Smarter than he looks

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Ben Zentner, Columnist

 

It is now nearly impossible to have a conversation about American politics without evoking the name of Donald Trump. His odd rhetoric and unapologetically crass comments have kept him poised as the candidate people either love to hate or flat-out love.

Trump constantly makes headlines for something outlandish he’s done. It’s a truly remarkable feat to remain so relevant. Dare I say it, he’s almost become a part of our pop culture.

One of Trump’s recent calls for attention was his threat to boycott the next GOP debate if certain conditions for its format were not met by the host network, CNBC. The demands, laid out in a joint letter between Donald Trump and Ben Carson, are that the debate must be shorter than two hours and must have time for opening and closing statements from the candidates.

Trump’s position as the GOP frontrunner gives him considerable sway over the Republican debates. CNN reported on Oct. 16 that CNBC caved to the demands, agreeing to “a two-hour debate, including commercials; a 30-second closing statement for each candidate and a single, open-ended question at the beginning of the debate that each candidate will have the opportunity to answer.”

Were Trump and Carson right to demand altered terms for the debate? The last Republican debate was three hours long; a length of time that Trump worried was too drawn-out to maintain the audience’s interest.

In altering the debate he has effectively cut the actual debate’s time down to only 90 minutes, making it increasingly difficult to give proper time to the expected ten Republican candidates on the stage.

Whatever the logistic implications of Trump’s demands, it was unquestionably a smart campaign move. Here is yet another stunt that keeps Trump in the limelight. And most importantly, it shows his influence on the party as a whole.

Trump and Carson are both big players in the GOP, but by forcing a broadcasting company to bow down to their commands, they have made it absolutely clear that they are effectively the reasons this debate is happening in the first place. After all, if the debate would have been successful without them, CNBC would have ignored their threats.

Many observers, especially from the more liberal side of the spectrum, may see this move as manipulative, petty and unethical. They might be right. But that doesn’t mean that Trump and Carson aren’t playing smart politics.

Being relevant in the media is one thing. Having control over the media is another. Trump in particular demands attention time and time again from conservative and liberal news sources alike, to the extent that he is essential to any worthwhile discussion of American politics, at least in CNBC’s mind.

Even the democratic debate was stamped with Trump’s footprint as he tweeted throughout the entire debate, leading CNN to publish an article titled “Donald Trump aims to steal spotlight from Dems” in response.

They’re more right than they know. Slowly, we’re all becoming accustomed to Trump — used to Trump. His is a name mentioned more than any other in American politics today.

The scary part is that his plan is working. He’s a household name and his infamy may turn into ballots in the future. Frankly, I’m impressed.