Having successfully wheedled a significant amount of free promotion for his new book and the upcoming season of his reality show, Donald Trump announced today that he has changed his mind and will not be moderating the Newsmax/ION debate later this month.
In a statement published by Politico, Trump, after plugging the date of The Apprentice finale once more for good measure, announced that he is unwilling to firmly state that he will not run for president as an independent and will not moderate the debate in order to avoid a "conflict of interest within the Republican Party."
Not coincidentally, this almost-certain-to-never-happen presidential run is the means by which Trump will -- likely with depressing amounts of success -- continue to drive media interest in himself throughout 2012.
Trump's decision to bail is embarrassing for Newsmax, even more so than the fact that he was moderating their debate in the first place.
The site, which Salon's Alex Pareene aptly described as a "nutritional supplement sales organization and expensive email list with a right-wing news website attached," had kicked their self-promotion apparatus into overdrive touting the upcoming Trump debate as a historic event and using it to farm e-mail addresses.
The mutual promotion machine was in full gear only two hours before the Trump pulled out, when Newsmax published an "exclusive" interview with Trump about his new book.
Newsmax had been hyping the debate with an impressive amount of hyperbole. Last week, the site rented Dick Morris' email list (which they manage), and sent an email to his subscribers with the subject line: "Join Donald Trump for Most Important GOP Debate in History." The opening line took things a step further, declaring it the "most important Presidential Debate in American history."
It's unclear now whether that august, self-applied distinction remains intact, given that the "most important Presidential Debate in American history" has two participants and no moderator.