March 16, 2016
Fox News scheduled a debate for next Monday in Utah. Donald Trump decided not to play. He’s speaking to AIPAC, the big fish of pro-Israel fundraising and lobbying organizations a couple thousand miles away on the same day and wasn’t willing to cancel.
Welcome to the post-March 15th Republican world. Trump has an edge on his pursuers and is going to play any card he has to stay ahead. As is often the case with a Trump gambit, this is a two-fer.
Ted Cruz is constantly criticizing Trump for being neutral on Israel. It’s not a fair characterization. He did say he wanted to act as an honest broker in negotiations, but hasn’t indicated he wants to pick up where Barack Obama left off in making Bibi Netanyahu crazy.
Cruz is resolutely pro-Israel, as was Marco Rubio. If unconditional support for Israel is an important issue for you, Trump is not your candidate. However, this doesn’t make him anti-Semitic. As he likes to point out, his son-in-law is Jewish, and daughter Ivanka converted.
Missing the debate to speak to the most prominent pro-Israel organization in the country is an excellent way to push back on the narrative.
Of course, this was only the collateral benefit of skipping the debate. The best part was reminding everyone who is calling the shots. Once Trump announced he was skipping the debate, John Kasich decided no Trump, no Kasich. Debate done.
When Trump decided to opt out of a pre-Iowa debate, many observers thought it cost him a caucus win. The show went on without him, and apparently Iowa voters decided he didn’t respect them enough and picked Cruz.
We’ll never know for sure, but I disagree. I think Cruz would have won anyway. He actually had a rough debate without Trump there to divert attention. It was a closed caucus. Cruz has won the majority of closed caucuses.
Even if Trump did pay an Iowa penalty, it certainly didn’t cause him any long-term damage. Without Trump, the debate did see ratings drop, though they were still well ahead of anything Fox News could have aired instead.
Now, Trump has closed down an entire debate. It’s likely the public is somewhere beyond burned out on these events, but ratings for GOP debates are still running ahead of anything Democrats or Republicans managed in 2008 or 2012.
No other events give a cable news network the same income potential. It’s their version of an NFL playoff game. The earliest debates this cycle were more like a Super Bowl for them.
Fox News lost some money when Trump skipped out in Iowa. They’re losing a lot more by cancelling a whole debate. In case The Donald needed to remind Fox they need him more than he needs them, the message is received loud and clear today.
Trump’s opponents like to point out he is vulnerable against Hillary in the fall because he can’t expect to dominate the media the same way in a general election. They say the media is resolutely liberal/progressive, and will circle the wagons around Clinton once Trump has won the nomination.
Absent Fox News, yes, the rest of the mainstream media is left to very left of center. But they’re also pro-establishment. If they were just lefty, Bernie Sanders would have received a lot more run.
Various commentator panels are strewn with ex-or current Clintonistas. All true. But they also want to make money. Trump pays the bills. Trump is always available to call in. Hillary doesn’t sell as well. If we’re in September and The Donald is on CNN and Hillary is on MSNBC, the eyeballs will go to CNN.
Getting attacked by the networks isn’t important. Giving Hillary more time isn’t important. As long as Trump retains his access he’s fine. The dollars indicate he will keep his ability to say whatever he wants as often as he wants, wherever he wants.
As the front runner, Trump doesn’t have to debate. He’ll remind us he’s done more TV, answered more questions than any candidate in the history of the Republic. If he starts struggling and wants to do one, a network will happily accommodate him.
His opponents will happily share the stage. Trump holds all the cards here. Estimates of his benefits from free media are in the billions. I’m sure this is conservative if anything. The debate shutdown gives him another couple days of news story, and steps on Cruz’s opportunity to win points before Arizona votes next Tuesday.
Ted really needs to win that one. Once again, Trump is doing everything in his power to throw everyone off. He’s a pro. Until somebody regularly defeats him, stopping the train is more than just keeping him from 1237.
If you thought Trump would eventually exhaust his supply of effective stunts, think again.