Since the beginning of his campaign, Donald Trump has been touting his ability to make deals and get things done. And nothing may prove his deal making chops more than the recent news that Trump is breaking from other GOP candidates on debate reform. That's not to say he's not an advocate for overhauling the primary debate process, however. He's just chosen to advocate for it by himself.
This past weekend, representatives for several major GOP candidates — including Trump — met to discuss a series of proposed improvements to the debate format. Together, the campaigns drafted a letter of demands and suggestions. According to The Washington Post, the demands included a two-hour debate format, opening and closing statements, civility from the moderators, equality of questions, and even a recommended room temperature (67 degrees).
Following the past two debates, moderated by CNN and CNBC respectively, the candidates have been vocal about their displeasure. Discontent with the most recent debate was so high that the Republican National Committee announced that it was suspending NBC from hosting the planned Feb. 26 debate, due to what many considered to be a disastrous debate hosted by CNBC.
No one has been more vocal about his dissatisfaction than Trump. Which is why it may have come as a surprise to some when Trump announced late Monday that he would be negotiating with the networks independently, rather than join in a unified front.
While the candidate hasn't said if he has any specific demands, they're likely to echo those of his GOP contenders. The two-hour format in particular is likely to be his main concern. Following the three-hour marathon of the CNN debate, Trump was particularly instrumental in negotiating the CNBC debate down to two hours. In addition, the candidate is also likely to call for questions that don't pit the candidates against each other. He's most likely to benefit from this specific qualifier, as candidates have specifically been asked questions about Trump during the past three debates.
This desire for civility in questions is likely to resonate with the other candidates, as well as voters themselves. During the CNBC debate, Ted Cruz's shining moment was when he called out the moderators for their questions.
"Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain? Ben Carson, can you do math? John Kasich, will you insult two people over here? Marco Rubio, why don't you resign? Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?" Cruz said, listing off several questions asked during the night. "How about talking about the substantive issues?"
The other side of the coin, of course, is that while the candidates may be calling for civility, they are in reality demanding less challenging questions. Many of the questions posed during the past three debates that have angered candidates were based on calling out some of their more outlandish statements or vague policy points. And nipping such questions in the bud could be particularly helpful for Trump, who has enjoyed outstanding success while providing very little detail.
But luckily for Trump and his policy points, he's likely to get his way. Love him or hate him, no one can deny that Trump has almost single-handedly boosted the debate ratings to an all-time high. Justified or not, he's the entertainment factor that brings in the crowds.
More importantly, he's (strangely enough) a trend setter among candidates. According to The Washington Post, shortly after announcing that he would be negotiating independently, John Kasich and Chris Christie both announced their intentions to do the same. And with dissatisfaction at an all time high, if Trump chose to boycott the debate, he could likely convince several other candidates to threaten to boycott as well.
While the Democratic candidates may paint him as a whiner, these negotiations only make Trump look good in the eyes of his supporters. It establishes him as a leader of the pack, and demonstrates his ability to get his way. Although some networks may choose to hold him to his word, the undeniable fact is that a debate without Trump will not bring in the views. All that's left to be determined is if the networks will try to call his bluff.