When CNN announced the lineup for the second Republican debate last summer, it had to figure out how to split up the gigantic field into two groups. Like Fox News before it, CNN set a standard based on polls, dropping some people into the warm-up debate and others into the main event. Unlike the first Fox News debate, though, there was a dispute.
Carly Fiorina had done such a good job in that first undercard debate that her poll numbers were starting to rise. CNN's wide window for the polls it included meant that Fiorina's average couldn't move fast enough for her to get that critical promotion, despite the average of recent polls being over the standard. She protested; CNN relented. Fiorina made the main stage.
On Thursday, ABC announced the lineup for this Saturday's debate in New Hampshire. There are only nine Republicans left in the field now, one fewer than appeared in the first Fox News debate and two fewer than the expanded lineup CNN created in September to allow Fiorina to participate. But ABC still set a polling standard, based on how candidates ranked in Iowa, in national polls and in New Hampshire polls.
Fiorina didn't make the cut.
Her problem now is that she's been moving in the opposite direction from her quick rise over the summer. In the Iowa caucuses, she came in sixth, but only the top three finishers there got a pass from ABC. In an average of polls nationally since the beginning of the year, Fiorina averages around a 2.2 percent (depending on which polls ABC uses) which puts her in eighth. She needs to be in sixth or higher. Likewise in the New Hampshire polls, where she's in seventh — far behind the sixth-place candidate, Chris Christie.
By ABC's standards, Fiorina is out. (As is Jim Gilmore, who had zeroes/ninth-place finishes across the board.) The question this time, though, isn't whether or not the polls are doing a disservice to Fiorina. The question is, why bother excluding her?
Mitt Romney wants to know.
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) February 4, 2016
The difference between a stage with seven candidates and a stage with eight candidates is hard to figure out. As Mitt Romney tweeted, Fiorina outperformed Chris Christie in Iowa and got about as many votes as Jim Gilmore and John Kasich combined. (Of course, Gilmore received only 12 total votes.) She's the only woman in the field. She's a real candidate — or, at least, much more of a candidate than Gilmore, who doesn't really do much campaigning.
Her opponents don't seem to mind including her, either.
With 9 Republicans left, I call on the RNC to get rid of arbitrary requirements for debates. Americans deserve to hear from every candidate.
— Dr. Ben Carson (@RealBenCarson) February 4, 2016
Last time, Fiorina put pressure on CNN to change, and it caved. Fiorina was in a stronger position at that point than she is now, but her case this time is probably easier. There's no reason not to include her. And if I had to make a bet, I would imagine that Fiorina will make that case successfully over the next two days.