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Presidential Horse Race 2016: Donald Trump’s latest cry of “Look at me, look at me!”

We begin today with the latest shocking act of demagoguery from Donald Trump. He’s skipping tomorrow night’s debate.

Shane Goldmacher, Ben Schreckinger and Katie Glueck of Politico report, “Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told reporters that Trump would not join Thursday’s debate and that plans are instead in the Donald Trumpworks for a competing event.

“’We’ll have an event here in Iowa, with potentially another network, to raise money for Wounded Warriors and Fox will go from having probably 24 million viewers for the debate to, you know, 2 million viewers,’ Lewandowski said.”

This is astonishing arrogance. It’s one thing to consistently break the rules of decorum in a campaign, it’s quite another to disrespect your opponents and the process in such a way. Ted Cruz’s response was to challenge Trump to a one-on-one debate before the caucuses.

Either way, it’s more camera time for him at the expense of Trump who looks like crap for this stupid move.

Trump cites Megyn Kelly and Fox’s “unfairness” for his decision to no-show.

But here are his real reasons:

1. He’s scared. As the clear frontrunner in national polls, every single opponent on stage has plenty of incentive to highlight every poor aspect of Trump’s record tomorrow night. And there are a lot to choose from.

Trump probably figures – correctly – that there isn’t much to gain from taking a beating in the debate. He’s not going to convince any more voters to back him since he’s certainly reached his ceiling of potential support. The downside is huge, the upside virtually nil.

2. He thinks he’ll rally support from the “angry” crowd by bowing out. The people who would favor Trump in the first place are the same ones who hate Fox News. Fox certainly has its mushy establishment element, but there’s little doubt it’s fairer to Republicans than the other networks.

The network provides an avenue for conservatives to discuss the issues. No wonder Trump wants no part of it.

3. He’s still threatening a third party run. Trump wants to keep his new friends in the party establishment in his own neatly kept pen. By not participating in debates, he’s sending an overt signal that he’s still thinking about bolting the party if he doesn’t win the nomination.

4. Or, he’ll reconsider at the last moment. Trump says he won’t show then changes his mind at the last possible minute, throwing off the debate strategies of his opponents while making himself look presidential and above the fray.

This is probably the least likely scenario, but with Trump, you can’t eliminate any possibility. He loves the spotlight and will do virtually anything to make sure people are talking about him – even when he isn’t present.

His fellow candidates are going to have a field day with this one. Trump has provided them with the perfect opportunity to depict him as a non-serious show biz buffoon who’s making a mockery of the entire nominating procedure. And they’re right.

The people who favor other candidates and can’t stand Trump will still tune-in. It’s going to be two solid hours of Trump-bashing. And deservedly so. The Donald has drawn a line – he’d better be willing to defend it.

I predict Trump’s petty selfish move will backfire. And if it doesn’t there isn’t much left of the Republican party to revive.

Poll leads do not guarantee victory in Iowa

On the eve of the final Republican presidential debate before next Monday night’s caucuses comes the results of another new Iowa poll indicating the race is extremely tight between frontrunners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

Of course, all current polls don’t reflect Trump’s latest no-debate escapade.

Jonathan Easley of The Hill reports, “A Quinnipiac University survey released on Tuesday shows Trump taking 31 percent support over Cruz at 29 percent. That’s unchanged from the previous survey released in early January…

“The Quinnipiac University poll found that 39 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers say they could still change their minds before Election Day on Feb. 1. Fifty-nine percent say they’ve completely made up their minds.”

According to Easley, Trump leads Cruz 37 percent to 6 percent among self-identified “liberal” or “moderate” voters, which provides yet another clue he’s taken over as the Republican establishment candidate.

One other interesting tidbit from the poll -- 24 percent of those surveyed responded they would never vote for Trump, doubling the 12 percent who said they’d never consider Cruz.

With nearly four in ten Iowans subject to changing their allegiance in the last few days before voting, the race obviously remains very fluid. On the ground organization and turnout will be of paramount importance. And Trump’s bowing out of the debate will only serve to turn these people off.

If that’s the case, Cruz looks to be in control. Erick Erickson of The Resurgent writes, “Ted Cruz has a county by county operation. Donald Trump does not. So it goes back to turnout. If the force of Trump’s personality can overcome the basic fundamentals of a campaign operation, he may well win. But my guess is that he cannot. This presents another problem for Trump.

