Trump Cannot Afford to Skip All of the Debates

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

The first Republican presidential primary debate has come and gone. Most of the eight candidates on the stage in Milwaukee made decent showings. Nevertheless, from where I sit, former President Donald Trump was the clear winner of the proceedings despite refusing to participate.


Trump raised more than a few eyebrows when he announced last week that he would be skipping the first debate.

Many criticized him, arguing that he should have to make his case on the stage before the American people. Others felt his decision was a non-issue, as he has enjoyed a huge lead in the polls. But what further compounded the matter is that not only did Trump announce that he would not be participating in the first debate, he would not be attending any of the primary debates. In a post on Truth Social, he wrote:

“The public knows who I am & what a successful Presidency I had,” Trump wrote on his social media site. “I WILL THEREFORE NOT BE DOING THE DEBATES!” His spokesman did not immediately clarify whether he plans to boycott every primary debate or just those that have currently been scheduled.

I'll put it bluntly: Trump cannot afford to skip all of the primary debates.

He can get away with having bowed out of the first contest. But as the field narrows, this will not be a viable strategy.

Right now, the Republican field has over eight candidates who are vying for the GOP nomination. But this will not always be the case. As the primary race chugs along, people will begin to drop out when it becomes clear that they have no chance of securing the nomination.


As the field narrows, the support for the candidates who drop out of the race will go towards fewer candidates until there are one or two others challenging him. This will diminish his lead considerably. The latest FiveThirtyEight poll puts the former president at 52.1 percent support. Combined, the rest of the field has about 48.9 percent.

What happens when the group is whittled down to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, for example? Some of that support will go to Trump, but most will likely go to his challenger. There are still plenty of Republican voters who would prefer someone other than the former president to lead the party.

If Trump wants to maintain his lead, he will have to get on the stage and convince the base that he is still the right man for the job and the best choice for defeating President Joe Biden in 2024. If he continues skipping debates, it will only lend credibility to the contention that he is afraid to duke it out with his rivals and defend his record. After all, if he is unable or unwilling to go toe-to-toe with his opponents during the primaries, how can he hope to defeat Democrats in the upcoming election?


It is probable that Trump is already aware of this, even though he indicated he would not be participating in any debates. He's been through this before, and he likely understands that people want to see him on that stage. So, despite what he has claimed, I think eventually, we will be seeing him take on his opponents on the debate platform. It might not take as long as we might think.


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