It startles me that Donald Trump has been approached by the conservative Newsmax organization to host a Republican presidential debate on December 27 in Iowa, but it beggar’s belief that any of the candidates are contemplating accepting.
I’m not surprised that Trump agreed to participate. Appointing himself kingmaker of the conservative movement obviously appeals to his inflated ego and to his outsized sense of himself as a man of consequence.
Trump’s recent book Time to Get Tough makes it clear he was stung by President Obama’s satirical jabs at his accomplishments at the now infamous Washington press dinner event earlier this year, and so any opportunity to remind the nation that Trump is in fact an important, rich and successful businessman is probably too hard for him to pass up.
But blending the American political process with a reality TV host seems to me to be both bizarre and insulting. That orange face, that odd hairdo?
American democracy is not another bloated episode of The X Factor or The Apprentice, nor should it be turned into to a three-ring circus with that legendarily sullen ringmaster bearing the whip.
Establishment Republicans have recognized it as a looming iceberg and have raised the alarm, but just like on the Titanic their cries are coming too late.
Karl Rove, the so-called architect of recent Republican presidential campaigns, genuinely shudders at the prospect. The trouble is, in a race this tight, he knows there’s almost no wiggle room for preferred candidates to make high handed gestures for or against it.
Mitt Romney probably can’t afford to sit it out now since Newt Gingrich, who is currently surging ahead of him in the polls, is participating.
Other candidates dashed for the exit before they were steamrolled. Texas Congressman Ron Paul and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman had the sense to issue blanket no thank you’s at the outset, but they have little to no chance of ever being selected as the nominees in any case.
For what seemed like an eternity earlier this year Trump, you’ll recall, toyed -- flirted, really -- with the idea of running for president himself. But his off the wall fascination with the long discredited Obama birther conspiracy undermined his seriousness as a candidate and ended his campaign before it gained traction.
Still, it’s instructive to see that the people who are currently the most upset with his December 27 presidential debate plan are in fact leaders of the Republican Party establishment. They consider Trump to be a lamentable showboat, hijacking their election to simply hawk his latest book.
Columnist George Will, in particular, has been more than usually candid in his dire assessments. Both major political parties should consider how to prevent “charlatans, entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurial charlatans” like Herman Cain and Donald Trump from participating in the presidential campaigns in 2016, he said.
Trump himself is unmoved by all the personal criticism. In fact his showman’s instincts seem to be assuring him he’s doing something worthwhile.
Asked about the criticism he’s confronted since his moderating gig was first announced he replied, “We will get, probably, the highest ratings of any debate that they’ve had because of this controversy.”
It’s the new conservative mantra -- ratings matter, content not so much.
It’s been the guiding principal at Fox News for over a decade. Will Trump yell “You’re fired!” at each candidate he doesn’t like?
This potential debate is bona fide comedy gold, and I’m only surprised the media hasn’t gone to town on it yet.
This might be the moment to acknowledge the more serious aspect of this debacle. There’s a genuine civil war occurring within mainstream conservative movement that’s reflected in its establishment and Tea Party wings.
To a lifelong and influential conservative like Karl Rove or John McCain, the invitation made to Trump is a huge political miscalculation that takes the focus off the issues and places it onto him.
“I guarantee you, there are too many debates and we have lost the focus on from what the candidates’ vision for America is to who’s going to make a mistake?” McCain told Fox News on Monday, anticipating the whole format of the show.
“Let’s have a gotcha question to see if they’ll stumble and surprise everybody, and that’s not what debates are supposed to be about and I don’t think it’s helping the Republican Party or our candidates.”
So forget Christmas, just get ready for the main event folks. Donald Trump’s 2012 political debate (you better produce your birth certificate to participate).