Jumping The Gun?

Ron Paul’s supporters are seeing red after Fox News decided to exclude their candidate from the next presidential debate. ABC also plans to whittle down the participants in the next debate but will wait for the Iowa caucus to make clear who should get the invitations. The exclusion comes after Paul raised $19 million in the fourth quarter, the second-best GOP total for the year:

ABC and Fox News Channel are narrowing the field of presidential candidates invited to debates this weekend just before the New Hampshire primary, in Fox’s case infuriating supporters of Republican Ron Paul.
The roster of participants for ABC’s back-to-back, prime-time Republican and Democratic debates Saturday in New Hampshire will be determined after results of Thursday’s Iowa caucus become clear.
Fox, meanwhile, has invited five GOP candidates to a forum with Chris Wallace scheduled for its mobile studio in New Hampshire on Sunday. Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson received invites, leaving Paul and Duncan Hunter on the sidelines.

Most of us have made no secret of our wish to see the number of candidates narrowed for these debates, and for good reason. The current roster of seven or eight on a stage makes for nothing but the exchange of substance-less soundbites, and provide no insight into the true character and nature of the candidates. Given the game-show, gotcha quality of these gladiatorial events, one has to question why any of the contenders would want to participate.
However, since we’ve muddled through this long, it makes little sense to start excluding candidates just before the first meaningful vote gets taken. Raising $19 million in a quarter shows at least some level of significant support, even if limited to the the fringes of the GOP and Libertarian parties. Also, if Fox wants to rely on polling, Paul does at least as well as Thompson in Iowa and perhaps better at the moment in New Hampshire. Why not just wait for the results from Iowa to make that determination for both parties, as ABC plans to do?
I’d much prefer a smaller field for the debate, but at this point, an exclusion gives nothing more than another excuse for conspiracy-mongering among Paul’s supporters. It’s hard to imagine a better one, given the fund-raising success Paul has had in the last few weeks. If Fox and the rest of the broadcasters give it a few more days, they’ll likely have all the data they need to whittle the debates down to three candidates each.
UPDATE: James Joyner agrees.
UPDATE II and BUMP: I’m pushing this to the top, just below the AOL Hot Seat question on which it’s based. A big welcome to all AOL readers — and please click on the Home link in the header and check out all of the commentary here at Captain’s Quarters.

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