By and large, I agree with Slate’s Jim Newell about Donald Trump’s decision to skip the debate. I don’t actually see it impacting the polls too much. People who have decided “Yeah, I really think that Donald Trump should be the President of the United States” have different ideas about qualifications than you and I, and sticking it that stuck-up blond will, at worst, do little to shake their resolve. The only question is if this vocal and poll-driven support translates into action, to votes and to caucusing. So if he ends up winning Iowa this will look like a masterstroke of political will, and if he loses he’ll look like a dope, but they will be ex-post facto narratives.
To me, the important thing is that Trump invited the other networks to stream his “counter-programming”, a nauseatingly insincere “fundraiser for wounded veterans”, which attempts to give a patina of respectability to his petulance. It seems likely that his act can get higher ratings than the debate, if just because people will want to see how much he attacks Fox and Megyn Kelley, because people are attracted to his style(which is bizarre: his shtick sounds exactly like a peculiarly dimwitted third grader who just learned how to swear).
It’s CNN, and MSNBC, and any of the business spinoffs, that interest me, if they decide to show it. Let’s stipulate a few things.
- No one really thinks of CNN as journalism anymore. They do some good work, and their reach is impressive, especially during breaking news, but it is buried under speculative and sensationalistic fluff.
- The Republican debates have been seal-barking absurdities, completely disconnected from reality, and highlighted by the two young Hispanic hopes arguing about how the other one doesn’t hate Mexicans enough.
- Tonight’s debate won’t change that.
And yet, it seems to me to be important that nobody cover Trump’s event. In doing so, the networks will abdicate any pretense they have about politics being something that matters, something that impacts people’s lives. As bad as the debates are, they are necessary for people to get a glimpse at the candidates, how they are when taken off guard, their personalities, their strengths, and especially their weaknesses. Debates are usually scripted and easily veer into sideshow, but are still an important part of the process.
To say that “Trump is rewriting the rules!” is true, but it is impossible to argue for the better. Sending cameras to this self-serving egoshow only further undermines the disconnect between POLITICS! as a show and the real politics that can make lives better or worse for the hundreds of millions who aren’t on TV and in the club. It is saying that the only thing which matters is the spectacle, the human torso imping his knife-mouthed way across the screen.
Ratings are important, and advertising dollars keep the lights on. Sticking it to Fox would be fun for CNN and MSNBC, and it is always fun to see Fox get swallowed by the beast it created. At some point though, a decision has to be made on whether the commitment to democracy means something, and as over-the-top as this sounds, gleefully ignoring even the most surface-level demonstration of the electoral process so that a megalomaniacal billionaire can do his witless routine demonstrates that commitment means nothing.