Was it the art of the deal? Or the artlessness of CNBC? I dunno, but it appears to me that the CNBC folks have all the spine of a gummy bear on their latest televised debate arrangements.
It started out with CNBC offering to host a 3-hour debate among the Republican candidates.
No dice, said Trump. That would be too long. He blamed CNBC’s offer on capitalism. They were just asking for a three-hour debate to bring in commercials and make money, claimed Trump. Not that a guy who claims he's so rich it would amaze you — how many billion dollars does he say he’s worth these days? — not that has a right to complain about somebody else making money.
Ben Carson joined in the fracas. He wasn’t participating in any debate longer than two hours, either.
What’s the real reason? The only one that occurs to me is that the longer the debate, the longer Carson and Trump have to get both feet wedged firmly into their mouths.
Keep it short, with a softball question at the beginning and a canned answer at the end and commercials in-between, allowing the candidates to get off little more than a few sound bites, and little time for followup questions.
CNBC could have said, “Sorry but this isn't just the Donny and Ben Show. It’s our TV station and we’re holding a three hour debate. We can do it with you. Or we can do it without you. In fact, we’ll have chairs for you, but they’ll look mighty empty if you don’t show up.
“Oh, and betcha your rivals make some comments about why your chairs are empty. You know. ‘Afraid of the truth.’ ‘Couldn’t stand the heat and so he didn’t come to the kitchen.’ ‘If Donald Trump can’t stand up for a three hour debate, how’s he gonna stand up to Putin?’ That kind of stuff.”
Instead, CNBC caved. Why? I suspect a bunch of sweaty-palmed suits calculated the audience draw of The Donald and were afraid that if their audience numbers were potentially lower, their ad sales would be, too.
I think that if they had calculated further, they would have concluded that The Donald abhors no audience more than nature abhors a vacuum. And he would have come. After which, Carson would have followed.
Instead, there was this, as reported in the trade paper Adweek. (Hey, New York Times, Washington Post, etcetera. Wake the hell up! Why are the trades like Hollywood Reporter and Adweek beating you to the punch?)
The two candidates signed a letter to CNBC Washington bureau chief Matthew Cuddy, agreeing only to participate in a debate that runs two hours and includes opening and closing statements from all candidates.
In a statement Thursday, CNBC said “Our goal is to host the most substantive debate possible. Our practice in the past has been to forego opening statements to allow more time to address the critical issues that matter most to the American people. We started a dialogue yesterday with all of the campaigns involved and we will certainly take the candidates’ views on the format into consideration as we finalize the debate structure.”
Oh well. I guess that they don’t make most network officials any smarter than they make most Republicans.