Every four years the voters and the media both complain that the presidential selection process starts too early and go too long as candidates all try to get a head start on competitors. Past is more than prologue. Forget everything you know about the Republican Presidential nominating process. The TV and cable networks, in their frenzy to trump each other, will start this process with the first televised debate a full eight months before the first votes are cast in Iowa closely followed by New Hampshire.
As a veteran of eight National Presidential campaigns I have studied this process for a long time. The Networks have created TWO contests - one in 2011 and another in 2012. This takes national focus off current government efforts to solve the nations problems. It's a disservice to the voters and will de-value the early state caucuses and primaries.
Putting that aside, the process must be played as it is - and the new schedule could be a lay-up for a media savvy candidate like Donald J. Trump. No one understands the power of television like Trump. Millions tune in the Apprentice to see the most successful and best known businessman in America. Trump's sharp criticism of trade policy with China, OPEC and the war in Afghanistan could find a large, even commanding segment in the GOP.
Trump showed at the CPAC gathering that his star quality plus his pro-gun, pro-life views combined with his pro-business stance can be a winner in the GOP. Trump literally has nothing to lose - and everything to gain by entering the 2011 debates. While Trump says he will decide if he is running by June, I would advise him to wait until the Florida GOP straw-poll in October to decide. After all, Trump doesn't require time to build his name ID.
The first May debate is at the blue-chip Ronald Reagan Presidential Library May 2 and will be broadcast by MSNBC, CNBC and Telemundo. A second May debate will be held in South Carolina broadcast by Fox on May 5. It is not clear how many formally announced candidates there will be by then and how prospective candidates like Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump will be handled. Mitt Romney, doggedly following the George H.W. Bush playbook, will be in by then and will have rounded up everybody with three names in the GOP .
The New Hampshire Fox WMUR debate is on June 7th. That's right, it's June 2011 we're talking about. Votes won't be cast in the Granite state until a full seven month later. The Ames Iowa debate preceding by the Ames Iowa Straw Poll is scheduled for August 11 - almost five months before the actual Iowa Caucuses. Florida follows with it's Presidency VI straw poll which is a shakedown for Sunshine State Republicans to line their party coffers (and in the case of indicted Former State GOP Chair Jim Greer's case in 2008, his own pockets) in September.
There can be little doubt that more straw-poll and debates will be sprinkled in. What this does is create a faux race for nomination which precede the real legal nomination. It takes public interest out of the real nomination process by winnowing out losers in 2011 without ever counting real votes. Three boring debate performances and your money and credibility will dry up. A dark horse like Trump could run the tables in the debates and lead in the polls by years end, making a late formal entry. News events will still dominate the days before the Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida primaries.
Will whoever wins 2011 win 2012? Will 2011 and it's high profile debates before voters are focused or interested just narrow the Field? Candidates like Romney and Giuliani could be shop worn by 2012, Pawlenty and Daniels will have fizzled by then and Haley Barbour will have kept his powder dry. Real Estate Magnate Donald Trump could dominate 2011 debates and emerge as a real candidate.