Former President Donald Trump is threatening to forego his participation in the upcoming GOP debates, expressing concerns about the approval process and the moderators. In a post on Truth Social, Trump stated that he had not given his approval for the debates and criticized the networks and moderators for being hostile towards him and his supporters.
In the post, the former president wrote:
I see that everybody is talking about the Republican Debates, but nobody got my approval, or the approval of the Trump Campaign, before announcing them. When you’re leading by seemingly insurmountable numbers, and you have hostile Networks with angry, TRUMP & MAGA hating anchors asking the “questions,” why subject yourself to being libeled and abused? Also, the Second Debate is being held at the Reagan library, the Chairman of which is, amazingly, Fred Ryan, Publisher of the Washington Post. NO!
Trump threatens not to participate in GOP primary debates.— Shane Goldmacher (@ShaneGoldmacher) April 25, 2023
“Why subject yourself to being libeled and abused?”
And of second debate at Reagan library, he writes, “NO!” pic.twitter.com/FidOKz7VsZ
The Washington Examiner reported:
The Republican National Committee announced the first primary debate will take place in Milwaukee in August and will be hosted by Fox News. The RNC also announced the second debate will take place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, but the exact date and moderator have not been specified.
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has emphasized that candidates must pledge support for the nominee to qualify for the debates. Trump, similar to his stance in the 2016 election cycle, has not definitively committed to making such a pledge. In the past, Trump boycotted one debate during the 2016 GOP primary cycle but eventually participated in later debates.
Although Trump has expressed reluctance about taking part in the debates, he continues to be the undisputed frontrunner among GOP contenders, commanding a substantial lead in the polls.
The question is: Can Trump get away with refusing to participate in the primary debates? There are obvious benefits and drawbacks to going this route. Let’s break them down.
In his post on Truth Social, Trump expressed concerns about the moderators of the debates, stating that they are “hostile” towards him and his supporters. By skipping the debates, Trump can avoid potential bias or unfair treatment from moderators, which he may perceive as detrimental to his campaign. However, it is important to note that Trump has shown himself capable of using opposition to his advantage. If moderators are unfair to him, he could easily exploit their bias to appeal to the base as he has done in the past.
Debates can often be unpredictable, and a poor performance or controversial statement could negatively impact Trump’s lead in the polls. Indeed, it is possible that he has more to lose than gain by participating. By skipping the debates, Trump can avoid potential gaffes or missteps that could be exploited by his opponents or the media.
However, it is also possible that skipping the debates could harm his campaign. For starters, it could be a missed opportunity to engage with voters, many of whom have suggested that it might be time to move on from the former president. By skipping the debates, Trump may miss the opportunity to engage with voters and showcase his ideas, which could potentially impact his ability to persuade undecided voters or rally his base.
Boycotting the debates could also be seen as avoiding scrutiny or avoiding tough questions, which may be perceived as lacking transparency or accountability. It could create the perception that he is afraid to defend his record, something his opponents would undoubtedly use against him. This could potentially erode trust among voters who expect candidates to participate in debates as a way to demonstrate their qualifications and readiness for office.
Finally, by not participating in the debates, Trump may be giving his opponents a chance to capture the spotlight and promote their own policies and positions unchallenged. This could allow other candidates to gain momentum and potentially erode Trump’s frontrunner status.
If you remember the primary debates during the 2016 election, the former president used that platform as a way to savagely attack his opponents, and he did so to great effect. Pointing out the weaknesses in his opponents on social media and in videos is not going to cut it. Doing so on the national stage would be a way to play to his strengths.
Foregoing the debates may have some perceived advantages for Trump in terms of avoiding potential biases, negative exposure, or demonstrating independence. But it also carries risks in terms of missed opportunities to engage with voters, perceived lack of transparency, ceding the stage to other candidates, and potential criticism from party members.
My estimation is that there are more cons to this idea than pros. Debates are one of several arenas in which Trump can establish his dominance over the field. If he decides to skip them, he could be doing so to his own detriment.