Former President Donald Trump will not be participating in at least the first of the 2024 Republican primary debates, which will be held in Milwaukee, WI, on Aug. 23. He has met all the requirements to qualify for his place on the stage, but would it really have benefited him to play that game? From the 45th president’s perspective, there could be at least a couple of reasons why he neither wants nor needs to spar with his primary competitors in a public forum. Reportedly, he is considering an interview with former Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson on the day of the debate.
We’re talking about Trump, of course, and as one source rightly observed, he could yet change his mind and take the stage in Milwaukee, after all. In what way that would benefit him is not clear. As the man himself wrote on the Truth Social network on Aug. 17:
“In fact, I am leading the runner up, whoever that may now be, by more than 50 Points. Reagan didn’t do it, and neither did others. People know my Record, one of the BEST EVER, so why would I Debate? I’M YOUR MAN. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
Pointless Primary Debates – At Least For Trump?
Trump’s message seems pretty clear: You (the Republican voter) already know what I can do as chief executive and this race is already over, so why would I bother doing this? All the polls show Trump far ahead of the rest of the field. The most recent Emerson poll, as of Aug. 19, has Trump at +46, with DeSantis and Ramaswamy only just into double digits – tied at 10%.
Then there is the issue of the Republican National Committee pledge that debate participants have been asked to sign. A pledge that they would support the eventual nominee. One might speculate that this requirement was aimed at Trump himself. Surely, the RNC would feel better knowing that the former president, with his significant and very loyal following, would throw his influence behind the GOP’s challenger, whoever that turns out to be. One could see Trump endorsing DeSantis or Ramaswamy, perhaps, but would he and should he really be expected to campaign shoulder-to-shoulder with Nikki Haley or Chris Christie, neither of whom are likely to push a strongly conservative America First agenda?
Seven challengers have so far made the cut for the first of the primary debates: Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) will be there, along with four more candidates who, it is probably fair to say, will be no more than also-rans who may not last beyond Super Tuesday: Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, Chris Christie, and Doug Burgum.
The Donald’s feud with Fox News didn’t help matters. Not that Trump had any right to expect the network’s loyalty, but he and many of his supporters did feel slighted after the 2020 election, as Fox mostly toed the establishment line that the result was entirely fair and untarnished by fraud. Then, after the events of Jan. 6, 2021, many of Fox’s big names once again bowed to the approved narrative and failed to defend the protesters.
Fox is hosting the first of the GOP primary debates, and Trump would have been a huge draw in viewership. Merely spitballing the idea of sitting down with Tucker Carlson instead – one of the few Fox personalities who explored potential 2020 election fraud and spoke out against the treatment of Jan. 6 protesters – is a definite slap in the face for the network. Fox fired Carlson following a legal battle with Dominion, the company that provided most of the voting machines for the last presidential election.
As firmly in command of the primary race as he is – at least for now – it is not easy to find any compelling reasons for or against Trump doing the debates. But, from his own perspective, not doing them means he isn’t saddled with the obligation to support a candidate he doesn’t much like, should he not win the nomination himself. Also, his absence distinguishes him from the rest of the White House hopefuls. They should also be thankful. After all, if Trump were on the stage, then the moderators would not be able to resist the temptation to dwell on the former president’s four indictments – and that subject alone could overshadow whatever else the other candidates have to say about their own agendas. In the end, Trump’s absence can only be seen as a win for everybody except Fox News – and, these days, not many conservatives will be shedding a tear for the network.
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