Donald Trump will debut his latest television project Thursday. The former host of “The Apprentice” will be featured in his new role as a trash-talking presidential candidate who identifies the weaknesses of contenders for the Republican Party’s 2016 nomination and then pounces on them.
Should be fun.
But not particularly illuminating.
Trump’s candidacy guarantees reasonably high ratings for a summertime debate almost a year before the Republican National Convention. Unfortunately for the Republicans, the guy who almost certainly will not be their nominee — and who might even upset their 2016 plan by mounting an independent bid — will suck up all the oxygen.
When Trump is pontificating, who is going to notice what Scott Walker says — unless the governor of Wisconsin lets loose again with his delusional line about how “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world”?
The people with the tough jobs Thursday are not the candidates. They are simply furniture in Trump’s executive suite.
The people with the tough jobs are the moderators: Fox News Channel hosts Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace. They have to manage a hot mess that is unlikely to be cleaned up in the allotted two hours. It won’t be a matter of competence; Baier, Kelly and Wallace are perfectly capable of moderating a presidential debate of this sort.
The problem is that presidential debates of this sort — even when Trump is not present — are lamentable affairs. Debates among Republican presidential candidates are generally lame and debates among Democratic presidential candidates are generally lame.
There are two reasons for this.
First, the candidates tend to stick to talking points. Even the occasional “zinger” is so obviously scripted that the contenders deliver them with about as much style as an airport public-address announcement.
Second, and far more problematic, is the questioning. The moderators are as scripted as the candidates. The questions are so ridiculously predictable that it would be a relief if a moderator demanded that the candidates identify their favorite rock songs. (Walker’s a Van Halen fan, but what of Mike Huckabee? The former governor of Arkansas, a bass player, once joined Ted Nugent on a rendering of “Cat Scratch Fever.”) TV hosts invariably live up to the title “moderator.” They don’t want to be accused of being too controlling or too directive, and so they err on the side of being too collaborative — tossing candidates questions that invite boiler-plate answers. It is drab stuff and that’s not likely to change unless the field of potential moderators is opened up.