“[He’s] gol' darn gone and done it” – again, the “He” being Donald Trump, and the “it” being something jaw-dropping.
You’re forgiven if the 2024 Republican party’s leading presidential candidate’s bizarre announcement last week that he may not participate in the upcoming GOP primary debates (starting this summer) reminded you a little of the old Shania Twain song “Love Gets Me Every Time” (which contains the above lyric), because the populist political outsider’s statement came from so far out of the blue that it was initially impossible to take seriously.
Last week’s news events were slow by Trump standards (Tucker who? Senile Joe running for reelection?), so perhaps the former president reasoned he needed to shake up the establishment media world to prompt a little more love – and coverage – his way, and the best means to accomplish it was by tweaking the GOP leadership in a manner certain to get the talkers’ attention. As repeatedly stated in this space and others, the 2024 race hasn’t officially started yet and already the two-time defending party presidential nomination champ is tossing hints that he won’t play nice with the others just for the sake of goodwill and intra-faction harmony. And fairness to the process.
He's Donald Trump, after all. If it’s true that no man is an island, Trump is at least an isthmus connecting the Republican Party with the country’s conservative voters.
After all, senile president Joe Biden just made it official that he’s running for reelection – and the old goat was basking in the limelight of mostly positive media reflections on his presidential “accomplishments” and henceforth laying the foundation for another four year term. So, if you’re Trump, why not find an attention-grabbing theme to throw a wrench in Biden’s rapidly receding moment of glory?
Trump’s official statement regarding the primary debates implied that the party poohbahs had not paid him sufficient deference, and the poll leading frontrunner felt such forums would naturally be biased against him. Trump could be right about his second contention, though the first one is a matter of “debate”. Pardon the pun.
Longtime observers of Trump’s career recall that Trump skipped a debate in 2016 (in Des Moines, Iowa on January 28th), employing similar reasoning at the time, the difference being there were a ton (12) of such programs back then and blowing off one or two wouldn’t necessarily cause kvetching and gnashing of teeth among the voters.
But so far there are only two GOP primary debates in the making this year (though the RNC suggests there will be as many as 10), and if Trump the headline and ratings generating machine doesn’t participate… it’s a big deal for all conservatives.
Is he sincere? In a report titled “Trump says he might skip the GOP debates, claiming bias”, Tom Howell Jr. wrote at The Washington Times:
“Former President Donald Trump is hinting that he might skip primary debates against Republican rivals this year. Mr. Trump, the front-runner in the emerging GOP field, said no one consulted him about the schedule, and he fears the moderators will be biased.
“’I see that everybody is talking about the Republican Debates, but nobody got my approval, or the approval of the Trump Campaign, before announcing them,’ Mr. Trump wrote on Truth Social. ‘When you’re leading by seemingly insurmountable numbers, and you have hostile Networks with angry, TRUMP & MAGA hating anchors asking the ‘questions,’ why subject yourself to being libeled and abused?’
“The Republican National Committee scheduled an August debate in Milwaukee and said the second debate will be at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California.”
Trump especially objected to the scheduled event in California as he mentioned the Chairman of the Reagan Library’s board of trustees is “Fred Ryan, Publisher of The Washington Post. NO!” I don’t believe this fact alone would slant the questioning against Trump, but after all the man’s been through, who’s to judge? Here, once again, Trump is unafraid to name names and reveal his problem with the format, so at least he’s not keeping anyone in the dark.
Is such a strategy wise? My initial reaction to Trump’s “I’m not doing it!” bravado conjured up another Shania Twain tune from decades ago, “Don’t Be Stupid (You Know I Love You)”, which grabbed attention from the get-go by telling the listener to cut the suspicions and get it done. It’s not that Canadian heartthrob (for men) Twain intended to comment on politics, but she certainly had a knack for getting to the point with her bold and sassy lyrics.
