Donald Trump will be center stage in CNN's Republican Presidential debate tonight, flanked this time by a surging, sinister Sen. Ted Cruz on his left and a flagging Dr. Ben Carson on his right. Once more Trump will claim the spotlight, with the others vying for time and attention.
Before getting too depressed by this preposterous turn of events, consider the following:
Donald Trump isn't even close to becoming president of the U.S. Republicans may be nutty enough to nominate him, but even that is unlikely.
Trump has played the media perfectly, his outrages dominating the news, generating viewers for the cable news networks and attention for himself. Yet, at this point, Trump has less popular support than Bernie Sanders. As Raw Story reported, Trump wins about 30.4 percent of Republican voters; Sanders about 30.8 percent of Democratic voters, but the latter vastly outnumber the former. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight estimates that Trump is backed by about 6 to 8 percent of total voters. E.J. Dionne in the Washington Post estimates his base at 13 percent, similar in size to that of George Wallace.
Trump underperforms given the attention and name recognition that he has garnered. Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News summarized a study by Tyndall Report that documents that media's fawning capitulation to Trump's antics. With more than 20 candidates in the field, Trump has gotten more than one-fourth of all the network news coverage of the presidential race. He's gotten more coverage alone than the entire Democratic field (aided and abetted in that by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the clueless chair of the Democratic National Committee who purposefully limited the number of Democratic debates and scheduled them at obscure times presumably to shield Hillary Clinton from competition).
At the time of the study, Trump had total airtime of 234 minutes in 2015; Sanders had had just 10 minutes of real network time - less than 1/23 of Trump's total. And remember, Sanders still has more support than Trump despite this.
Sanders is the remarkable story of the campaign. He's soared in the polls despite limited name recognition. The "grumpy grandfather" has generated real excitement among the young. He's demonstrated that a candidate can compete financially in a presidential race on the basis of small donations, without catering to deep-pocket donors and special interests. He's detailed a bold, ambitious agenda for the country that helps people understand that there are alternatives to the failed path we are on.
Yet the media has essentially locked him out of all coverage. The network anchors treat him with barely concealed disdain. They choose to lavish coverage on the bumptious purveyor of division and hate rather than the more popular tribune of working people. That isn't an accident.
Les Moonves, the brazen bantam who runs CBS Corporation, said in 2012 that "super PACs may be bad for America, but they're very good for CBS." No wonder Sanders, who has ruled out having anything to do with a super PAC, gets no air time.
On a recent investor presentation, just about when Trump was announcing his intention to ban Muslims from America, Moonves shamelessly cheered on the Donald. Noting gaily that the flood of campaign advertising dollars would be "phenomenal," he celebrated the Republican competition:
"The more they spend, the better it is for us and: Go Donald! Keep getting out there! ... And, you know, this is fun, watching this, let them spend money on us, and we love having them in there. We're looking forward to a very exciting political year in '16."
So don't get too disturbed as Trump's bile lifts him in the polls. It's still early; most voters haven't tuned in. The same media happy to profit by building Trump up will happily profit by taking him down.
And despite all that, Sanders still has more support than the billionaire bully awash in 24/7 media coverage. Something is happening and they don't know what it is. Sanders may be shut out of the mainstream media, but millions are learning about his message through their own social media connections.
As for the drinking games tonight, I suggest rewarding common sense. Down a full shot if anyone agrees with the world that climate change is a real and present danger and that we must act now to address it. A full shot if anyone says the problem is the dollar is too strong, the trade deficits too big and at a time of near zero interest rates, we're not rebuilding America and putting people back to work. A full shot if anyone agrees that the problem with the military is that it spends too much, wastes too much, has too many bases in too many places and is fighting in too many conflicts without a clue about how to win. A full shot if anyone says we need a partnership with Russia over nuclear weapons and proliferation, not a Cold War with them over who has greater influence in corrupt Ukraine. A full shot for anyone who agrees that conservatives who hate big government shouldn't want it meddling with women's right to make their own health and family decisions.
The list is endless. The result the same: On a weeknight, we'll go to bed sober. That may be the only good thing to come from watching this gaggle of Republicans.