The presidential election isn't about Megyn Kelly. It's not about Fox News chief Roger Ailes. It's not about National Review editor Rich Lowry or the team of malcontents who devoted an entire issue of their dying magazine to bashing Republican front-runner Donald Trump.
Of course, any viewer who tunes in occasionally to Fox News or flips open a copy of the National Review can be forgiven for getting the impression that the election is about the Republican media establishment, because the only thing they love more than talking about themselves is talking about Trump, and how awful they believe he'll be as president.
Putting aside questions about whether Trump would be a good leader, we can all agree on one point: A debate is a platform for voters to see and hear political candidates as they are, answering questions spontaneously without the filters of campaign spokespeople or reporters.
Good debates illuminate the policy positions of candidates, allowing them to expound on those ideas so voters can make more informed choices. Good debates are informative, giving voters a sense of how candidates handle themselves under pressure, respond to often-hostile questions, and acquit themselves in exchanges with other candidates.
This time around, however, the good people of Fox News seem to be modeling their debates after episodes of "The Real Housewives," eschewing policy questions to push candidates' buttons in the hopes of provoking sound byte responses. The more outrageous, the better.
Instead of debate moderators, they sound like schoolyard provocateurs, or Jerry Springer: "Hey Carly, Donald said this about you. Are you gonna let that stand?"
Fox News has made things a little too personal. Americans care about candidates' positions on things like border security and gun control, but there's no evidence that voters are clamoring for Megyn Kelly vs Donald Trump Round 8. Likewise, in previous debates Fox moderators showed no interest in asking candidates substantive questions about the economy or pressing them to provide specifics on foreign policy.
Trump said he's getting a raw deal by participating in the Fox-hosted debate and submitting to questions from moderators who have made no secret that they dislike him, the Daily Mail notes. His campaign is correct in saying the conservative news channel has an obsession with him -- it mirrors ESPN's Tim Tebow infatuation from a few years ago, with Kelly and a rotating cast of talking heads taking the place of sports loudmouths like Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless.
That's good for ratings but not so good for viewers and voters.
Explaining why his magazine devoted an entire issue to telling readers why they shouldn't vote for Trump, Lowry denied that conservative media bigwigs were throwing a tantrum because voters have their own minds.
"And the point we are making, it is up to conservatives who think that Donald Trump, whatever his virtues are, doesn't truly understand the ideas and principles that make this country great," Lowry said. "It's up to those conservatives to stand up and say no, sorry, we oppose this."
What great conservative values are those? The values that turned the entire political right into a cheerleading squad for ill-advised wars in the Middle East? The values that gave voters tepid candidate after tepid candidate in presidential elections? The values of squandering political capital to rail against already-decided social issues like gay marriage?
If Fox News and the National Review's editors have their way, voters would be pledging their loyalty to the third Bush in three decades, proving the U.S. has an aristocracy in everything but name.
On Jan. 22, Kelly introduced Lowry on her show after reading off a list of would-be Republican kingmakers who dislike The Donald. Among them is Dana Loesch, best known for showing leg on Fox News and posing for glamour photographs while holding various assault weaponry. Likewise, one of Fox's best-loved Trump bashers is the dinosauric George Will, a man who has demonstrated that he does not understand how the internet works yet still feels qualified to continue telling Americans how to think and vote.
If we are witnessing the death throes of the Republican party, as some people believe, then we're also witness to the death of old conservative media and kingmakers who think names like Buckley and Rand are sacrosanct.
By electing to skip the next Fox News-hosted debate, Donald Trump made the right call. As a candidate, he's earned his place in the polls by proving he's not beholden to big campaign donors or party men. Now he's shown he's not beholden to a conservative media establishment that has failed voters time and again.