There is a disturbance in the Fox News force, and Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s ongoing feud with the powerful cable news network appears to have given his fellow candidates the go ahead to form a rebellion. Something that seemed impossible just last week happened throughout Thursday night’s undercard debate: All four candidates, especially Rick Santorum and Carly Fiorina, took every opportunity to rip into the network itself, as well as moderators Martha MacCallum and Bill Hemmer.
MacCallum and Hemmer certainly seemed eager to give the candidates an opportunity to tee off on the cable news giant. The opening questions were interview questions, not debate questions, and they all centered on process and the horse race. Some of the questions were outright insulting.
HEMMER: Governor Huckabee, in 2008, you won by nine points here, but this time your support seems to be going to Senator Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. Why, Governor, is your message not working this time?
Huckabee chose to ignore the question completely.
When Hemmer asked Rick Santorum an equally insulting question, the former Pennsylvania senator immediately hit back.
HEMMER: Senator Santorum, four short years ago you won Iowa. You beat Mitt Romney, pretty much shocked the country. But, just the other day you talked about what is in the greater good for your campaign. Is Monday night your last stand?
SANTORUM: You know, listening to what your network was talking about prior to this race, this debate, reminded me of the coverage that many on this floor are getting. This race, this debate, was called the, “Undercard Debate”. The undercard debate.
It wasn’t advertised significantly. In fact, the entire hour lead up to this there was no conversation about any of the four people on this debate stage, and that is the chronic situation. …
You know, this, again, more of the politics of trying to get people to throw stuff at each other. I’m not going to throw mud at anybody on this stage tonight. I’m not going to throw mud at anybody on the stage later.
Then it was Carly Fiorina’s turn to drop Fox in the barrel, something she seemed prepared and eager to do:
MACCALLUM: So, Carly Fiorina, I ask you this. Is your party in crisis?
FIORINA: [S]omeone asked me about midway through my campaign, what’s the biggest surprise to you on the campaign trail? And I will tell you what the biggest surprise is: the chasm, the yawning chasm, between what the national media talks about and what the people of Iowa and the people of this great nation talk about. That’s the biggest surprise. So guess what, Martha? Guess what, sorry. The people of Iowa never ask me about a crisis in the GOP, they never ask me about the polls. They never ask me about the other candidates. …
In other words, I’m going to put my faith every single time not in the pundits, not in the polls. Most definitely not in the national media. … [C]itizens, this is why we have to take our government back. The establishment thinks it owns this country. The pundits thinks they own this country. The media thinks they owns this country. We were intended to be a citizen government, citizens. The game is rigged. You have the power. Take our country back.
A little later, Jim Gilmore ripped Fox News for not distributing the questions evenly.
The rebellion was topped off when MacCallum questioned Santorum’s dedication to the pro-life movement because he did not attend this week’s March for Life. Santorum explained that weather made travel unwise and reminded voters of his rock-solid pro-life bona fides. Fiorina then let embattled Fox News have it, “It is outrageous, frankly,” she said, “that Fox News, and you, would question the pro-life credentials of Rick Santorum. That is outrageous.”
The 1600 person audience appeared to agree.
It appears as though the candidates have figured out that standing up to Fox News is suddenly pretty popular with voters.
This is a massive sea change in how modern politics work, especially in a Republican primary.