Among the many firsts of this unprecedented election year is that one candidate has distinguished himself as being obsessed with debate moderators and formats. Guess who.
Donald Trump has spent much of the campaign complaining about everything being rigged to crush him. The primaries were rigged. So are the polls and the press and even the election itself. It’s a position that reeks of paranoia and fear. There isn’t another candidate that has ever been so chronically neurotic about the forces supposedly aligned against him. It makes you wonder what sort of hysterics he we would resort to in negotiations with members of Congress or foreign leaders.
Yesterday Trump exposed another flank in the covert crusade to kneecap his candidacy. Interviewed by phone for a segment on CNBC, Trump alleged that his omnipresent enemies are “gaming the system” in order to tilt the debates in Hillary Clinton’s favor. His “evidence” was solely derived from his experience at last week’s Commander-in-Chief Forum on NBC. Which, by the way, he said he won. This was his response to anchor Joe Kernan’s question about the upcoming debates with Clinton:
“The fact is that they are gaming the system, and I think maybe we should have no moderator. Let Hillary and I sit there and just debate. Because I think the system is being rigged so it’s going to be a very unfair debate. And I can see it happening right now because everybody was saying that [Matt Lauer] was soft on Trump. Well now the new person is going to try and be really hard on Trump just to show the establishment what he can do. So I think it’s very unfair what they are doing. So I think we should have a debate with no moderator, just Hillary and I sitting there talking.”
Trump, of course, is the one who has been trying to game the system for months. He’s the only one who has had anything to say about the process, particularly with regard to debates. During the GOP primaries his griping forced the party and the press to succumb to his whims.
His proposal to eliminate the moderator is peculiar for two reasons. First, it would make the discussion wholly controlled by the candidates, rather than a neutral party who would introduce topics of importance to voters. Any subject that the candidates found uncomfortable, they would just leave out. That doesn’t serve the principle purpose of the debates which is to enable voters to make informed decisions about the election. A good moderator will also make sure that there is an even distribution of time and that candidates stay on topic.
Secondly, for Trump to suggest a moderator-free debate after he went to such extreme lengths to influence the selection of the moderators is absurd. Politico is reporting that the Commission on Presidential Debates paid deference to Trump with their moderator selections due to their fear of offending him:
“[T]here is wide speculation among media executives that NBC’s Lester Holt, who Trump is comfortable with, was chosen to moderate the first debate with Clinton later this month in order to appease the GOP nominee. Similarly, some also believe that Fox News’ Chris Wallace was tapped to moderate the third and final debate to lessen the likelihood that Trump skips it.”
If that’s true, the Commission failed terribly at their primary task. Allowing any candidate to guide their selection taints the whole process. There ought to be no criteria for the moderators other than their experience and ability. Was Clinton asked who she would feel comfortable with? And Chris Wallace is close friends with (and until last month employed by) Trump’s debate adviser Roger Ailes. That’s more than an appearance of bias.
Yet with all of the advantages Trump has received, he is still the only one bitching about it. He is either the biggest crybaby in politics or he just feels entitled to the special treatment all narcissists expect. That, combined with his innate fear of facing Clinton one-on-one, is what’s driving his cascade of tantrums. However, the Commission and the press should not be capitulating to him. They have already gone way too far by lowering the bar of expectations in his favor.
How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.