by Guy Somerset
This evening on Fox News is the Iowa Presidential Debate and it will have one notable absence. Two days prior, the candidate leading in most polls summarily decided not to participate. Instead he will host his own event to benefit United States Military Veterans. His decision was one of epic proportions and by the end of the week a colossus could fall.
Of those who imputed any motive to Trump's action most attributed his withdrawal as either puerile outburst or pretentious hubris. Fox News itself immediately began pushing the narrative that occasional cheesecake pin-up girl and perpetual debate moderator Megyn Kelly had "frightened" the candidate by her previous demonstrations of intellectual prowess.
More doctrinaire commentators have begun to theorize perhaps "The Donald" skipped out on the forum because he had little to gain. With anincrease of 15 percentage points in Iowa during the past two weeks, overcoming the forgone champion Ted Cruz only days before official balloting and with a prospect of 7 other individuals having nothing to lose by hysterically attacking the frontrunner rather than promoting their own dismal campaigns there is a good case Trump would but be hurt in appearing.
However among those who have had a bit of political experience there is a far more plausible explanation for staying out of the fray - the "Timebomb." (Merely figurative, obviously.)
There are many other names for such things: the "October Surprise" is most common, "the pay-off," the "Honey Trap." While these are slightly different tactics, they are essentially all the same in the sense they can only be considered as playing by the rules within the peculiar confines of our political arena. The Timebomb is no different in its inherent unfairness only with the caveat that you know it is coming. A candidate may not know how or when, but its imminence is evident to everyone on his team.
As early as a week ago Anne Coulter mentioned in one of her columns she had inklings machination was afoot. This was not exactly prognostication; although her assertion the danger would likely come from a conservative news source may have been a surprise. As far as the Timebomb being the National Review encyclical, that seems scarcely to quality since nearly everyone already expected it. Moreover, at least a decade has passed since anyone bothered to read NR much less pay heed to what is written therein.
No, the Timebomb requires the victim be caught off guard and put into a position practically impossible to defend. It is a political weapon of art rather than a blunt instrument. Think of the infamous "Willie Horton" ad which effectively ended Dukakis (though the Snoopy incident didn't help). Another example is the "Daisy" ad used to kill Goldwater's candidacy. (It ran a single time and finished him in 60 seconds.)
Yet as we live in a culture of immediate gratification methods have changed even if the means remain identical. Thus while a recorded advertisement was effective a generation ago perhaps only an on-air flaying could be as efficacious today. Some widely broadcast venue as, oh say, the final live debate presaging the first vote in a Presidential primary. Until this week the stage was literally set.
While we may never know what (or even if) the Timebomb was to be planted in Iowa on Thursday evening it is eminently reasonable to presume this was the case. Likely Trump either suspected it himself, an informant from another camp revealed it to him or he had someone with practical experience who warned him it was almost assuredly coming.
From what can be gleaned at a distance his Timebomb may have been the young Muslim immigrant who Fox News has pre-approved to ask a question of candidates. The optics of a wretched but proud Islamic immigrant weeping as she described some horrible incident which happened to a relative, possibly breaking down mid-sentence to plead with Mr. Grinch that he explain the reason her family had to suffer, begging to know why she wasn't considered "good enough to be an American" or some such nonsense would have been the optic the Republican Establishment has been craving to carve up Trump.
One need not be overly imaginative to see headlines about the peaceful Islamist who planted a metaphorical bomb under Trump's candidacy. Contrary to conventional wisdom these banners don't "write themselves;" political agents craft events so they can be thus published for a credulous public. As William Butler Yeats stated, "If it does not seem a moment's thought, Our stitching and unstitching has been naught."
Given this all but certainty the strategy of avoidance was the best of several poor choices. While there have been sporadic demonstrations and protests at Trump rallies in the past this incident would have been singular in the amount of focus. For any who doubt such a spectacle was on the verge of occurring they might be referred to a similar Timebomb planted under Merkel not long after she declared multiculturalism a failure. In that instance a weeping Palestinian child confronted the German leader and beggared her into submission; not only of her policy position but also of her very country.
Although Trump may be made of sterner stuff than Merkel it is always a losing proposition to argue the general with the particular. Every time there is a debate anywhere over banning dangerous breeds of animals always is someone who stands to relate how their pit bull is great with the grandchildren. No doubt these misguided souls are sincere and their assertions true. However one cannot make broad policy based on uncommon exceptions.
Using a crying refugee girl as stand-in for the tens of thousands of military-age men swarming into Europe (and eventually America) is underhanded, misleading and detrimental to the national polity. In other words, it is exactly the kind of obfuscation the Political Establishment on both sides of the aisle traffic in on a daily basis. A timer was already ticking down on Trump for Thursday and his only option was to remove himself from scene of the public relations carnage.
Still there is perhaps a more intriguing aspect to this series of events. For in these situations, even when they are known beforehand, the candidate seldom if ever has the luxury of choice. Typically the contender is in need of the boost a televised appearance will provide him or is too weak philosophically to risk the calumny invoked from the press by defying them. Neither of these applies to Donald Trump.
Most damningly during a year in which the electorate of both mainstream parties has grown increasingly hostile to gatekeepers, pre-approved slates of candidates and political correctness in general is that Fox News may become the ultimate casualty of their own Timebomb.
Already genuine conservatives as Anne Coulter and Rush Limbaugh have been marginalized if not forbidden from appearing on the channel. Reporters and their cohorts routinely eschew nationalism of any kind and frequently denounce populism even as they claim to be "looking out for the folks." Recently marquee star Bill O'Reilly condemned Trump and the traditionalism he represents by shouting the oft-repeated and always-incorrect platitude "the country has changed" without realizing even if this were true the country can just as readily "change back" and revert to what it was previously.
Given the popularity of Trump clearly a large number of Republican constituencies, the key demographic of Fox News in all age categories, share his vision for the homeland. Indeed, tremendous numbers of people in the United States actively seek realignment to historic cultural norms. It may even be that come November these numbers shall represent a majority of all registered voters.
Even so, once Trump had discovered its prospective plot Fox News (which also taunted the candidate with a juvenile statement regarding President Putin) might have retreated in any ploy and excised from the gathering whatever potential saboteur prepared to injure him before a prime-time audience. Instead they misled impending viewers with pretense this was a dispute over a none-too-clever infotainment anchor of dubious morality hosting the debate; thereby implicitly siding with Republican elites. In doing so Fox News may have alienated their own core audience and with lasting repercussions.
Considering a campaign as mercurial as that of Donald J. Trump it is quite possible before the evening a bargain may be struck for him to appear on the Fox stage. After all, he embodies the art of the deal and Fox commercial time reportedly has plummeted from $700,000 per minute to approximately $100,000. In such an eventuality be certain the agreement has little to do with Kelly and everything to do with eliminating "gotcha" guest questioners surreptitiously empaneled on behalf of the powers-that-be.
Americans love authenticity. Trump has it, Fox News squandered it. Will voters notice and who will take the brunt of this modified Timebomb? Thursday two titans may battle and one might fall.
On Friday morning Nielsen television ratings returns will be in showing whether whatever channel runs the Trump Veterans Event has beaten the results of the Fox News Also-Ran Iowa Debate.
In many ways those numbers will be far more important than whoever actually wins the Iowa Caucuses.