Trump questions why he should participate in GOP primary debates

It is hard not to see a fear of Ron DeSantis animating everything Donald Trump does these days. Combine that with Trump’s general modus operandi of crying foul in advance at anything he expects to go against him while declaring victory before all the votes are cast, and you get what is happening right now. 

First, we had Trump’s preposterous effort to deride Republican governance in Florida and Trump intimidating people such as Steve Daines (chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee) into endorsing him while touting himself as the bĂȘte noire of “the Establishment.”

Now, Trump is musing about pulling out of the debates on the theory that his lead is “insurmountable” nine months before the first vote is cast.

Trump on Tuesday raised the prospect of skipping the two Republican White House primary debates that have been announced thus far, suggesting he should not have to subject himself to such scrutiny given his commanding lead in the polls.

“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,” 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?”

Trump also took issue with plans to hold the second planned GOP debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, noting that Fred Ryan, publisher of The Washington Post, is chairman of the board of trustees at the Reagan library.

The first GOP primary debate is set for August in Milwaukee. The date of the second has not yet been announced.

It has become commonplace for Trump to threaten to skip debates dating back to his time as a candidate for the Republican nomination during the 2016 primary.

He threatened to skip a primary debate in early 2016 because he felt then-Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly would not treat him fairly. Kelly at an earlier debate had pressed Trump on his previous derogatory comments about women.

In March 2016, Trump threatened to skip a CNN town hall interview, citing his perception that the network had treated him unfairly.

In 2019, Trump suggested he may skip the presidential debates the following year if they were hosted by Fox News as he took issue with the network’s coverage.

And in the lead up to the 2020 debates between Trump and Biden, Trump repeatedly raised the prospect of boycotting the debates over issues with the nonpartisan Presidential Debate Commission.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) has not yet laid out the criteria for participating in this summer’s primary debates, though Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has said those who wish to participate will have to agree to a pledge to support the eventual nominee, something Trump did not do during the 2016 primary.

The potential for 2024 general election debates remains in question: The RNC last year voted to withdraw from the Commission on Presidential Debates, accusing the group that has run the debates since 1988 of bias against its candidates.

Trump is one of several declared candidates in the GOP race, including former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and conservative entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Others, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and former Vice President Mike Pence, are expected to decide whether to run for president in the coming weeks.

I suppose we shouldn’t just assume that this is Trump’s actual plan for the primary. Trump may be making this sort of threat simply to gain some leverage over how the debates are structured. That might involve the dates, the locations, the moderators, or all of the above. We can’t rule that out, of course. Trump’s reputation as both a dealmaker and a grandstander is legendary and well-deserved.

Others are suggesting that he’s afraid to debate DeSantis. That doesn’t have the ring of truth to it for me. It’s never advantageous to agree to a debate when you’re leading in the polls, but Trump has previously participated in every debate that was offered and really seemed to enjoy being part of the show.

But I would suggest that he needs to be careful here. Acting as if anyone (including the RNC) needs his “permission” to hold debates makes it sound as if the party owes the nomination to him. Trump is not currently the President so he isn’t the nominee by default. That’s a decision for the party’s voters to make. Acting otherwise simply reinforces the image of Washington as a place where the permanent Powers That Be from both parties in the Swamp get to make all of the calls and the “little people” should simply accept what they’re given. It’s not a good look.

While we’re on the subject, you shouldn’t be able to declare yourself the default candidate even if you are the incumbent president. That’s what Joe Biden is trying to do and the DNC is going along with it. Joe Biden may be the President, but he’s a president that fewer than a quarter of the voters want to see running again. And he’s already picking up some credible challengers, including RFK Jr. The Democrats have every reason in the world to hold a real primary at this point and their voters shouldn’t tolerate this sort of coronation when other viable options exist.

If either Biden or Trump refuses to debate and the RNC and the DNC try to go along with that, the other candidates need to organize their own debate. People don’t need a permit from either of the major party committees to talk.
Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher is the editor and publisher of High Plains Pundit. Dan is also the host of the popular High Plains Pundit Podcast.

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