The Real Reason CNN Will Include Carly Fiorina in Its GOP Debate
Election 2016

The Real Reason CNN Will Include Carly Fiorina in Its GOP Debate

© CHRIS KEANE / Reuters

Republicans are all about a Nose-to-the Grindstone America. Put your head down, work like a maniac on meth and get rewarded.

So the irony for a GOP believer and achiever like Carly Forina was that while she followed the formula, she was going to be denied the results — in this case, a place on the stage of the next Republican debate, which will be hosted by CNN on Sept. 16 at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

Now CNN has ditched its troubled methodology for deciding which Republican candidates will be included and has come up with new criteria that will give Fiorina a podium to call her own.

Related: As CNN Changes the Debate Rules, Which Candidates Are Left Out in the Cold?

On its face, that looks like a high-minded decision recognizing how far Fiorina has traveled. While she came into the race for the Republican presidential nomination as a tarnished CEO and failed senatorial candidate with little name recognition among the public at large, she has managed to rise in the polls through grit, command of the issues and an articulateness that makes candidates like Rick Perry and even Jeb Bush seem like stumbling third-graders.

A Monmouth University poll of likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers, conducted between Aug. 27 and Aug. 30, put Fiorina in third place with 10 percent, behind Ben Carson and Donald Trump, each with 23 percent. And the Real Clear Politics Average of surveys between Aug. 7 and Aug. 30 has her in fifth place in Iowa with 6.8 percent.

So the fact that Fiorina, who scored big in the Fox News undercard debate last month, earned her way to a spot in the prime-time debate this month is undeniable. And while Carly never played the diversity card in her loud calls for a place in the CNN debate, there is a case to be made for including the only woman Republican candidate for president — even if she wasn’t rising fast in the polls.

Related: Ted Cruz May Be Leading The Donald to His First Big Loss

CNN’s rationale for switching the formula it had laid out in May went like this:

“We learned this week that there will likely be only two more polls by the deadline of September 10th. In a world where we expected there to be at least 15 national polls, based on historic precedent, it appears there will be only five. As a result, we now believe we should adjust the criteria to ensure the next debate best reflects the most current state of the national race. In the event that any candidate is polling in the top 10 in an average of approved national polls released between August 7th and September 10th , we will add those candidates to our top tier debate, even if those candidates did not poll in the top 10 in an average of approved national polls between July  16th and September 10.”

That sounds reasonable and even-handed.

And if calculations by NPR and other news organizations are correct, there will likely be 11 candidates on the debate stage, with the faltering Chris Christie reprising his appearance in the first contest. He will probably not get the boot, NPR figures, because he has been in the top 10 since mid-July.

But the real reasons the network rethought its rules may be a good deal more cynical than just making sure that, as a CNN story stated, the debate “better reflects the state of the race.”

Ad Age reported on Thursday that CNN is charging advertisers 40 times its normal rate – or $200,000 for a 30-second spot – to air commercials during the debate.

Related: How CNN Is Cashing In on Trump Mania

That means that someone at CNN woke up to the fact that the Fox News debate drew a record 24 million viewers. So it has an enormous incentive to make the debate as riveting as possible. Keeping Christie, who told Jimmy Fallon that he may go “go nuclear,” on board is one tactic.

And CNN may have belatedly recognized that among all the Republican presidential candidates, Fiorina has been the gutsiest in standing up to Donald Trump – and that could make for great television.

When Trump denigrated her record as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, she responded with a dig at the famously suspect financials of the real estate mogul’s empire: “I guess what I would say is that Hewlett-Packard is a publicly traded company, so the results are there for everybody to see. You can’t hide them. You can’t fudge the numbers.”

Barbs like that from a woman who is as fast on her feet as Fiorina could knock Trump off his game because as every school kid without a bloody nose knows, there is only one way to deal with a bully.