Do you remember? February 23, 1980: George H. W. Bush had won the Iowa caucuses and now wanted a one-on-one debate with Reagan in order to solidify his status as the only alternative to Reagan. But Ronald Reagan demanded the inclusion of four other candidates (John Anderson, Howard Baker, Robert Dole, Philip Crane) because they too were on the ballot, and he didn’t fear an open, inclusive, non-manipulated electoral process. Also, he didn’t want the media dictating who Republicans got to consider as legitimate candidates. The line of the evening was “I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green!” (Reagan speaking to Nashua Telegraph editor Jon Breen, moderator of the debate). Reagan went on to win the New Hampshire primary three days later.
Mr. Trump: you, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio are the candidates in ascendance. Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, and John Kasich remain contenders. It is an outrage and a disservice to the Republican electorate that CNN intends to exclude Carly Fiorina from the September 16 debate, based on an absurd calculation which includes more national polls from before the previous debate than after.
This is self-evidently the media manipulating our nominating process. And since the RNC won’t do anything, you have to. Only you have the juice; only you can demand fairness by refusing to participate until things have been set right. You are Ronald Reagan at this moment; you have paid for the microphone.
It isn’t just the media’s manipulation of who’s in and who’s out that needs fixing. It’s also their questioning that’s seriously flawed. You were the target of an attempted drive-by in the previous debate. While millions of viewers wanted to hear from your lips what the Trump phenomenon was all about and why so many people support you, instead you were asked loaded and irrelevant questions, in particular by Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace.
So while you’re demanding a change in eligibility rules, let’s also take control of the questions away from the media elite with their penchant for gotchas, so that the viewers can hear how each of the candidates would deal with the problems the American people actually care about. Mr. Trump, you can end the media’s attempts at manipulating the nominating process.
Steve Wagner is president of QEV Analytics, a public opinion research firm, and a senior fellow at the American Principles Project.