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Op-ed: Fox Debate Was Transparent Ploy to Elect a GOP President

Op-ed: Fox Debate Was Transparent Ploy to Elect a GOP President


Fox overseer Rupert Murdoch tried to knock off Donald Trump and make the party seem less clueless about LGBT issues.

Wasn't that a great show the other night? I'm talking about that perfectly "nonscripted" reality show on Fox News Channel called a presidential "debate." The truth is that it was just as scripted as everything else that Fox News presents in its news-talk format.

Every question directed at each of the candidates by the moderators was carefully chosen and scripted by the Fox anchors who moderated the program and executives with the network. I know that because I have had many meetings and discussions with programming executives at the highest levels there about their coverage of LGBT people and the issues that affect us. I know that everything that is presented on their network is carefully orchestrated to drive home their intended message with their audience of loyal viewers and the Republican Party's base voters.

Their strategy was twofold. The first part was the obvious focus on Donald Trump to make him look bad to stop his surge in the polls. They feared his continued strength would do damage to the Republican Party. The other part of their strategy was more nuanced. They planned their lines of questioning in order to make the rest of the field and the GOP in general look good by playing to each candidate's strengths and to allow some of them to explain and clarify positions on issues that may hurt them among primary voters if they aren't addressed early in the campaign. Fox carefully researched each candidate's past answers to questions to construct an entertaining and informative program. That's why very few questions were posed to more than one candidate.

One prominent example of this strategy includes issues of concern to LGBT Americans. I know from my discussions with them that Fox executives know that opposition to civil marriage is an unacceptable position to the majority of Americans in 2015, but they also know that those who still oppose marriage equality make up a large portion of the GOP and Fox audience. They chose to pose the only question about marriage to Ohio Gov. John Kasich because his previously stated answer on the subject was the least offensive to most Americans of all the candidates. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has an answer similar to Kasich's, but Kasich had the home state audience, guaranteed to show approval.

The Kasich position on marriage stops short of endorsing marriage equality so as not to offend the antigay portion of the GOP but recognizes the reality that civil marriage for gay couples is now legal in America. His position also recognizes the reality that most Americans have gay people in their lives and they want to share in the joy that marriage brings their gay friends and family members -- even when his ultimate position is to deny them that joy under the law. His position is more based in reality than the positions of most of the Republican field.

Most in the field hold positions far outside the mainstream and that are just not realistic, such as supporting a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage or Rand Paul's Fantasyland position to do away with civil marriage altogether -- for gay couples and straight couples! That's why Kasich was the only one to get the question, because by limiting the answers to only Kasich's, Fox could include the issue in the debate without making the Republican Party look totally out of touch with real life in 2015.

The people at Fox also made sure to ask questions to keep their socially conservative, culturally out-of-touch audience pleased, including questions about "religious liberty," Planned Parenthood, and judicial activism. One question to appeal to those viewers was about transgender Americans serving in the armed forces. I don't think most Americans care about this issue or have even thought that much about it, but the social conservatives sure do care about it and seem to think about it a lot.

That's why former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee got that question. He's built his career on being a champion of socially conservative policies supported by his evangelical voter base. His answer calling transgender military service a "social experiment" seems reasonable to the social conservatives, and that answer carries little risk of turning off mainstream voters because that issue barely registers on most voters' radar. Had they not included that question and answer from a socially conservative candidate, there would have been backlash from the anti-LGBT wing of the GOP for not including its point of view in the debate.

There are lots of other questions for which it's easy to see why they were asked to certain candidates and not others. It was all designed to create a great television program and to further the Fox News Channel's ultimate goal of electing a Republican president in 2016.

Jimmy-lasalvia-x120_0JIMMY LASALVIA was the cofounder and executive director of the now-defunct organization GOProud. He is the author of the forthcoming book No Hope: Why I Left the GOP (And You Should Too).

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Jimmy LaSalvia