What if they gave a debate and nobody came?
But with just Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum agreeing to participate and everybody else otherwise engaged, it’s sounding more and more like that televised “debate” between Mr. Gingrich and Herman Cain some time back (which was more like the meeting of a mutual-admiration society).
IN PICTURES: The Donald who would be king
The latest to RSVP in the negative is Michele Bachmann, who’d already met four times with Trump and would be happy to have his endorsement. Rick Perry says he respects Trump “very much,” but he’s just going to be really, really busy with “traditional retail campaigning in the days and weeks leading up to the Iowa caucus.”
Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul have dismissed the notion of answering Trump’s questions as if they were competitors on “The Apprentice.” (It may be worth noting here that Trump is a big fan of professional wrestling and has hosted WrestleMania events at Trump Plaza. I apologize if that brings to mind the image of Gingrich and Mr. Santorum in tights.)
Republican officials and conservatives have been waving red flags over the thought that Trump might appear to have some legitimate role in the GOP’s presidential nomination process. For one thing, he was in and out and then apparently back in the race for a time, and he now teases with the notion that he might run as an independent.
"I think that having a successful businessman serving as a moderator has a lot of volume," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus said Thursday, trying to sound as polite as possible. "But the issue here is whether the moderator should still be a person who's still batting around the idea of running as an independent. I think that should give some of these candidates some concern."
Indeed it has. But whether or not that’s the issue for them, or they just don’t want to take part in a clown show with the unpredictable billionaire businessman and reality show host is unclear.
"It's going to be a giant ego trip, and anybody who thinks that Donald Trump is going to be the equivalent of [Fox News host] Bret Baier or any of the other moderators we've had is kidding themselves," Republican strategist Karl Rove said earlier this week
Sen. John McCain, his party’s nominee in 2008, wonders why any of today’s presidential hopefuls would appear on an “obscure network.” (Conservative media organization Newsmax is based in West Palm Beach, Fla.)
“I think they should be resting up over Christmas and the next few days and be ready to go right after the first of January,” Senator McCain said on Fox News.
In her column Friday, conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin doesn’t hold back.
“We’ve seen the unseemly parade of Republican presidential candidates trekking to visit Donald Trump, perhaps in search of an endorsement or maybe out of fear he’d attack if they didn’t kiss the ring,” she writes. “But with the exception of Newt Gingrich, whose radar isn’t attuned to spot trouble from a raving egomaniac with eccentric views, virtually all of the Republican field and the party has gotten the message that Trump is bad news.”
Not Rick Santorum.
“Many of my opponents jockeyed to be the first to fly up to New York and use Donald Trump for a photo op and no doubt try and secure an endorsement,” he told Politico.com. “But when Donald wants to moderate a debate – they refuse to attend. That’s what’s so wrong with politics today – hypocrisy.”
For its part, Newsmax is playing up the conservative organizations and individuals that have endorsed its debate: Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, Fox News host Sean Hannity, Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, and the Tea Party Express.
Oh, and Sarah Palin. Remember her?