So many questions, and one foregone conclusion: A televised debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will be the TV event of the year, if not the century.
But before we get to that sure-to-be-glorious evening, questions abound: Which network (or networks) will get to air it? Could there be not just one, but a series of debates? Will there be any debates at all? Will there be any preliminary bouts? Will Don King be involved? If so, will he stage a pre-debate weigh-in and stare-down?
That won’t happen, of course, because -- among other reasons -- King, 84, is no longer the go-to promoter for big-ticket prizefights. But it is also true that in their staging, pre-event hype and even in the breathless way the Republican and Democratic debates and their participants were introduced by the likes of Wolf Blitzer adopting the manner of a center-ring announcer, all the debates we’ve seen so far seemed inspired by boxing.
In a way, the Republican and Democratic debates were the prelims. And now, the two heavyweight contenders have emerged from them for the match-up we’ve all been waiting for.
The suggestion that there might not even be one came on Thursday night from none other than Bill O’Reilly, who theorized on “The O’Reilly Factor” that Hillary Clinton could decline to meet Donald Trump in a debate forum, and it wouldn’t damage her reputation or prospects for getting elected.
O’Reilly seemed to feel that she could turn down overtures to meet Trump in a debate on the basis of wanting to avoid his insults. More specifically, O’Reilly raised the possibility that Trump would relentlessly bring up the subject of her husband’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, among other aspects of Bill Clinton’s stewardship of the White House and the presidency.
I don’t happen to agree with O’Reilly. I don’t think that even Donald Trump feels the Monica Lewinsky scandal can be used as a weapon against Mrs. Clinton. For one thing, Trump has his own past marital issues that Hillary could bring up herself if she wanted to. And by all appearances, her husband seems to enjoy a great deal of popularity today. So what’s the point of attacking him and her connection with him?
My own opinion is that in the court of media commentary, Hillary’s reputation for toughness -- something she herself promotes -- would be damaged if she dodged a debate with Trump. Plus, while debates are always a gamble -- in the sense that they don’t always play out in the way a candidate hopes they will -- a debate with Trump would seem to be a golden opportunity for her to look better than him. The big risk here is the Trump surprise factor. He has an uncanny way of winning debates -- or more to the point, gaining supporters and votes no matter how he comports himself on the debate stage.
I’ll go out on a limb here and predict that there will be a debate, and possibly more than one. And that’s another way in which this political campaign has come to resemble high-stakes boxing. No other sport generates the level of pre-bout conversation and guesswork about who will win than boxing does.
From now until Election Day next November, the TV talking heads will be engaged in a more or less continuous conversation about the chances of either candidate winning -- and it will all be airy speculation.
Also like boxing, the pressure to get these two candidates together for a bout will become so great that it will cause it to become inevitable. The pressure will come from the endless media speculation, but also from the networks which have been loving the high ratings the debates have scored for them so far.
But herein lies the rub: The primary debates lent themselves to TV-style packaging. Each of them was exclusive to a particular network under agreements hammered out with the respective parties. And the prelim debates contained commercial availabilities. Will a clash of the two nominees provide the same opportunity? Or will there be pressure to open up the Trump-Clinton debate(s) so that all interested networks might air them at once?
And if that happens, will commercial breaks be possible? And if so, how exactly would that work? Maybe, in the interest of profiting, the networks might agree, along with the debate organizers, on when the breaks might fall. And then each network might be free to sell them accordingly.
Certainly, we shouldn’t expect any debate until these candidates are officially rubber-stamped as their parties’ nominees. The Republican convention is July 18-21 in Cleveland. The Democratic convention is July 25-28 in Philadelphia.
August looks like a fine time to get the debate ball rolling.