Who needs Saturday Night Live when Republicans are willing to descend into self-parody all by themselves?
Donald Trump is pairing up with Newsmax, the conservative magazine and news Web site, to moderate a presidential debate in Des Moines on Dec. 27. Mr. Trump’s role in the debate, which will be broadcast on the cable network Ion Television, is sure to be one of the more memorable moments in a primary season that has already delivered its fair share of circus-like spectacle.
Mr. Trump’s own flirtation with running for president this year seems almost quaint (whose birth certificate was he all worked up about?) compared with more recent distractions – like allegations of adultery and sexual harassment, gaffes that seemed scripted from a late-night comedy show, and a six-figure line of credit at Tiffany & Co.
Newsmax sent candidates the invitation on Friday afternoon. It began, “We are pleased to cordially invite you to 'The Newsmax Ion Television 2012 Presidential Debate,' moderated by a truly great American, Mr. Donald J. Trump.” Spokesmen for several candidates did not immediately respond to questions from The New York Times about whether they would accept.
I made my thoughts on this circus clear when I filled in for Hugh Hewitt on Friday, though many callers disagreed with my assessment of the situation. I counseled the candidates to decline to participate in this joke. Donald Trump is, and has always been, about one thing: Promoting Donald Trump. He is neither a serious political figure nor a serious conservative. One may suggest that perhaps just this one time, The Donald is willing to buckle down and focus his attention on the betterment of the republic, rather than endlessly stroking his own ego. Never mind:
This is what makes the afterword of his new book, “Time to Get Tough,” so relevant. After boasting of his own accolades — he writes, “I was quickly #1 in the polls,” as well as, “I am a ratings machine” — Trump offers his personal impressions of the candidates.
Ah. Trump is preparing to re-insert himself into the presidential process just in time to hawk a self-aggrandizing book. What a surprise. So far, Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul have heeded their better instincts by refusing to play themselves in this episode of the Donald Trump show. At last word, only front-runner Newt Gingrich has accepted the invitation. Trump called in to Greta's show on Friday to
promote discuss the event. Shockingly, he spent much of the interview dumping on Huntsman -- which seemed rather out of character for Trump. Since when does he fire public broadsides at people who've "disrespected" him? Oh, that's right -- since always.
This sequence of events puts Mitt Romney in an interesting spot. The guy who's risen so fast in the polls that he's confidently declaring himself the presumptive nominee has agreed to show up. If Romney begs off of this debate, a lot of people might start to wonder why he's ducking Newt. The former Massachusetts Governor has already nixed a proposed one-on-one, unmoderated debate with Gingrich. So Romney is damned if he does, damned if he doesn't. Show up, and you're validating the Trump silliness. Decline, and you look like you're scared of engaging your top rival in a non-traditional setting. Have fun with that, Romney campaign.
The callers who dialed in to disagree with me on Friday's show all made a similar point. They basically said, "Guy, how could this be any worse than a typical liberal media-run event, where most of the questioners are openly or subtlely hostile to conservatism?" The Trump gathering, they argued, would at least feature questions from a purported conservative to fellow conservatives. I agree with part of this sentiment. It is sometimes frustrating watching Republicans fall into MSM traps and play along with games that are designed to make them look bad. Two responses: (1) A good number of this cycle's GOP debates have been pretty fair and reasonable -- and when moderators asked bad or unfair questions, the candidates (especially Newt) and audiences haven't been bashful about voicing their displeasure. (2) I'm all in favor of introducing outside-the-box debate formats. I would love to see a Republican debate moderated by, say, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, and Bill Bennett -- people who care about (and understand) the movement. At the end of the day, I suspect Donald Trump couldn't care less about conservatism, and he certainly doesn't understand it in any meaningful way ("I'm for pro-life"). If we're going to ask our candidates to participate in an unorthodox debate, let's make sure it's about principles and country; not goosing book sales and satisfying smug egoism.
Parting thought: We know who's landing Herman Cain's endorsement later today (or do we?) The Donald says he'll announce his preference at the conclusion of his televised spectacle (reality television is exciting, isn't it?) It's hard to say who will garner this crucial vote of confidence, but it sure sounds like Trump has a strong affinity for one particular contender:
Trump writes that Mitt Romney has been “spectacular” in the debates and that the former Massachusetts governor is “a much different guy” in private than he is in public, describing him as “warm and engaging.”
“He gets criticized for changing his opinions, or ‘flip flopping,’ but over a lifetime I’ve seen many people who don’t change and they always get left behind,” Trump writes. “Smart people learn things, so they change their minds. Only stupid people never change their minds.” In an interview with The Washington Post, Trump repeated his defense of Romney’s evolving positions on key issues. “If you have a concrete wall in front of you, you can’t just try to run through it,” Trump said. “You have to go around it, under it, over it. Everybody changes.”
UPDATE - Michelle Malkin has...concerns.
UPDATE II - Bachmann and Santorum are also in, apprently. National Review's editors are disgusted:
Trump is a tax-hike-supporting, missile-defense-opposing, universal-health-care-advocating, eminent-domain abusing, Schumer-Weiner-Rangel-Reid-donating, long-time-pro-choice economic protectionist who in 2008 called George W. Bush “evil” and lauded president-elect Barack Obama as a potentially “great president” who would “lead by consensus.” The Trump debate is a sideshow, and those who would be the Republican nominee for the presidency of the United States are, one and all, better than it. The nominating process must be about which candidate can lead the country back to fiscal and economic reality, not about which candidate can best truckle with a reality-TV star.
Andy McCarthy dissents.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography