Now that the establishment war on Donald Trump is fully out in the open, Matt Taibbi expects the debate tonight to be a setup with the three moderators, but especially Hugh Hewitt, chosen so as to guarantee that they will arouse Trump’s ire. He says that the goal will be to get Trump to do something that will dent Trump’s popularity with his supporters but that the effort will backfire.
The first debate was an epic piece of comic theater.
It was salacious, pathetic, vapid, undignified, degrading, uninformative and compelling, making it a model for how Americans will consume politics going forward in the reality TV era.
This debate promises to be just as explosive. In fact, this affair is, quite frankly, a setup. All three moderators have tangled with Donald Trump before. In fact, the event seems like Jerry Springer-style tactics by CNN: putting people disposed to throw chairs at each other onstage, turning the cameras on and waiting for all hell to break loose.
Hewitt in particular is virtually guaranteed to get into a scrap with Trump. A former Nixon ghostwriter, Hewitt is one of the most vile people in America, a charmless, self-congratulating pedant whose fiendishly boring right-wing radio show might be called Not as Smart as I Think I Am.
Hewitt interviewed Trump earlier this month and fired a string of gotcha-style foreign policy questions at the Donald, daring him to name the leaders of Hezbollah, al-Qaeda and ISIS. Trump deflected as only he knows how, saying that he didn’t know but that it didn’t matter because by the time he made it to office, “they’ll all be gone.” Similar to the Kelly episode, he grew angry about the exchange overnight, and the next day told Joe Scarborough that Hewitt is a “third rate radio announcer.”
Bash, meanwhile, did the interview with Trump where he blasted attorney Elizabeth Beck for being “disgusting” while breastfeeding. And Tapper went after Trump in his own interview for promoting “traditional” marriage when Trump himself has been married three times.
My guess is that the debate will play right into Trump’s hands. Hewitt, who was a Harvard housemate of Grover Norquist and was tutored by Alan Keyes, will act as a stand-in for the Republican Party bigwigs: he’ll try to bloody Trump by exposing his lack of concrete knowledge, in the area of foreign affairs particularly. Expect questions along the lines of, “Who is Hassan Nasrallah’s favorite soccer player?” or “Name two countries in South America.”
This will make for excellent theater, but what Trump’s audiences will see is their candidate being pestered by one GOP puppet and two reporters from CNN, which in ‘Murica is widely understood to be a wing of the Democratic Party.
If it does turn out be the setup that Taibbi predicts, I expect Trump to counterattack by ridiculing the moderators. The Republican base loves it when you attack establishment journalists.
I began to have second thoughts about not watching the debate and considered the possibility of going to a friend’s and doing so. But then I learned that it lasts three hours! Whose bright idea was it to make this into some sort of endurance test? By the third hour, the debaters will likely be punch drunk and that should make for entertaining TV but I don’t think I can take three hours of relentless, escalating right-wing rhetoric as each candidate tries to outdo the other in macho fervor. However, it turns out that CNN is going to offer a free livestream of the event so I might watch a bit of it if the stream works.