By Happy Carlock |
Virtually no one in the Republican mainstream is happy about the prospect of a GOP debate featuring celebrity billionaire Donald Trump as moderator. Texas Rep. Ron Paul, in declining his invitation, said the event would create an "unwanted, circus-like atmosphere." Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has likewise refused to participate, and conservative voices like George Will, Karl Rove, Ari Fleischer, and the National Review editorial board have lambasted Trump's involvement.
The reaction to the debate on the right has been one of alarm, and for good reason: the choice of Trump as moderator contributes to the perception that the Republican Party no longer takes itself seriously.
Onlookers have watched as Republicans flirted with nominating a pizza mogul with zero years of political experience. They saw recent frontrunner Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, struggle to remember which agencies he would eliminate if elected. Last year, they were faced with a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate who felt the need to go on the air and announce, "I'm not a witch." And now the GOP has anointed a reality TV star whose biggest conservative credential is that he forced the president to take time away from orchestrating Osama bin Laden's assassination in order to prove—again—that he was born on U.S. soil.
Any lingering chance that Trump might be seen as a reasonable, mature player in the electoral process probably evaporated when he lashed out at his critics this week, calling Rove, Will, and Charles Krauthammer "political hacks" and Paul and Huntsman "joke candidates." (Surveys conducted by Public Policy Polling, the Des Moines Register, and ABC/Washington Post all show Paul in second place in Iowa.)
Meanwhile, Barack Obama looks calm, cool and collected as ever while working to pass a jobs bill and extend the payroll tax cut.
As thoughtful independent voters are weighing their options for 2012, Republicans are rightly beginning to worry that placing Donald Trump front and center one week before the Iowa caucuses could do irreparable damage to our party's image. Why should the candidates abstain from participating in this debate? Because not to do so makes the case more forcefully than anything the Democrats are saying that Obama is in fact the only adult left in the classroom.
About Stephanie Slade Project Director at The Winston Group
Fergus Cullen Former Chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party
Sally Kohn Political Commentator
Grover Norquist President of Americans for Tax Reform