Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich speaks to the media as…
Does being a self-promoting blowhard disqualify you from hosting a presidential debate? Some critics of Donald Trump seem to think so. They argue that his planned Dec. 27 debate for Republican presidential candidates, co-sponsored by the conservative magazine NewsMax, is a bad idea because it would demean the participants and turn what should be a serious dialogue into an episode of "The Apprentice." A spokesperson for Ron Paul said: "The selection of a reality television personality to host a presidential debate that voters nationwide will be watching is beneath the office of the presidency and flies in the face of that office's history and dignity."
The way we see it, The Donald has the same right as anyone else to invite candidates to debate under his auspices — but whether candidates accept is another matter. So far, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have accepted; Paul, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman Jr. have declined; and Michele Bachmann is on the fence. It isn't clear whether those who will participate are actually interested in having another debate or whether they merely want to curry favor with Trump, whose endorsement they may covet.
Whether a Trump-sponsored debate will be a useful and informative event or merely a circus sideshow depends, to a great extent, on whether Trump impanels knowledgeable questioners rather than monopolizing the process himself. The economic debate on Nov. 9 remains a model of incise interrogation. Can Trump put together a roster that will be similarly impressive? Or will his team throw only softballs or mount Trump's hobby horses (such as President Obama's birth certificate)?
It would be an exaggeration to call this debate a chance at redemption for Trump, whose success in business and television hasn't prevented him from issuing half-baked political pronouncements. But a fair debate that didn't genuflect to a cult of personality would, at the very least, confound his critics.