Demonstrating once again that he plays by no rules other than the ones he makes up as he goes along, real estate billionaire and GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump on Wednesday threw a new wrinkle into the upcoming Republican candidates’ debate by demanding that CNN take the windfall profit from ads sold during the event and donate it to veterans charities.
In a letter to Jeff Zucker, president of CNN, Trump on Tuesday referred to reports over the weekend that CNN’s ad rates for the debate, which is scheduled for next Wednesday, September 16, had soared from $5,000 to $200,000 and could go higher.
“While I refuse to brag, and as you know very well, this tremendous increase in viewer interest and advertising is due 100 percent to ‘Donald J. Trump,’” he wrote.
Repeating, as he frequently does, that he is self-financing his campaign, Trump demanded that CNN “view the second debate broadcast as a public service and not accept the massive profits that this airing will generate. I believe that all profits from this broadcast should go to various VETERANS groups, a list of which I will send to you in the near future.”
Trump closed by asking Zucker to give him a decision as soon as possible.
Though the letter is dated September 8, Trump released it via his Twitter feed this morning, as well as in an email sent to journalists covering his campaign.
It is unclear at this point how CNN will respond to the billionaire’s unorthodox request, but it creates a raft of potential consequences for how the debate will be viewed and how CNN moderators’ treatment of Trump will be perceived.
First, assume CNN declines to donate all or part of the profits to veterans’ charities.
Trump will have embarrassed the network and made it look greedy. So if, during the debate, the moderators are particularly hard on Trump – something that, as frontrunner, he ought to expect – he will have a ready-made claim of unfair treatment, complete with an alleged motive.
What if CNN does donate to veterans charities? Then, not only does the network look as though it can be pushed around by a loudmouthed billionaire, it also gives Trump another plausible complaint in the event moderators are particularly tough in their questioning. “See?” he’ll say. “They were angry at me for forcing them to give money to veterans.”
Another benefit for Trump in this move is that it will help soften criticism he is likely to receive over comments he made about his experience as a student at a military academy during his high school years.
In an interview with the author of an upcoming biography, Trump said that because of his youthful experience at New York Military Academy, he “always felt I was in the military.”
The comments drew immediate scorn from detractors, and are likely to come up when other candidates challenge Trump during next week’s debate. His letter demanding that CNN turn over its windfall profits to veterans groups – no matter how the network reacts – will give him an easy talking point to pivot to in an emergency.