump has been calling for the minor GOP candidates to call it quits, the better to clarify candidate choices for Republican voters. Ultimately, however, how the now-minor candidates decide how they’ll deal with an antagonistic media going forward seems likely to determine how much longer they’ll be around as 2016 draws near.