By Uche Onyebadi
THIS week, U.S. Republican Party presidential aspirants will officially flag off their campaign for the White House. They will do so in the first of a series of presidential debates that kick off on Thursday (August 6). Their host is of course the conservative Fox News television channel on the communications stable of media mogul, Rupert Murdoch, who is originally from Australia.
One of the exciting things about this debate is not just who will participate in it, but those to be excluded from the podium for the epic challenge. The host, Fox News, introduced what has become a bizarre rule about the persons who will appear on stage. According the organization, only the top ten candidates based on five national polls will have a chance to be invited for the debate. It means that whoever that is not given the opportunity to debate the rest of the candidates should, for all practical purposes, count himself or herself out of the race.
Therein lies the potential problem for Republicans. As the polls stand, some prominent names in the Republican Party’s race may have to bow out of contention. The statistical rationale for this choice of who makes it to the podium is quite suspect, as some of the candidates are ahead of the others by numbers that are not only of statistical insignificance, but make no sense by polling standards. For instance, the difference between the 10th candidate who gets in and the first of the “disqualified” candidates may not be up to two percent in a combined poll where the margin of error is plus or minus three percent.
As of today, the most likely candidates to debate on live television are Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Chris Christie and Rick Perry. The “losers” are John Kasich, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, George Pataki and Lindsey Graham. Of particular interest among the “losers” is John Kasich who is the current governor of Ohio. The debate will be held in his state and, as the host governor and presidential candidate, he is yet to be qualified to appear in it.
Some of these issues of potential embarrassment for Fox News and the Republican Party apparently led to a last-minute decision by the news organization to marginally change the rules of the game. According to Fox News’ executive vice president, Michael Clemente, the six candidates who will not make it to be debate will have a Fox News forum four hours before the main event, where they will be hosted by some Fox News analysts to discuss their presidential ambitions. The reality is that this is a bogus and cosmetic measure to make the “losers” feel a bit respected.
The up-coming debate promises to be political theatre. And this is because of one man, Donald Trump, the man-of-the-moment among the presidential contenders on the Republican front. When he declared his intention to run for the exulted office, his rating was no more important as that of a political clown who will add some humour and excitement to the process. But, he has since surprised everyone, and maybe himself, by becoming the front-runner in the polls.
Trump has had a no-holds-barred approach to seeking office. He has dismissed some of colleagues as spineless individuals who have no political muscle to be effective and efficient as president. He has called others names and dismissed them as people who had come to him cap-in-hand begging for money to run for office. But, above all, what appears to have helped him win the hearts and minds of the Republican Party base is his ability to lash out at immigrants, especially Mexicans whom he calls leeches and rapists.
Leeches and rapists
He talks tough against Russian, China and Iran and promises to turn the U.S. into an international bully that will use its military and financial might to get whatever its wants. Trump speaks the language of the Republican Party masses; and lends his voice to the inner-most sentiments of conservatives, that is, those things they want to scream about but are scared to say them in public for fear of being branded bigots and appearing to be politically incorrect.
So far, Trump has been riding the crest of popularity without getting down to the nitty-gritty of policy. No one knows where he stands on any policy issue or how he plans to handle policy matters if elected president. But, does he care?
Charles Krauthammer, a prominent Fox News commentator, said in the O’Reilly Factor show (on Fox News) that the trouble with the debate is that it will be all about Trump. Sadly, he added, none of the co-debaters would want to go after the rabble-rouser that Trumps is, without severe consequences. This is how he put his argument: “This is a real dilemma in a big field. If you’re the one who takes him on, you could be the one who ends up damaged….That’s the problem if you take on Trump. You might succeed in bringing him down a notch or two, but you may not be the one who benefits. So is there interest that you would have as a candidate in going after him? I don’t know what the answer is.”
This boils down to the proverbial who-will-bell-the-cat? The bigger problem is that the other nine candidates are not far away from Trump on what they believe is the best way to govern America. Their key issues are abolishing the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare that provides health insurance for millions of Americans.
I don’t normally watch Fox News. But, I’ll watch every minute of the debate. Who want to miss out on the up-coming political comedy show that Fox News will offer live on television?