National Review Editor Rich Lowry and his colleagues had a feeling that their package of editorials under the banner “Against Trump” would cost them their partnership with CNN, Telemundo and Salem Communications for a pivotal late-February GOP debate in Houston. It did: Late last night, the Republican National Committee notified National Review Publisher Jack Fowler that it was out of the mix. “Small price to pay for speaking the truth about The Donald,” wrote Fowler in a posting on the turn of events.

There’ll be no outrage from Lowry about the RNC’s call. “We basically declared war on one of these candidates. I don’t think it’s entirely unreasonable” for the group to disqualify National Review from participating.

That said, the episode did provide Lowry with a “window” into the forces that orchestrate the Republican Party’s primary debates. And he suggests there’s a great deal at stake. “They’re all terrified of Donald Trump and worried that he won’t show up or threaten not to show up,” said Lowry in a chat with the Erik Wemple Blog.

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Plenty of evidence backs him up. Remember when Trump, last fall, made some noise about boycotting a CNN debate unless the network did what he demanded? As reported by USA Today, Trump boasted that his presence had helped CNN’s Sept. 16 debate in California. “CNN had 23 million people. It was the biggest show in the history of CNN,” said the candidate at a Georgia rally in late November. “How about I tell CNN that I’m not gonna do the next debate? . . . I won’t do the debate unless they pay me $5 million, all of which money goes to the Wounded Warriors or to vets.”

The fear to which Lowry alluded has some grounding, too. Trump is right about his ability to draw ratings, as a prominent cable newser has conceded. A boycott by Trump would mean millions less in revenue for CNN and a black eye for the RNC.

Had National Review been allowed to proceed with co-hosting the debate, Lowry says the publication would have been represented by someone who was both “tough and fair.” It won’t have the opportunity to prove as much. “But again, we expected this to happen,” says Lowry.

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