Roger L. Simon

Who Makes the Fox News Debate and Is It Fair?

President Donald Trump kisses first lady Melania Trump after she spoke at an event on the opioid crisis, in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Does Fox News have too much power over the Republican Party?

Before answering that question let me first make clear that I have appeared on Fox News (and Fox Business), watch it far more than any other news channel, think it is vastly superior to CNN and MSNBC (not to mention the networks) in terms of  production (not just ideology) and consider Roger Ailes one of the most brilliant people in the history of television. Also, I have a book coming out in 2016 and would be a moron to say otherwise.

But taking myself out of it, the answer is obviously yes.  Who is more important to the future of a Republican presidential candidate — Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly,  Sean Hannity or…. Reince Priebus?  QED.

Fox News dominates the Republican Party to a great, but not so surprising, extent in this video age.  Whether this is good or bad is open to a debate of its own, but they will be holding the first formal debate for the Republican candidates on August 6.  Participants will be limited to the top ten candidates in the polls, based on the RealClearPolitics average at that point.

Is this fair?  Liz Mair, a smart Republican media strategist in D.C., thinks no and has initiated a petition urging Fox News to open the process to an enlarged, multiple-debate format.  Liz thinks especially Carly Fiorina and Bobby Jindal (on healthcare), both of whom are currently not making the cut, should be heard.  Although I’ve been a consistent fan of Carly’s, I’m not sure, but I still signed the petition.  I’m open to more discussion.  And yet I worry too many candidates will make the debates pointless or worse, an unwatched middle-aged white man’s version of the Rockettes.

And then there’s this question — what does debating skill really have to do with actually being president in the end?  Not a whole lot, I suspect, but it’s basically all we have to go on….Well, whatever.  As Abbott & Costello famously said, “Who’s on first?”  (i.e., Who will make the cut?)

The Hill has a rundown on who they, in their Belway wisdom, believe is going to be on that stage –  “GOP debate countdown: Who’s in and who’s out?”  The top (sure) category — “THEY’RE IN” — consists of four men, three of whom (Bush, Walker and Rubio) have been there for some time, jockeying for positions, but the fourth of whom surprised me — Dr. Ben Carson.

It shouldn’t have.  I interviewed Carson in Iowa and got the “glow” immediately.  This man has something — and it’s not just that he was pediatric neurosurgeon, aka the left hand of God, and the first to perform an operation separating Siamese twins, aka the right hand of God.  There was the immediate feel I was not talking to politician but a citizen who wanted to be president and was highly intelligent and accomplished and also deeply compassionate.  Who wouldn’t find that attractive?

When I asked Carson my initial question — “What would be your first action as president?” — I thought I was being  predictable, but his response was not.  He did not say he would end Obamacare or fix the deficit or defeat ISIS or stop illegal immigration — all laudable but obvious.  He said he would end the divisiveness in our country.  For a second I almost laughed at the cliche, but then I realized that he was being honest.  That is exactly what he would do and that would be a amazing thing.  Having this guy in the White House would be far from business as usual.

Of course, I pooh-poohed the whole thing. His candidacy was basically a stunt. He’s a mediocre public speaker  and the scuttlebutt around Iowa was that his campaign was amateurish and in total disarray.  But when I met his communications director Deana Bass, she seemed perfectly normal and fine to me.  What did I know?

Not much, but the people do. Often, anyway. And many more of them are lining up behind Carson than anyone expected at this point.  He’s ahead of Huckabee, Paul, Trump, Cruz. Perry and Christie, who make up, in order, the rest of The Hill’s list — all of them professional politicians with the exception of Donald, and he’s a billionaire.

Maybe this year will be unlike any other.  Maybe the people are looking for something else.  It’s still very unlikely but I will say this — an actual election between Dr. Ben Carson and Hillary Rodham Clinton would be one of the most extraordinary events in American history.  If that long shot came to pass, oddly enough, I’d be betting on Carson, possibly by a landslide.   Standing next to Ben Carson, Hillary would look like a character from The Exorcist — and you know which one.