It does not often happen. On November 1, 2015, rare comity will occur among most of the Republican Presidential candidates. Campaign representatives will meet to plan the best way to handle their common enemy—the mainstream media in future debates.
Such temporary alliances of parties with mutually-exclusive goals are not unheard of. During World War II, the US and USSR found a way to work together against the Nazis, their common enemy. Currently, it appears that Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are discussing how to handle a dangerous Iran.
Donald Trump and Ben Carson had negotiated an agreement with CNBC for the third debate to last only two hours, including commercials rather than exclusive of them. CNBC also had agreed to allow opening and closing statements from each candidate. While the candidates were given the opportunity to make closing statements, they were deprived of the chance to make opening statements as promised.
Instead, the candidates were greeted with the ultimate “gotcha” question as an initial query: “In thirty seconds,…what is your biggest weakness, and what are you doing to address it?” CNBC clearly acted in bad faith. Yet what penalty could be exacted? So far, the Republican National Committee (RNC) has cancelled the February NBC presidential debate, but that is not enough to prevent such outrageous behavior in the future.
Donald Trump addressed this betrayal by CNBC directly, but not many recognized it at the time. I believe he was speaking directly to CNBC when he answered “I think maybe my greatest weakness is that I trust people too much. I’m too trusting. And when they let me down, if they let me down, I never forgive. I find it very, very hard to forgive people that deceived me.”
This was supposed to be a debate about business and economic policies. How was it possible for moderator John Harwood to ask a vacuous touchy-feely question of Mike Huckabee as “when you look at him [Donald Trump], do you see someone with the moral authority to unite the country?” Understandably, the crowd booed the question, and other candidates chimed in with their astonished disapproval of such a tactic.
This is not a matter of “freedom of the press.” Ted Cruz summed it up well with his debate lament: “The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media. This is not a cage match. And, you look at the questions — “Donald Trump, are you a comic-book villain?” “Ben Carson, can you do math?” “John Kasich, will you insult two people over here?” “Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign?” “Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?” How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about?”
The third debate debacle has led the Republican Presidential candidates to form a coalition. The meeting is being arranged by campaign advisers for Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal, and Lindsey Graham. Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio. and Rick Santorum are expected to send representatives as well, and this list may be extended. It is doubtful that John Kasich’s people will attend since he “thought they [CNBC debate moderators] did a good job.” The RNC is not invited.
The goal of the coalition appears to be taking control of and responsibility for the debates from the RNC. The candidates want the debates to enhance the stature of all of them, improving the chances that one of them will eventually be elected as President. With the RNC controlling the debates, it is unclear what their goal has been, but it does not seem to be in the interest of any, let alone all, of the candidates.
I have suggested that the RNC (or now the candidate coalition, perhaps) should simply buy the two hours of cable time like any corporation, and sell its own commercials to recoup some or all of the cost. Then the Republicans can control the format of the debate, ensuring equal time for candidates and sufficient opportunity to explain their positions.
Another possibility is to broadcast it on the Internet, making it freely available. Given the public’s limited access to some of the cable stations, this may well expose the debate to a larger audience. I am confident that whatever resolution happens, it will enhance the Republican nominee’s chances of winning next November—rather than diminish them as the RNC has managed to do.
Only one candidate will end up with the nomination. All the candidates have mutually exclusive goals. Yet they have wisdom and maturity to recognize that they all face a common enemy greater than themselves. Mortal allies certainly do make strange bedfellows.