CHARLOTTE, N.C., Aug. 2, 2015 – Two stories dominated the news this weekend: Donald Trump and all the rest.
Come Thursday, the FOX News Channel will get a ratings bonanza the likes of which no other pre-presidential campaign debate has ever achieved. It probably will not mean much, but it is a sure bet that FOX will claim it does.
Already the promotions have turned to hype rather than substance. It’s completely understandable. The national conventions are still a year away, but the Donald has captured the summertime rerun season with a bold new approach that demonstrates that he is not an “apprentice” when it comes to self-promotion.
Megyn Kelly continually tells her viewers that she has been working diligently to create difficult, insightful questions that will challenge the top 10 Republican hopefuls on the stage. And, with her legal background, Kelly will likely deliver some provocative interrogation. That said, anyone who watches her show knows that Megyn is also a master manipulator of hype and hyperbole that frequently over-emphasize a story.
Probably the biggest beneficiary of the first debate event will be FOX. The “gang of nine” that will be piling on Trump will be in a spitting contest to see who can throw out the most memorable one-liner so it puts his name front and center on all the news analysis programs on Friday.
The fame will be short-lived, but it should provide a boost for whichever candidate scores a bullseye.
Viewers, on the other hand, will be either tuning in to watch Trump confirm their convictions or implode like many media watchdogs have been predicting for weeks. Either way, that makes for a huge boost in ratings for FOX during the doldrums of the dog days of summer.
With so many candidates in the field, it will be impossible for one, even Trump, to emerge from the field as a shoo-in. What this debate could do however, is to magnify a fatal flaw for one or two contenders with a slip of the tongue or a statement that seems contradictory to their image. In that sense, the hoopla may not decide any winners but it could lower a few people into a formidable come-from-behind position.
Even so, remember what Mitt Romney did to Barack Obama in their first head-to-head presidential debate in 2012. Obama was so unprepared, or perhaps overly confident, that the Republican challenger chewed him up to the point that even Democrats and their media supporters could not defend the president.
Then consider that that event was between the two presidential candidates with just weeks to go before the election, and even then it did not cause Obama his presidency.
That fact alone should offer enough proof that the “Thursday night fights” will be just the first in a marathon boxing match and little else.
The first week in August is a time when families are taking their last days of freedom with the kids before school begins. Even in August of 2016, the presidential rumblings will be stronger, but nobody will really begin to pay attention until after Labor Day.
At the moment, there is more interest in the NFL training camps than the presidential races. That, however, is precisely why the Thursday debate will be such a powerful opportunity for FOX. There is only one reason why a mass audience would pay attention to a campaign debate in August of 2015. The reason is Trump.
Love him or hate him, Donald Trump, for the moment at least, is the catalyst and the driving force behind the frenzy surrounding the initial competition of words that will substitute for a serious debate.
Republicans will be watching intently to discern the candidate who has the least amount of baggage to challenge the Democratic nominee, who, for the time being anyway, appears to be Hillary Clinton.
Democrats will be paying equally close attention to find the political loopholes in whichever candidate appears to grab the momentary edge over his or her competition.
The key is not to take the debate too seriously. Not that the candidates aren’t serious or that they will be taking the situation lightly, but simply because there is far too much water to flow under the bridge before the real political whitewater rafters emerge with a legitimate lead.
When all is said and done on Thursday, it should be great fun with plenty of surprises.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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