“The polling right now has Trump with a very significant lead in Iowa. If he does not hold up that lead he is bragging about because he had a poor organization in Iowa, suddenly the Trump supporters’ god-king bleeds. The air of inevitability is off.”

Again, this is where the 39% who say they may switch their votes comes into play. In a caucus setting they could be swayed by the presentations given by each campaign representative, or simply decide it isn’t worth the trouble to show up in the first place.

Logic would also suggest some of those people are even waiting until arriving at the caucuses to decide.

Since Trump is relying on a lot of new voters, there are other factors to think about (as Erickson points out). First off, they need to know where to go to caucus. They need to know they need to be in the door by 7 p.m. and they need to stay the entire time – and then state publicly whom they support.

People who haven’t been contacted and given that information by the campaigns are more at risk of not getting their votes counted.

In a razor-thin marginal race, these elements can make all the difference.

(Note: Here’s an excellent analysis from Jason Russell of the Washington Examiner of how accurate polls have proven to be in predicting the winners in Iowa and New Hampshire.)

Not only does Trump have contempt for conservatism, he looks down on his voters, too

Donald Trump has achieved a lot as a message carrier in the 2016 Republican presidential race. But as time goes on, his freewheeling tendency to say whatever comes to mind at any given moment is coming back to haunt him – especially when he reverses himself on video.

Streiff at RedState writes, “Even without going back into his history of supporting eminent domain for personal gain, etc., etc., Trump has been the quintessential member of the Establishment. Trump owes an immense amount of money to just about every bank there is. And the Establishment has concluded that Trump is someone they can work with.

“Now that Ted Cruz has started linking him to the Establishment, Trump is on the defensive. He has a new ad out, called ‘Establishment,’ which relies upon suspension of disbelief and disregard for your own lyin’ eyes to be believable.”

Click here for the ad.

In his post, streiff also includes a couple videos showing Trump trumpeting his close ties to the establishment as recently as last weekend. With the glaring contradiction offered by Trump’s own words just days apart, he’s basically telling his backers they’re too dumb to figure out he’s putting one over on them.

This contempt for ordinary Americans is also exposed by his championing of eminent domain for private developers.

The Editors of the Washington Examiner write, “Trump's corporatist and authoritarian vision of central planning might work for a CEO who is granted great power to operate his own company as he sees fit.

“But it can never be acceptable way for a president to govern a free republic under a constitution. Trump's departure from such a foundational American principle is one of many reasons why conservatives voting in early caucuses and primaries should think twice before jumping on to his authoritarian bandwagon.”

I don’t doubt Trump’s motives as much as I’m thoroughly unconvinced about his “conversion” to conservative principles. The Donald seems like a decent if egocentric man but he’s not a good fit to be president. He’s an entertainer but he ain’t no Ronald Reagan.

His shtick is better reserved for the Boardroom on “The Apprentice.

Rand Paul rejoins the varsity after one-debate demotion

Finally today, the debate line-ups have been released and a familiar face will be rejoining the top polling non-Trump Republican candidates on the main stage tomorrow night.

Steven Shepherd and Daniel Strauss of Politico report, “The field of candidates invited to Thursday’s debate in Des Moines, Iowa, is comprised of the same seven candidates who participated in the previous debate – Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and John Kasich – plus [Rand] Paul, who qualified because of his standing in the most recent polls in Iowa.”

(Note: The story was obviously written before Trump’s announcement.)

This is great news for Rand Paul fans (yes, a lot of people still like Rand even if they’re favoring other candidates), but it’s also good for Ted Cruz.

Paul has nothing to lose in trying to make his final argument in tomorrow night’s debate and he’s likely to go after Marco Rubio as well as joining the others in piling on Trump.

It will make for good TV at the very least. I’m glad Paul will be back.

One other note – Jim Gilmore was invited to join the undercard debate. Gilmore hasn’t been seen since the first debate in August, so it will be interesting to see if his presence changes the dynamic in the forum featuring Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee.

There’s a lot riding on tomorrow night’s event, with or without demagogue Donald. Let’s hope the candidates all bring their “A” games.

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