Gary Johnson, the two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, will be included in Thursday night's Fox News presidential debate in Orlando, Florida. This is the first time he will share the stage with the entire field of contenders for the Republican nomination after being excluded from every debate since after the first one in South Carolina.
Howard Kurtz reported Tuesday at The Daily Beast:
"The former New Mexico governor won the right to participate, according to Fox sources, by cracking 1 percent in the latest five national polls in which he was included—Fox News, CNN, McClatchy-Marist, ABC, and Quinnipiac—which was the criterion the network had set for inclusion."
In his report, Kurtz also noted that Johnson's inclusion in the debate comes over the objections of the Florida Republican Party, which is co-hosting the Orlando debate and won't be including the former New Mexico governor in Saturday’s Presidency 5 straw poll. Why does the state GOP oppose Johnson's inclusion? Apparently there's some disagreement over how to interpret the criteria for inclusion. The Politico reports:
"Fox and the state party disagreed on an interpretation of the rules, which require a candidate to receive at least 1 percent support in five recent national polls, said Florida GOP spokesman Brian Hughes. But Fox tweaked the criteria to require candidates only poll 1 percent in the last five polls in which they were presented as an option, allowing Johnson to qualify."
Reid Epstein, who authored the Politico piece, writes a couple paragraphs later that "The reasons behind the network’s decision to alter the rules in a way that seems to have specifically benefited Johnson’s campaign were not clear." But is the rule change specifically benefiting Johnson's campaign, or just altering a policy that specifically singles him out with an unfair Catch-22? Allowing Johnson into the debate if he polls well, but then not presenting him as an option in the polls seems a bit calculated to specifically harm and marginalize Johnson's campaign.
Just what do the kingmakers in the media and Republican Party find so objectionable about giving Gary Johnson a fair shot at the party's nomination? All summer, television news anchors have started their interviews with Johnson by joking that no one knows who he is, but how is Johnson any different from Tim Pawlenty, who major media voices were hailing as a "top tier" candidate until his exit from the race?
The two are both relatively unknown governors from small states who have made the case for their respective candidacies on the basis of their fiscal records and executive experience. If the disparity in the media's treatment of Johnson and Pawlenty-- two candidates who are remarkably similar on paper-- seems a little odd and unjustified, the disparity between its treatment of Johnson and former Senator Rick Santorum seems positively outrageous.
Before this Republican Primary, Santorum hadn't come from any place of special name recognition or national prominence to show up Johnson, but there is one key difference between them: in his last statewide election, Gary Johnson won reelection to be New Mexico's governor by a ten percent margin-- quite a feat in a 2-to-1 Democratic state. But in Rick Santorum's last statewide election, he lost his U.S. Senate seat in a landslide defeat by nearly 20%, the largest margin of defeat of any incumbent Republican Senator in Pennsylvania's history.
That's a pretty clear statement from the voters who know them best. Gary Johnson's record entitles him-- and the voting public-- to at least as much Johnson coverage from the media as there has been coverage of Pawlenty or Santorum. We deserve to know more about this governor from New Mexico and just what he did there to win election twice in a 2-to-1 Democratic state, especially since his record so perfectly exemplifies the fiscal conservatism that has characterized the national conversation and galvanized the Republican Party's conservatives.