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The Right Resistance: Trump erred in skipping the debate; here’s why he should do the next one

Did Donald Trump mess up by not going to the Milwaukee first-of-the-2024-primary-season Republican debate?

Right from the start of the program, one wouldn’t necessarily think so. The Fox News “moderator” acknowledged the “elephant in the room” at the very beginning of the event, seemingly conceding that the undisputed poll frontrunner was nowhere to be found and that he had, in fact, opted not to be there. Yes, by choice. Trump has a massive lead that would be a huge leap for any challenger to overcome. He knows it; his competitors knew it; and the only real question for them was how to treat him so that his legion of voters might consider joining with a successor if and when Trump decides to hang up his political briefing papers.

Does Trump’s opt-out reasoning ring true for future debates? Or is Trump’s decision to miss going to hurt him down the road? In a piece titled “The Unintended Consequence of Trump Skipping the Debate”, the irreplaceable Daniel J. Flynn wrote at The American Spectator:

“The long-term loser? Donald Trump.

“In bowing out of the primary debates, he gives Joe Biden an easy excuse to bow out of the general election debates. Katie Hobbs chickened out of debating Kari Lake during the 2022 Arizona gubernatorial campaign. This worked, as the Democrat won the general election.

“Biden’s underwhelming intelligence, propensity to say idiotic or barely coherent things, and alleged senility make the debate stage the perfect place to showcase his disqualifiers before voters. Donald Trump, in taking his ball and going home from this and presumably other Republican debates, allows Joe Biden to weasel out of a general election debate without consequence. This surely imposes adverse consequences on Donald Trump should he become the Republican nominee for the third consecutive contest.”

As always with Flynn, well put. And true. Not bad considering Flynn’s opinion piece was written and published before the debate, and I think afterward it’s even truer. Voluntarily staying away from a debate stage – any debate stage – is a loser for Trump. Why? Because when he’s not sick with COVID and weighed down with fever (as he was in the first presidential debate with Biden at the end of September, 2020), it’s arguable there’s no better political arguer anywhere. Not even the debate competition winner at Harvard could keep up. He’s that good on his feet.

But Flynn also scored on his point about giving senile Joe Biden a prefabricated excuse to bow out of a future debate with (most likely) Trump – or whomever wins the 2024 GOP nomination. Everyone knows that Biden keeps a disgustingly light work schedule, goes off on vacation all the time and generally avoids any public appearance where he’ll have to do something more challenging than eat ice cream, pat dogs on the head or relay some contrived story on his life, so excuses for blowing off the voters shouldn’t be provided to the old goat in advance.

Beyond the Biden conundrum, however, is how Trump could conceivably blow the current race for the 2024 Republican title.

I’m not going to delve into what each of the eight participants said about Trump on Wednesday night – it’s not particularly relevant, except possibly for Mike Pence’s well-rehearsed explanation for his role on the fateful day of January 6, 2021. For the record, Pence reiterated that a vice president does not have the power to question the individual state electors, his “interpretation” of the relevant portion of the law.

Nor will I dive into what the Constitution itself says on the matter. The subject has been well traversed by any number of scholars and armchair “experts” who portend to know what the Founding Fathers meant when they wrote Article II, Section I of the immortal governing charter. There were divergent opinions, and, to my knowledge, the federal courts hadn’t weighed-in on the topic. As Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in the ever-important judicial review case Marbury v. Madison (1803), “It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”

Pence clearly believed he didn’t have the power to change – or delay – the outcome of the Electoral Vote count that day. Either that, or he chickened out in the presence of the House members and Senate, many/most of whom weren’t about to question the state electors – though it would be hard to fathom how Pence would be more afraid of Nancy Pelosi and crew than of his boss himself.

By skipping the debate on Wednesday night, Trump basically left the question to Pence to explain to a national audience of Republican voters (minus the ones viewing the Trump/Tucker X interview, but notice how the Fox producers saved the January 6th question until about 9 p.m., when the Tucker Carlson show was over -- it was just over 45 minutes long -- and many curious folks switched viewing platforms). It also left it up to all of the eight not-Trump candidates to reply, basically in unison, that Pence did the right thing on the day in question.

This list includes Gov. Ron DeSantis, though the Floridian tried hard to step around a direct answer, arguing that the real issue is the 2024 election, not what happened all those years ago.

The Trump legal issues obviously make the entirety of Republican voters uneasy, no one quite knowing how to feel about them other than to believe they’re trumped up by the ultra-corrupt Biden Justice Department and individual Democrat prosecutors in New York City and Fulton County, Georgia, to get their names in the establishment media and perhaps lay the groundwork for long and prosperous careers as elected Democrats in safe districts.

Talk about job security.

I highly doubt it was Trump’s intention to remove himself as his main and greatest defender, though outsider extraordinaire Vivek Ramaswamy did a more than passable job of backing up the former president at the debate the other night. No one represents Trump’s case better than the man himself, and it certainly wasn’t going to be done by the likes of Chris Christie or Asa Hutchinson.

Is Trump’s action (or in-action) going to matter? To the millions of hardcore Trump fans who probably didn’t even bother watching the Fox News program (preferring to see The Donald talking with Tucker instead), no. The “only Trump-ers” are already dialed in to Trump’s campaign through loyalty, fealty, revenge (for 2020 being stolen), or adherence to the MAGA agenda. These folks earnestly think Trump is the only one who can get the job done. Are they wrong for thinking it?

But to the rest of the Republican electorate, I’ve heard as much as 60 percent of primary voters, the fact Trump opted out of the debate merely gave his opponents an opening to blow the January 6 topic – and others – wide open. It’s not that the historic blip wasn’t already on everyone’s mind, but not being there to confront his “accusers” didn’t help Trump’s political case, put it that way.

One way or another, Donald Trump will stay in the news. As a master negotiator and top-tier establishment media manipulator, Trump figures that any publicity is good publicity, even when it’s negative. But I would argue this is one area where negative publicity only harms Trump, because the body of voters deciding his presidential nomination fate is his most important “jury” of all. And the non-Trump voters are the ones who want to see him on that stage.

What are the alternatives? Trump stole much of the Wednesday night spotlight by appearing in a pre-recorded interview with Tucker Carlson, a lighting stroke of genius that systematically drew a large viewing audience away from Ronna McDaniel’s event. But as is often said of lightning, it doesn’t strike the same place twice. Now that Trump has played his Tucker Carlson card, what would he do for an encore for the next debate in a month’s time?

Trump’s main opponent, at this point, might be complacency, since he’s peaked in the polls and there’s nowhere to go but down. The former president bets his inevitable drop in favor won’t be large enough to make a difference, but as I wrote in my review of the “official” debate, the “other” eight candidates (well, seven of them, at least, minus “red eye” Asa Hutchinson) did a credible job of demonstrating that this isn’t a one-man race.

There are viable alternative candidates to Trump for those who seek one. Take out the obvious establishment pretenders and there are actually three or four Republicans (beside Trump) who I could see as president.

Will the growing-in-stature Vivek Ramaswamy be left to claim that a younger and more energetic generation of leaders take over the reins of government? Or should Ron DeSantis be granted another unhindered opportunity to list all of the great things he’s done in Florida? DeSantis leads on culture as well as political success, a fact Trump can’t afford to ignore.

Chris Christie is like a big fat ant on a mighty, gigantic elephant’s rear end. But his miniscule bites could eventually lead to an infection, couldn’t they? How about Nikki Haley? Or Tim Scott?

Whether or not Donald Trump erred by not going to Milwaukee may not be evident today or next week, but every debate he decides to avoid will only deepen his problem. As I – and others – have argued all along, Donald Trump must earn the 2024 GOP nomination. He just won’t get it done by staying away from his fellow candidates, no matter how unworthy of his presence he might consider them now.

  • Joe Biden economy

  • inflation

  • Biden cognitive decline

  • gas prices,

  • Nancy Pelosi

  • Biden senile

  • January 6 Committee

  • Liz Cheney

  • Build Back Better

  • Joe Manchin

  • RINOs

  • Marjorie Taylor Green

  • Kevin McCarthy

  • Mitch McConnell

  • 2022 elections

  • Donald Trump

  • 2024 presidential election

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1 Comment

Aug 25, 2023

I would say that Mr Flynn is making quite the stretch there, to suggest that Thug Biden now can weasel out of a future general election debate, because Trump skipped a Republican primary debate. For those with short memories, leading Democrats in 2020 had teased that Biden shouldn't do the debates with Trump. That was meant to disrespect Trump, who they didn't believe was a legitimate President. Trump supporters, and the President himself, suggested that Biden wouldn't debate because he was in mental decline.

For the record, Biden did the debates in 2020. He may or may not do the debates this time around, for whatever reason he wants. Perhaps he can say he won't debate criminals. But don't say…

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