Carly Fiorina shows her political smarts

Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina at the Aug. 6 pre-debate forum at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina at the Aug. 6 pre-debate forum at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. AP

“Carly Fiorina camp goes to war with the RNC” is exactly the headline she wanted. Her campaign has officially weighed in to reiterate her supporters’ complaints about the qualification criteria for the next debate.

Since the last debate, she’s risen dramatically in the polls, but because CNN insists on using all polls since mid-July, she may not make the main event.

Her deputy campaign manager writes, “Carly would easily make this debate if there were a consistent number of polls from one week to the next, but that’s not the case. In the three weeks before the first debate, CNN will be counting nine polls. In the three weeks since the debate, they will only be counting two. By simply averaging these polls together, CNN will be weighting the three weeks of polling before the debate more than three times as heavily as the three weeks of polling after Carly won the first debate.”

She argues, “To be clear, if Carly isn’t on the main stage, it will not be because her rise in the polls can’t overcome lower polling from July, but because only two of CNN’s chosen polling companies have released polls at all since the first debate. If the RNC won’t tell CNN to treat post-debate polling consistently with pre-debate polling, they are putting their thumb on the scale and choosing to favor candidates with higher polling for three weeks in July over candidates with measurable momentum in August and September.”

Fiorina’s point is well taken. She is already getting support in conservative media. Most Republican voters, I suspect, would agree with her, and excluding the only female presidential candidate willing to debate looks awful. Moreover, it’s a brilliant move for her. There is nothing the grass roots hate quite as much as “party insiders” or “the establishment.”

Well, on second thought, it might be the media. Hitting both of them with one swing is politically smart. Not only does it get the spotlight away from Donald Trump for a moment but also it strengthens her outsider image.

What will the other candidates do? They’d be smart to demand the party and CNN accede to her wishes. Gutsier ones might even exit the main debate and choose to appear with Fiorina either in the lower tier debate or in a side-by-side forum.

Come to think of it, the field would look chivalrous if they all mutinied. It would show gumption, upstage Trump (who likely would not give up a chance before the cameras) and at the same time avoid being tagged themselves as unfairly taking advantage of a bizarre selection criteria.

At any rate, for an outsider, Fiorina is once again showing herself to be very skilled as a campaigner. At this point, it is a win for her either way. If excluded, she can rail against the political class. If included, she can impress voters with her verbal dexterity.

Jennifer Rubin blogs for The Washington Post from a conservative perspective at washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn.