Or rather, CNBC caved to the demand from Trump. Carson co-signed the letter that Trump sent to the network, but it ain’t Dr. Ben who’s delivering an extra 10 million viewers or so to these things.
Pretty simple calculation for CNBC: Enjoy two hours of boffo ratings with Trump as your star or three hours of middling ratings for special guest star Jeb Bush. Easy call.
CNBC has agreed to limit its forthcoming Republican primary debate to two hours and allow for opening and/or closing statements, acquiescing to the demands of Donald Trump and other GOP campaigns, CNN has confirmed.
The Republican National Committee began calling the campaigns on Friday morning to inform them that CNBC had agreed in principal to limit the debate to two hours, including commercials, and to allow for opening and/or closing statements, according to two sources with knowledge of the decision.
“They said those conditions are ‘all but certain’,” as they still needed all the campaigns to sign off on the new format, a source with one of the campaigns told CNN.
Why we need openings and closings for candidates who’ve already addressed gigantic TV audiences twice, I’m not sure. The answer, I suppose, is that “we” don’t need them. The candidates want them, simply because it’s their best way to summarize the case for their candidacy for the benefit of anyone new tuning in — even though, with a few exceptions, the differences between them that you might glean from a one-minute statement are marginal. Anyway: With 10 candidates on stage, figure a minute for each opening and closing statement plus 20 minutes for commercials each hour and you’ve got one hour of actual Q&A — which includes the time needed by the moderators to actually pose the questions. Not including their openings and closings, each candidate should end up with … four minutes of speaking time, maybe? Five? (Then again, how many would they have in a three-hour debate? Seven?) And that assumes that the time will distributed evenly, which it won’t be. A marginal candidate like Rand Paul will be lucky to get three minutes total to answer questions posed to him. A six-man debate, say, would be a much better fit for a two-hour format. But Trump and Carson, as the two big draws, have all the leverage here and it’s in their interest to answer as few policy questions as possible, so that’s what’s going to happen. They’re playing a prevent defense, enabled accidentally by the RNC.
Here’s Carly Fiorina on Megyn Kelly’s show last night accusing Trump and Carson of being, ahem, low-energy in preferring to give canned statements instead of fielding questions for three hours. “Here are two outsiders, supposedly,” she says. “They sound a lot like politicians tonight to me.” Exit question from Matt Lewis: Given his influence over the ratings, what lines are the cable news network prepared to draw in resisting future Trump demands? If he insists that the November debate be an hour long with five candidates, will Fox Business have no choice but to agree? What if it’s 90 minutes with seven candidates?