The Blog

Donald Trump vs Everyone: Do TV Debates Really Matter?

As we are about to drive full throttle into the 2016 Presidential Campaign with the first of what will be a multitude of agonizingly painful debates, some are already asking: Do live TV Debates really matter?

Well these debates clearly matter to the 17 "announced" potential Republican candidates, since they are pulling out all the stops to drive up their polls numbers just enough to get a spot behind one of the podiums at the Fox News-Facebook sponsored debate on Thursday, August 6 in Cleveland, Ohio.

At the moment it is difficult to keep track of all the Republican contenders vying for their party's nomination - there are 17 and counting.

The top contenders at moment based on the latest polls include; Donald Trump (businessman and TV personality), Scott Walker (Governor of Wisconsin), Jeb Bush (former Governor of Florida), Marco Rubio (Senator from Florida), Ben Carson (heart surgeon), Mike Huckabee (former Governor of Arkansas and TV personality), Rand Paul (doctor and Senator from Kentucky), Rick Perry (former Governor of Texas), Chris Christie (Governor of New Jersey), Ted Cruz (Senator from Texas) and John Kasich (Governor of Ohio).

The sheer number of candidates has been a challenge for Fox News and Facebook, so they decided to split the debate into two parts.

The prime time "Main Event"- a la Frank Sinatra's last Madison Square Garden Concert - will go on at 9pm and will include only the top 10 of the contenders above ranked by their latest poll numbers.

And here's the fun part.

Those who didn't make the cut will be relegated, to a late afternoon seating at "Grandma's Thanksgiving Dinner Table" Debate held at 5 pm. All to keep these presently less fortunate (their luck could change) contenders from complaining too loudly!

Those with the early spot so far include Bobby Jindal (Governor of Louisiana), Rick Santorum (former Senator from Pennsylvania), Carly Fiorina (former CEO of Hewlett Packard), Lindsey Graham (Senator from South Carolina), George Pataki (former Governor of New York) and Jim Gilmore (former Governor of Virginia).

So at this moment, many Americans are asking themselves why THEY are not running for the Republican Nomination!

FLASH - While writing this I just got a call from my mother-in-law in Southern New Jersey telling me that she is considering throwing her hat into the GOP primary ring!

And then there is "The Donald Factor."

In the latest polls Donald Trump is running far ahead of the pack - with as much as 20% of the vote and his mere presence is a huge challenge for the other candidates.

They don't want to raise Trump's stature and waste too much of their precious "me time" dealing with him and his slightly inflated ego.

Although Trump has been doing his best to downplay his debating skills, there is no question he is smart, quick on his feet and a consummate showman.

His legendary reality TV show on air for several years proves my point.

This guy is no stranger to stage craft and the rest of the pact will be hard pressed to duplicate something else, his TV charm and charisma - a quality you are either born with or not and no debate coach can teach.

Some ask why Trump seems to be connecting so well with the voters on the issues?

Well, for quite some time the American voters have been sending the same message loud and clear - although no one seems to be listening!

"We are fed up with the dysfunction in Washington DC and it does not seem to be getting any better no matter who we elect or which party is running the show."

So Trump's no nonsense straight talk approach has really hit a nerve!

Many voters think he is the "genuine article", not a real politician and says exactly what he thinks at any given asset on Thursday evening? Only time will tell.

In fact, Trump has stolen Chris Christie's thunder as the "straight talkin' no nonsense guy".

All of Trump's so-called antics are clearly giving Reince Priebus the Chairman of the Republican National Committee a serious case of heartburn, especially in a cycle where Republicans might have a good chance to win back The White House and keep both Houses of Congress.

Reince's only hope on Debate Night is that one or more of the GOP "middies" rescue the helm away from "Master and Commander Trump" with a brilliant showing before he runs the already sinking "Ship of Fools" aground.

Although this first debate is bound to be entertaining, critics are wrong if they dismiss it as a political sideshow.

This is undoubtedly a must see TV event and clearly an enormous opportunity for all the contenders - 'Kiddie Table' notwithstanding - to get very valuable free media time for what promises to be a record TV and social media audience.

And just think of all the ads that can be edited out of the magic moments and gaffes that can run ad nauseam for the next year.

If you think that TV debates don't matter just ask Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush, Al Gore, Rick Perry and Gordon Brown, just to name a few.

In the 1960 first Nixon-Kennedy Debate those who listened on radio thought the pained and perspiring Nixon won and those who watched this first ever live TV Debate gave the victory to the handsome, tanned and composed John Kennedy over Nixon who refused to wear makeup to cover his legendary 5 o'clock shadow ...Boy, have we come a long way!

Sadly Gerald Ford making the foreign affairs gaffe of the decade claiming "there is no Soviet domination over Eastern Europe" at moment when there clearly was, gave voters paying attention pause as to whether it was time for a new Commander-in-Chief and placed Governor Jimmy Carter the Georgia Peanut Farmer behind the Oval Office desk.

George H.W Bush famously stared at his watch, as if he had someplace better to be than up there on that debate stage with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot.

Al Gore could not control his audibly petulant sighs when George "W" was answering questions which made him look smug at best.

And just in the last cycle, GOP Candidate Rick Perry could not remember the name of the third Federal Agency he wanted to eliminate!

The 2010 British Leadership Debates, which were the first ever TV Debates on that level in Britain, clearly had an effect on the outcome of that election - they catapulted Nick Clegg from an obscure back bencher into the public spotlight at the expense of both David Cameron and Prime Minister Gordon Brown - who seemed that he would rather be having root canal treatment than be on that debate platform.

For Trump, he is his own biggest challenge. Can he remain genuine without losing it when challenged?

Can he avoid making a critical error or major gaffe as Rick Perry did in 2012?

Debates also provide an opportunity for the voters to see the candidates up close inter-acting with their competitors face to face.

In the debate settings you cannot attack your challenger without mercy and then claim "you have no responsibility for the content of this ad" - you are standing right next to each other face to face.

The live TV debate stage is not only the place where the voter gets a chance to understand your policies, it also provides full frontal insights into who you are as a human being and how you react under pressure.

These qualities are important to the American voter who knows there is no presidential training camp-except maybe the Vice Presidency.

The American President must play many roles: Chief Diplomat, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Trade Promoter, Domestic Policy Chief Advisor, Economic Strategist, Democratic or Republican Party Head and always Healer-in-Chief in times of tragedy.

The debates are in fact the ultimate job interview or audition for the most powerful position on Planet Earth.

To their credit, the American voter is much smarter than the pundits think they are and can spot a phony right through the TV tube or even on their iPhone.

And this is just the beginning!

We haven't even heard when the first Democratic Debate will take place.

Right now Hillary Clinton probably sees no need to engage with Bernie Sanders (Independent Senator from Vermont), Martin O'Malley (Former Governor of Maryland), Jim Webb (Former Senator from Virginia) or Lincoln Chafee (Former Governor and Senator from Rhode Island) since that would raise their stature.

However, this could be a serious miscalculation since debates offer the candidate a chance to practice and hone their skills among a somewhat friendly field.

And then there is "The Joe Factor" as rumors abound that VP Joe Biden is once again considering throwing his hat in the ring for a third try at The White House.

"Joe" like "The Donald" is a no nonsense guy who tells it like it is....Interesting match up?

This VEEP however, also has real governing experience in both the legislative and executive branches of government!

So this week's Televised Debate will be very interesting on many levels.

When all is said and done and the 'spinmeisters' have had their say, only the American people will decide as always which candidates should survive to fight another day.