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Milbank: I’ll give you a debate of your dreams

Dana Milbank
On Twitter @Milbank
Dana Milbank

Mr. Ben Ginsberg


Jones Day

51 Louisiana Ave. NW

Washington, D.C. 20001-2113

Dear Ben:

I write to you in your capacity as debate negotiator for Republican presidential candidates. I understand you may have an opening for a moderator for your Feb. 26 debate. Please consider this letter my application for the job.

I applaud Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus’s decision to suspend NBC as a debate host because of the “mean” and “gotcha” questions CNBC asked at last week’s debate. I feel passionately that a debate is neither the time nor the place for hard questions, and as debate moderator I will rigorously adhere to gentle and affectionate questioning.

I also share Donald Trump’s outrage that Telemundo, a Spanish-language outlet, would be allowed to co-host the February debate even though a Telemundo journalist had the gall to challenge Trump about the rapists and criminals he says Mexico sends to America. Let me assure you that, as debate moderator, I would not challenge Trump or any other candidate on this or any factual matter. I do not even speak Spanish, a claim that had the enthusiastic concurrence of my high school Spanish teacher, Señora Sopanoff.

Furthermore, I have read your draft letter proposing requirements for future debate moderators, and I wholeheartedly and unreservedly commit to abide by every one of them. Specifically, I pledge to meet the following demands you listed:

  • Not to allow the temperature in the room to exceed 67 degrees at any time.
  • Not to ask any candidate to raise his/her hand at any time.
  • Not to ask yes/no questions.
  • Not to engage in any “lightning round” questioning.
  • Not to allow any camera angles that show the candidates using notes.
  • Not to show an empty lectern if a candidate is late in returning from a bathroom break.
  • Not to show any “reaction shots” of audience members or of me, the moderator.
  • Not to broadcast any graphics or biographical information without the express pre-approval of the candidates.

Additionally, per your list of requirements, I promise:

  • To allow all candidates to make opening and closing statements of at least 30 seconds each.
  • To allow the candidates unlimited time to rebut one another whenever their names are mentioned.
  • To ask an equal number of questions of each candidate, and to guarantee that each candidate receives an equal amount of response time.

As a further inducement to hire me as your moderator, I will go beyond the above-mentioned requirements cited in your letter. You also posed questions about standards for inclusion in the debate, debate length, use of “gong/buzzer/bell,” debate format, stage design, and the type and size of the audience and clothing worn by audience members.

In order to guarantee that this debate will be the thoroughly enjoyable experience for the candidates that we all want it to be, I plan to allow all 15 candidates to debate on the stage at the same time and not to cut off candidates if they exceed their time limits. At the same time, I pledge to hold the overall debate length to 30 minutes, including opening and closing statements, in order to minimize time for gaffes and unscripted remarks. To avoid unhelpful reactions from the audience, I promise to have no audience. I will pipe in artificial applause of precisely the same pre-agreed length and decibel level for all candidates after all answers.

I will submit my questions in advance for pre-approval by the campaigns. No questions will be asked about women, racial minorities or any other issue that might cast the Republican Party in an unfavorable light. There will be no questions about any candidate’s past statements or actions, including but not limited to: bankruptcies, financial difficulties, missed votes and inconsistencies. Candidates will not be required to perform math or to provide supporting evidence for claims. Candidates will be seated in Barcaloungers. If candidates feel overheated, the moderator will fan them while they answer and provide them with their choice of lemon or cucumber ice water. I will begin each question with the phrase “Mother, may I,” and I will address candidates as “Your Excellency,” “Your Eminence” or another honorific approved by the campaigns.

I hope this application meets with your approval. I believe the format outlined above will, after the CNBC debate debacle, truly Make Republicans Look Great Again and return journalists to their proper role as palace courtiers. I am hopeful that I can convince my colleagues at to live-stream the debate. Though I cannot promise you that any network will broadcast the debate, I believe this should not be a major impediment. Under the requirements you proposed, very few people will be watching anyway.


Dana Milbank

Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post.