The South Carolina Republican Presidential Debate has a special place in my heart. Back in the 2000 election cycle, I was working for candidate Steve Forbes as a North Carolina state campaign manager. It was my opportunity to act as an escort and personal driver for Mr. Forbes during the debate in our sister state of South Carolina. While Mr. Forbes was prepping for his performance, I spoke with all the other candidates behind the scenes: John McCain, Gary Bauer, Orrin Hatch, George W. Bush and Alan Keyes. After the debate was over, I took Mr. Forbes to surprise thousands of independent distributors who were gathered for an Amway convention. The entire evening was memorable.
South Carolina had been my home, off and on, throughout my life. Being the third state in the nation to host a presidential contest was a big honor for us, and our televised presidential debate was the cherry on top. On Monday night, as I watched this year’s SC debate, my heart sank. Fox News took a special tradition and spat upon it to muster cheap ratings. The five remaining Republican presidential hopefuls from the 2012 Republican primary gathered in Myrtle Beach, SC for the Fox News/WSJ Debate. The hour and a half long farce was an insult to the candidates, as well as to the people of South Carolina.
Fox News moderators immediately called on Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum and gave them opportunities to attack frontrunner Mitt Romney. The three candidates sparred over SuperPac advertising, television commercials, and statements that each has made against each other. Sparks flew, with one-liners and sharp retorts drawing boisterous jeers from the audience. The debate became a free-for-all – more a school-yard taunting match than a discussion of ideas and substance.
Meanwhile, Texas Congressman Ron Paul refrained from joining in the mud-slinging and waited for the moderators to address a question to him. He waited a long time.
In the first 40 minutes of the debate, Fox News moderators only directed a single question to Ron Paul. During one commercial break, the effort to ignore Paul was so obvious that it was the topic of discussion by a Fox political panel, including analysts Doug Shoen, Pat Caddell, Ed Rollins and Harris Faulkner. Rollins, commented, “I thought Paul placed second in New Hampshire and was effectively second in Iowa – but they’ve got him standing way over on the side.”
Following the commercial break, an additional question was finally directed to Congressman Paul – though Paul had to begin his response by correcting the moderator, Bret Baier, for grossly distorting his position and effectively calling Paul a terrorist-sympathizer. The debate team was orchestrating a circus atmosphere and they knew that Paul was there to discuss substance, rather than participate in the political equivalent of professional wrestling entertainment. They tried to draw him in to the spectacle, but Paul would not take the bait.
Instead, Ron Paul used his few opportunities to speak clearly on real issues, such as eliminating taxes, protecting against inflation, the difference between defense and military spending and the constitutional role of the federal government. The response of the liberal debate moderators, including Juan Williams, was to get Paul off the microphone as quickly as possible and get back to cheap entertainment. If you want an answer to a serious question, you go to Ron Paul. But if you want to get the audience to whistle and hollar, give the microphone to Newt Gingrich and let him hurl self-righteous insults in whatever direction the mood strikes him.
Even the post-debate commentary was biased against Ron Paul. All throughout the event, Twitter users were encouraged to tweet about how well the candidates were answering their questions. Fox News tracked these results and graphed them to show who was answering questions directly and who was dodging. While a passing comment was made that Paul had given the most honest answers, he was conspicuously left off the graph by Fox reporter John Roberts.
Nearly an hour later, Fox had been flooded with such discontented messages over the collective effort to discount Ron Paul that John Roberts was brought back to re-explain the Twitter voting tallies. He went through each debate topic and displayed the Twitter results. In every category, Ron Paul not only won – but he won by significant margins. Roberts was noticeably uncomfortable having to go through the exercise and was flippant in his mention of Paul’s success. His attitude did not go unnoticed by the Fox political panel. After Roberts again made light of Paul’s performance, Harris Faulkner said, “But John, let’s be clear. These charts show that Ron Paul was the big winner.” Roberts snapped back, “Harris, I’ll just say – “We report, you decide”. The testy exchange was bizarre. The fact, however, is that Fox was guilty, again, of reporting in a very biased way against Ron Paul and his supporters. It’s hard for an audience to make an informed decision when the facts are distorted in a biased fashion.
In every respect, this debate was a joke. It was clear that the moderators were not looking to provide viewers with substance, but rather, sick entertainment. The objective was to turn candidates against each other like pit bulls in an underground dog fighting ring. Throughout the debate, an element of the audience hissed, booed and screamed as the candidates spoke. Analyst Pat Caddell said the South Carolina audience was “off-putting, snarky and nasty.”
During the post-debate analysis, one viewer sent in a question to the panel asking, “Can the Republican nominee win the presidency without Ron Paul or his supporters?” Ed Rollins replied emphatically, “No.” It was a sentiment echoed by the other panelists. There are far too many committed Paul supporters who are angry at having their opinions ignored by the MSM and the Republican establishment – as was so clearly demonstrated that very night by Fox News. Paul supporters are highly motivated and are a powerful force that can and will have a monumental impact on this election, one way or another.
After Paul’s excellent debate performance, it is clear that he is only gaining greater power as a candidate. Each day, it is being more widely reported that the Republican nomination has come down to a two man race between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul – even if Fox News reporters can’t accept this truth. As Ed Rollins correctly pointed out, “Paul and Romney are the only ones with the money to keep on going.”
Today, CNN released poll results showing that Ron Paul is tied with Mitt Romney in a head to head match up with President Obama. The results are no surprise to ardent Paul supporters who have dug in and look forward to the long campaign ahead. With supporters like these, one way or another – Ron Paul is going to win this election.
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Jake Morphonios has worked as a political consultant and campaign strategist for over two decades and is the author of “Organizing a Grassroots Political Machine”, used in the Steve Forbes 2000 Presidential campaign.
The Author with Ron Paul in South Carolina, 2009
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