Likewise, Donald Trump has a talent for manipulating the establishment media like no one else. The very thought of a media outlet hosting a presidential primary debate from either party without the frontrunner providing star power must send shivers down the executives’ spines. That’s almost like throwing a birthday party without the guest of honor to sing to, or inducting a legend into the Hall of Fame and not seeing the guy’s (or gal’s) smiling face beside the bust.
What if the Democrats did an event in 2020 without Joe Biden in attendance? Oh wait! Their entire campaign featured senile Joe speaking remotely or taking extraordinary “social distance” measures. Blah. Now that was stupid.
At the same time, no one can say whether Trump would actually carry through with his threat (offer?) to back out of the GOP primary debates, but he wouldn’t necessarily be “stupid” to do so. Realistically speaking, the only way Trump’s challengers can hope to gain a foothold on a running lane in the GOP field is to be seen in the frontrunner’s vicinity while looking him in the eye – and telling him and the audience why the 45th president shouldn’t get a second term.
I suspect most of the say-no-to-Trump arguments will center on his age, just as many Democrats home in on senile Joe’s maturity in the other party. Trump is still vigorous – and “with it” – into his late seventies, but wear and tear catches up with us all at some point. Trump is the Energizer Bunny when it comes to boundless energy, but everyone eventually hits a wall. It would be bad for America if Trump were unable to conduct his second term the way he did his first. The stakes are that much higher now after COVID and years of Democrat “woke” destruction.
Of course, Nikki Haley has already been grousing about “fresh” leadership and drew headlines a couple months back for intimating every elected leader over the age of 75 should submit to regular cognitive check-ups – and the concept hasn’t stuck with the public. Americans clearly believe Joe Biden is on his last cerebral cell, but Trump doesn’t come across as similarly enfeebled.
It doesn’t help Haley’s cause that she isn’t known for any other issue. If Nikki makes the debate stage according to the host’s criteria, what will she talk about? Trump’s presence would at least provide her something interesting to discuss. Other than that, she’s milquetoast.
But no candidate can carry on for two hours merely referencing numerical age and “freshness”, so beyond that, what tack would each candidate take to assail Trump’s record? Some could employ a Liz Cheney-like “no one is beyond the law” angle, though what current Republican would be dumb enough to insult conservatives who’ve watched the January 6 subject being pounded down their throats since the day it happened?
Answer: Asa Hutchinson…?
There’s also the other side of the coin to consider -- if indeed Trump carries through with his threat and doesn’t show up for the party debates, he runs the risk of providing a nationally televised forum to his competitors to loft bombs at him from afar with no immediate capacity to respond, though I do recall he held a “counter” event near the (January 28) Des Moines debate in 2016, where he hosted supporters in a rally of his own. The optics weren’t great for Trump that night and he participated in every subsequent program without a lot of fanfare.
Here's thinking Trump is simply recycling his behavior from eight years ago. Trump instinctively realizes that media networks panic at the thought of not having the always-entertaining celebrity New York politician occupying the center stage, so basically, he’s just trying to garner reaction to the hypothetical notion of a boycott.
It’s not 2016 anymore, and with everything that’s gone on in recent years, the country is more or less expecting a Trump/Biden rematch. Watching seven or eight lower tier Republicans – and Ron DeSantis, assuming he runs – bandy about proposals on economics and foreign policy won’t stir up much buzz. Meanwhile, Trump needs to present his case for another presidency, but will avoiding a debate help him sway the fence sitters and independents?
Hardly. They’ll see him as a selfish, obstinate, self-important quitter who feels entitled to everything he gets. At some level, even Donald Trump needs to show and go through the same process everyone else does. He owes it to his voters and he owes it to America.
Democrats announced that they won’t be holding primary debates for their presidential candidates, probably hoping to keep senile Joe Biden from committing an embarrassing gaffe. Republicans need to showcase their ideas in front of Americans and the world. It would be a mistake for Donald Trump to skip the GOP debates. Don’t “gol' darn gone and done it”, Trump.
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