Donald Trump took a victory lap early this morning after exerting his considerable leverage to make sure he does not have to stand onstage for longer than two hours at the next GOP debate. The real estate mogul and former reality TV star, whose flair for the dramatic has kept him the GOP front-runner in the race for the White House, seemed to fade in the third hour of the most recent GOP debate on CNN, when it moved past the preliminary insult-hurling that characterized the first GOP debate on Fox News Channel, and got down to policy wonkery. Several political pundits and TV navel lint gazers noted Trump’s fade-out in their coverage.
And, in an interview immediately after the CNN orgy of excess, when asked what he’d learned, Trump snarked he’d learned he could stand onstage for three hours – a red flag for CNBC debate planners if ever there was one.
After learning this week in a conference call of CNBC’s hopes to extend its October 28 debate beyond two hours, Trump yesterday made his move, threatening with rival Ben Carson’s camp to be a no-show unless the network capped the clambake at two hours. Very early this morning, he tweeted he’d won:
Trump also yesterday insisted all candidates get to make opening and closing statements, which CNBC had not planned for its debate in keeping with its debate format in previous election cycles. In his tweet he makes no mention of that demand, which also would help keep actual debate time to a minimum. Given CNBC’s previously stated criteria for determining which GOP candidates make it to the main debate, it appears likely there will be about nine candidates this go-round, down from the CNN debate’s 11. But that would still mean opening statements alone would gobble up at least 10 minutes of the two hours to which Trump says CNBC has agreed.
CNBC is not commenting this morning. Sources say network execs will meet today with RNC to set out details of the format – presumably subject to approval of its biggest star, who is clocking chart-topping ratings wherever he appears these days.
Trump has taken credit for the record 23 million-24 million viewers who’ve tuned in for the first two GOP debates, suggesting they should be paying him for ginning up ratings that are not only record highs for debates among White House candidates, but also biggest-ever crowds for the networks. Last night he explained to Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren that GOP debates previously commanding ad rates of about $4,000 for a 30-second spot are now being sold for $200,000 and $250,000 per 30-second spot. One insider tells Deadline that Trump is being modest; rates are going as high as $275K for the CNBC debate.
But clocking that big a crowd on the much less-watched CNBC will be challenging, even for a star as big as Trump. The former The Apprentice star said as much last night as he explained the entertainment industry’s age-old push-pull between commerce and art to Van Susteren: “I think it’s unfair to the viewers because it’s too much to watch,” he said. “They’re doing it because they want to make more money.” He told Susteren he personally did not care how long the debate ran and was merely looking out for his audience. “I don’t care – I could stand for five hours; I could stand for 10 hours,” he boasted.
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