The stage is seen inside Air Force One Pavilion before the start of the Ronald Reagan Centennial GOP Presidential Primary Candidates Debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Sept. 7, 2011 in Simi Valley, Calif.
David McNew/Getty

‘It’s a great racket’

At this point in a typical election cycle, presidential campaigns would be buying up airtime in Iowa and New Hampshire, hoping to score points with the voters in the first two nominating states. This is not, however, a typical election cycle.
The Rachel Maddow Show, 7/24/15, 11:04 PM ET

Resistance grows to Fox News debate rules

Rachel Maddow reports on increasing pressure on Fox News to make its Republican primary debate rules more inclusive as Chris Christie buys advertising on Fox News to boost his poll numbers with Republicans nationally to qualify for the Fox News debate.
Rick Perry’s super PAC, for example, recently announced it’s “investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising on the Fox News Channel and other cable channels” in order to raise the former governor’s national profile. One of the super PAC’s advisers was quite candid about the goal: “We’ve made the decision to spend some serious money to reach a more national audience to introduce the governor, because we want to see him on that debate stage.”
As the New York Times reported Friday, Perry’s not alone in prioritizing next week’s debate on Fox News. The report noted that one candidate is effectively trying to buy a ticket onto the stage.
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, in essence, is trying to do just that. His campaign has purchased $250,000 of advertising time – on Fox News. The ad buy starts on Friday and goes through Aug. 9. Because Fox will use the candidates’ standing in national polls to whittle down a field of 16 Republican candidates, the exposure that comes from a national cable television buy is extremely valuable.
And while Mr. Christie’s standing in the top 10 is fairly sturdy – but not guaranteed – this ad buy is aimed to help buttress his standing.
The bigger picture seems to be under-appreciated. Fox News is, quite deliberately, challenging the supremacy of Iowa and New Hampshire, scheduling an Ohio debate with participation based on national polling. Critics of the process raise entirely legitimate points: national polling has very little predictive value at this point in the process, especially with candidates spending so much time and energy in the early nominating states.
Complicating matters, Fox has been less than forthcoming when it comes to how, exactly, it plans to determine which are the top 10 candidates who have the necessary national support to compete in the debate.
But it’s the practical consequences of the network’s approach that’s especially striking.
Rachel raised an important point about this on the show the other day:
“Any Republican who wants to make it on the debate stage has ever incentive in the world to spend all of their money doing everything they can to boost their national poll numbers. You can’t boost your national poll numbers by going to county fairs in Iowa and New Hampshire, and doing all of the other traditional campaign stuff that candidates would usually be doing this time of the year in the early states.
“No, if the only thing that matters is boosting your national poll numbers, well, if you’re a Republican running for president, you better spend all the resources you’ve got increasing your national profile with Republican voters who might someday get called by a pollster. That’s how you have to fight for your political life right now. You need to increase your national profile among Republican voters.
“How would you do that? Well, you better start running ads on Fox News. I mean, the Fox News debate rules basically instruct the candidates to start spending their campaign money buying ads on the Fox News Channel. It’s amazing. It’s a great racket that Fox has set up.”
I’ve seen quite a few Republican candidates – which is to say, those who’ll likely be blocked from the stage a week from Thursday – complaining about the system Fox has established. How long until one of them notes the awkward set of incentives the network has created?

Chris Christie, Debates, Fox News and Rick Perry

'It's a great racket'