Those tweets represent the Republican front-runner’s complaints about the proposed format for the Oct. 28 Republican debate set to go down in Boulder, Colo. It will be hosted by CNBC.
As reported by Politico, several campaigns expressed concerns in a call with CNBC that they be allowed to make those unbearable opening and closing statements in Boulder. Following the discussion, the campaigns of Donald Trump and Ben Carson sent a joint letter to the network: “Neither Mr. Trump or Dr. Carson will participate in your debate if it is longer than 120 minutes including commercials and does not include opening and closing statements.”
Sounds like a threat. For context, consider that Trump has complained a great deal about CNN’s marathon three-hour Sept. 16 debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. The longer the real estate titan stands on that stage, the more tired he gets and the more likely it is that he’ll have to talk about policy.
A headstrong network might respond that it’s looking out for the interests of its viewers; that, Hey, we’re running this debate, not you; that if it doesn’t want to do boring, press-release-mimicking, rote, snooze-time opening statements, it’s not going to be bullied into including them.
Now for the actual response from CNBC:
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.
Call that Step 1 toward a Trump victory. Next thing you know, he will be matching hair color with autumnal Aspens and unleashing a boastful opening statement against a backdrop of CNBC iconography.
The moment will mark his assumption of full ownership of U.S. cable news. Not that the guy hasn’t already colonized it: Whenever he pleases, it seems, he picks up the phone and engages in long telephone conversations with the cable news host of the day. For one call-in interview during the CNN morning show “New Day,” network President Jeff Zucker personally authorized producers to blow through a commercial break or two just to keep the party going. Strained relations with Trump following the Fox News Republican debate in early August prompted business-model-oriented convulsions in the network’s executive suite, yielding frantic telephonic efforts at air-clearing diplomacy. A similar process repeated itself in miniature just last month, though the parties have apparently reconciled. Trump is on all the time, to the demonstrable delight of the enterprise.
“Say what you want about Donald Trump, but he ain’t wrong when he says people want to watch him on TV. He changes the ratings on cable television,” CNN host Chris Cuomo told the Erik Wemple Blog in September. He changes the ratings on other media as well. Why else would an Atlanta radio host air a radio interview with the candidate that was pieced together from previous Trump statements? Ratings.
And in cable news, ratings uber alles. Good ratings mean good revenues; good ratings mean bragging rights over competitors; good ratings mean all journalistic sins are expiated. Because ratings. As this blog noted yesterday, Donald Trump has to account for a significant portion of the 8-million-viewer gap between the Republican debates and Tuesday night’s Democratic debate on CNN (24 million and 23 million for the Republican debates, and 15 million for the Democratic one). The Trump dividend alone is several times larger than even the top-ranked nightly cable news programs.
What makes this whole episode so juicy is the way in which Trump and Carson set themselves up to beat their chests. Their statement carries an explicit warning about the time of the debate — no longer than 120 minutes. Meanwhile, a CNBC source says that the network “never contemplated getting anywhere near three hours.” So when the debate ends up concluding at a reasonable hour, Trump can take credit. What a negotiator.