Lindsey Graham

Lindsey Graham Slams Presidential Debate Qualifications, Polling Cut-off

Say it's silly to base who attends a debate this early based on national polling


U.S. Senate

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is averaging zero percent in the RealClearPolitics average of national Republican presidential polls, commented about the ten-person limit imposed on the first Republican debate of the primary season, scheduled for August 6 in Cleveland. While Fox News has left enough room in its qualifications to have some leeway over which polls it uses, and hence which candidates are excluded, Graham is unlikely to make the cut-off no matter which polls are used.

Understandably, Graham's upset. In an interview this morning on MSNBC's Morning Joe, Graham also called out the Republican National Committee, reminding them it was their party and they had some say in how candidates would be excluded from the debate as well. Via The Hill:

"I think, well, the RNC, they're not helpless here. I mean, it is our party," Graham said. "CNN and Fox have come up with a criteria to get into the debate that I think is silly."

Graham suggested the debates were being chosen by those candidates with big name ID, such as businessman Donald Trump, and said he worried about the nominee selection.

"Let's listen to people who have got a wide breadth of experience, including Donald Trump, and make an informed decision," Graham said. "To the RNC, you're not bound by this. You're not helpless in this endeavor. You can say no if you like."

Fox and CNN will both host televised candidate forums earlier in the day for candidates who don't make the main debate. Lindsey Graham is right, the Republican Party could exert more influence over which candidates make the debate or not. In the RealClearPolitics average, the tenth place is shared by Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas and 2012 candidate, and Ohio Governor John Kasich.

Graham also noted that he may get a bump in the polls after his feud with Donald Trump—Graham called him a "jackass" for making fun of John McCain for being a prisoner of war, leading Trump to share Graham's cell phone number in an event in South Carolina. "That's not why I want a rise in polls," Graham said,

Especially given Sen. Rand Paul's recent campaign to appear more like a mainstream, establishment Republican as he runs for president, the GOP is not very ideologically diverse. The debate could end up an exercise in who can be the most populist of the lot, making discussion of the important issues of the size and power of government that much more difficult to have.

Does Lindsey Graham belong on the debate stage next month? Certainly as much as any of the candidates that seem more like they're running to get a TV deal than to articulate any kind of coherent ideology, anathema to libertarianism or otherwise.

Relying primarily on national polls this early on has another problem: national polls this early on are meaningless, especially in a primary process that begins with isolated contests in specific states (Iowa, New Hampshire, then South Carolina). Trump, for example, is first in the average of national polls, but isn't first in any of those three states, and is at about 2 percent in South Carolina. Stephanie Slade wrote about national presidential primary polling in the July issue of Reason.