Both Andy McCarthy and Matt Lewis shrug off concerns that Donald Trump’s sudden insistence on injecting himself directly into the campaign, suggesting that the debate series themselves have been bad enough that Trump’s participation is a lesser concern. Karl Rove, however, wonders how any Republican candidate would want to give oxygen to someone who (a) promises to provide an endorsement in the primary and/or (b) threatens to run against a Republican nominee he doesn’t like, let alone give him a platform to attack said candidates if he so chooses. Rove urges Reince Preibus to call an end to the circus forthwith:
Later with Greta van Susteren, both recalled the outrage that erupted when Gwen Ifill moderated a debate in 2008 after having written a book about Barack Obama:
Rove didn’t hide his feelings about the debate from the beginning of the segment, explaining that in Trump, “We’ve got a guy who is not only saying ‘I’m going to make a decision on who I’m going to endorse shortly after this debate and I’m already leaning someway, and I may run myself’ and we expect him to be the impartial moderator? Could you imagine what would happen if MSNBC hosted a debate and the moderator said ‘I’m going to endorse…’ Nobody would show up!”
Van Susteren argued that a similar situation arose when PBS’s Gwen Ifill moderated a general election debate in 2008 despite having written a book on then-Senator Barack Obama, a situation in which, Rove countered, “all heck broke loose.” There was also the matter that Trump had controversial positions and didn’t have any experience in journalism. “Is Mr. Trump going to ask the candidate whether they agree with him that Barack Obama was not born in the United States… that George W. Bush is ‘evil’?”
Rove went on to argue that Trump was “not a newsman” and that “he could do a lot of damage to somebody.” “I think it’s just odd,” he continued, then suggesting that “everybody’s going to bust up their holidays” to go to the debate and it would still have “the smallest viewership of any one of the debates this year.”
In my column for The Week, I point out that the Trump debate actually makes the complaints about the debate process worse rather than improve the situation:
Equally mystifying, at least two Republican candidates have agreed to participate in this debate. Rick Santorum can’t afford to miss an opportunity, but what is Newt Gingrich thinking? The new GOP frontrunner doesn’t need the exposure at this point. Moreover, Gingrich has spent the last few months ripping conventional debates’ formats. He offered an alternative last month with Herman Cain on entitlement reform, and will meet Jon Huntsman next Monday for another “Lincoln-Douglas”-style debate on foreign policy in New Hampshire. Now, in the name of being “open to new ways of doing things,” Gingrich will end up granting respectability to a forum hosted by a self-promoter who might just end up being one of his opponents in November 2012. It’s not likely that the cheesy game-show vibe of the current media debate format will be greatly improved by an actual game-show host.
Not every Republican candidate will play along with the farce. Jon Huntsman told Fox News’ Martha McCallum that he was “not going to kiss his (Trump’s) ring, and I’m not going to kiss any other part of his anatomy.” Ron Paul openly scoffed at Trump’s involvement, and the efforts by other Republicans to curry his favor, calling Trump’s forum “beneath the office of the presidency.” As if to prove that point, Trump responded by calling Paul and Huntsman “joke candidates,” which hardly becomes a moderator of a debate. Imagine the Republican outrage had Wolf Blitzer said something similar before a CNN debate, or anyone from MSNBC. Republican voters would have demanded their removal from any further debates — and rightly so.
In my post yesterday, some commenters argued that Trump would provide a breath of fresh air after the mainstream media moderators which have dominated the debates in this and every other cycle. Perhaps, but it also means that the Republicans who join him on stage implicitly endorse Trump as a legitimate political force, despite his demonstrated lack of depth and experience in the field and his meltdown last May. Given that Trump has threatened to run as an independent as late as yesterday, why would any Republican want to give Trump that kind of respectability? Would the candidates have allowed Mike Huckabee to moderate a debate in May when the former governor and now talk-show host still considered jumping into the race? Of course not, and they would have been correct to refuse.
Even apart from that, once the cameras start rolling, there is no control over what Trump might do or say. He has no problem attacking Republican candidates in the field who won’t participate in this forum; what happens when Trump starts attacking them on stage? What if Trump announces an independent run at the end of the debate, having declared himself dissatisfied with the responses he gets in the debate? Those participants will be left looking impotent and will have contributed to their own disaster. And far from breaking the grip of the MSM on the trajectory of the race, they will have fed into an event that the media would absolutely love.
In April and May, we had time for this kind of nonsense. We have four weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses, and it’s time to get serious — and that means gently telling Trump to get lost.