This Donald Trump-Newsmax-ION Television debate deal is getting worse all the time.
Or looked at from another perspective, Donald Trump is making Rick Santorum’s wildest dreams come true.
The only top-tier candidates currently showing up to the Newsmax-ION Television Trump-moderated debate? Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.
This is everything Santorum ever dreamed of, with the possible exception of that horrible nightmare about “man-on-dog.” Consider: a debate between the current frontrunner and Rick Santorum, moderated by a celebrity, in which Santorum will only be relegated to the podium on the end because there are only two podiums available to begin with. A debate where he will have ample time to talk. A debate that people will be watching, even if only in the hope of hearing someone say, “You’re fired.” This is the only way Rick Santorum was even going to meet Donald Trump, let alone leap onto the national stage.
Usually, to be heard at a debate, he has to fight his way through several miles of thick underbrush that separate the Outer Rim Podiums from the main debate. By the time he arrives, he is irritable and thirsty and yells at Mitt Romney. Then the camera pans away from him for an instant, everyone forgets that he exists, and he has to start all over.
This is Rick Santorum’s big shot.
He has gone passionately on the record about how excited he is for the debate: “Many of my opponents jockeyed to be the first to fly up to New York and use Donald Trump for a photo op and no doubt try and secure an endorsement. But when Donald wants to moderate a debate – they refuse to attend. That’s what’s so wrong with politics today – hypocrisy.” The fact that people were seeking Trump’s endorsement in the first place is a separate problem.
Santorum continued: “At this critical time in our nation’s history, just weeks before Iowan’s cast this important vote – many of the other candidates want to hide behind TV ads and mail pieces.” (Santorum does not plan to do this because, well, he cannot afford TV ads and mail pieces. His current campaign strategy consists of ringing people’s doorbells and asking politely if they would mind if he fixed himself a sandwich.) “We plan to be there front and center in person to debate Newt directly, and if it’s just the two of us, we’re fine with it.” So fine. Really, really fine! Great! Magnificent, even! Thank you, Santa!
Sure, Newt Gingrich is showing up, because, hey, he’s Newt Gingrich. Herman Cain has passed along the Honey Badger mantle in the debates to him: He don’t care! He’s the great unruffled owl at the center of the discussion, gamely commenting on all sorts of subjects and forcing his staff to stay up late rewriting all his policy positions.
But it may well be just the two of them. Rick Perry declined. Give Rick Perry a chance to say no to being involved in a debate, even if the debate is moderated by a man who resembles a heavily medicated woodchuck, and Rick Perry will take it.
Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and even Ron Paul have declined, citing unspecified reasons or coughing into their sleeves and muttering “ION Television? What do you think I am, a Criminal Minds re-run?”
This initially made me feel somewhat sanguine. The field may not be a joke after all, I murmured reassuringly to myself. Now that Cain’s out, everyone is putting on a straight face and taking a serious approach to the policy challenges of our time!
Then I saw the most recent Rick Perry ad, the one where he says that Obama has put gays in the military but won’t let our children pray in schools or have Christmas. This is not a joke. Well, it is a joke, but it’s real.
Perhaps reports of the death of the joke campaign were slightly exaggerated.
Meanwhile, Gingrich made fun of those who weren’t planning to show up. “If you’re afraid to debate with Donald Trump, people are going to say, ‘so you want me to believe you can debate Barack Obama but you’re afraid to show up with Donald Trump’?” Yes, actually. If you want to be considered ready to debate Barack Obama, the last thing you want is to show up with Donald Trump. It’s embarrassing enough to be seen debating with Rick Perry.
But don’t tell Santorum that. He’s much too excited.