So, for a while now, I just assumed Donald Trump was going to do what Donald Trump does best – ginning up attention to the debates by complaining at them. The media gets played like the fiddle they are, writing “Donald Trump Threatens to Skip Debate” headlines and everyone ignores an NFL game to see if he shows and what he’s going to say.
Then, I look at the poll numbers. And then I look at the stories about an emergency meeting between his campaign and the party. And then I look at the chaos that is his campaign. That’s about the time I realize mother of God maybe he shouldn’t debate.
Maybe he won’t.
Don’t get me wrong. I think he absolutely should debate. I think fleeing at this point only hurts him more than anything Hillary Clinton could say to his face. Hillary is still someone you could reasonably take on in a debate. And any trap questions or lies from her (that go unchallenged by the media) will just solidify his supporters around him and even have an outside chance of bringing more under his banner.
However, not showing up shows weakness. It puts forward the idea that he doesn’t want to challenge her. That image will absolutely hurt him more because the entire idea of voting Republican right now is to take Hillary down. If the Republican candidate doesn’t seem committed to that idea, then how can the voters?
Then I remember that I’m thinking in the traditional mindset of politics and how they work. We say “Yes, you absolutely show up to a debate. What the hell are you thinking by even considering not doing it?” Except Donald Trump boosted his media profile before by toying with the debates. Granted, the media atmosphere is not as positive toward his campaign as it was, but media attention is what he feeds on. His rabid fan base only gets more rabid as time goes on.
Donald Trump will make a call based on how it affects his brand. Does losing a debate to Hillary hurts his image more than not showing up at all? Because he’s fighting for his brand rather than running a campaign, that question will become harder to answer. I still lean toward my original theory – he’s trying to create more media attention to draw a bigger crowd to the debates. But I fully realize he could come to the conclusion that to save his reputation, he might want to skip it.