As the Aug. 23 date for the first Republican debate draws closer, Donald Trump is being evasive as to whether or not he will take part in this early contest. That begs the question why won't Trump debate?
The excuse he gives is, being the front runner, he has no reason to engage with the other candidates. Instead, he’s proposed they use the debates as auditions to be his running mate in the upcoming presidential election.
In typical Trump fashion, he wants to make the debates all about him even if he refuses to take part in them. This has executives at Fox, who is sponsoring the first debate, begging Trump to join the fray. They know without him the ratings will suffer, so he’s a necessary part of their strategy to woo back viewers they lost after declaring Trump had lost to 2020 election and Trump is not one to forgive such a perceived slight.
The real reason he is refusing to take part is far simpler. It’s not about choosing a running mate. It’s not about making the execs at Fox grovel. It’s the fact that he would be forced to answer questions about policies for which he has no answers. It would demonstrate that the emperor has no clothes, and no clue.
A Look Back
During the 2016 election, Trump was widely regarded as a joke. While other candidates rolled out platforms to promote American interests and vilify potential Democratic opponents, Trump would ramble on about a broken system, the “Deep State” and his desire to drain the swamp of Washington insiders.
But he had no message as to how he would govern if elected. Issues about the economy, healthcare, foreign relations and other topics typically facing prospective candidates remained a mystery for those seeking to pin Trump down. Since he had no concrete agenda, there was no way to pin down where he stood.
The large field of candidates who sought the nomination was something Trump exploited. Because of this, the voters splintered their support over the field which allowed Trump to gain the nomination without getting a majority of the votes. He was also able to avoid being pinned down as to where he stood on the issues.
Trump’s popularity grew as he held rock show style rallies where he railed against the Deep State and led chants of “Lock Her Up!” as he successfully demonized his far more qualified Democratic opponent. Still, he lacked a message.
That is until…
His advisers realized Trump had a limited ability to remember complex information, much less articulate them in a coherent manner. They had to come up with a hot button topic that would appeal to his rabid followers and Republicans in general. With a campaign slogan of Make America Great Again, they needed a scapegoat.
They seized upon the issue of illegal immigrants who they depicted as flooding the nation with dangerous narcotics, destroying cities with deadly street gangs and exploiting the young through vile child trafficking. They used Hollywood style scenarios like in the movie Sicario to paint all of those trying to cross the Southern border with the same tainted brush. Now they needed a way for their candidate to effectively relay the message.
Build the Wall was never supposed to become policy. Instead, it was a simple way to get Trump to stay on message. The slogan ignored that it mirrored the very wall in Berlin that Reagan demanded be torn down because it was a symbol of communist oppression. The Wall became the cornerstone of Trump’s campaign and later his vague domestic agenda.
Will it become a campaign issue Trump uses in his push to regain the White House?
Why Won't Trump Debate?
A myriad of legal issues face Trump as he tries to be re-elected again. He’s trying to use these to bolster his support while claiming election interference and political persecution. These could be possible topics brought up in any face-off between the candidates. While this may be an issue Trump can deal with, it will, by no means, be the only one.
How would he handle the economy? Will he continue to call global warming a hoax? Will he repeat the same mistakes he made during his first term in dealing with foreign leaders? Will he commit to an independent Department of Justice? Will he accept the results of the election even if he loses again?
If we’ve learned anything from his past proclamations, it’s that he will rarely give a straight answer. Instead, he will tease that he will only answer these questions if he wins. While he continues to deny it, this was not a winning strategy in 2020 and it likely won’t fly in 2024 either.
After all, he promised to repeal and replace Obamacare and to have a response to America’s crumbling infrastructure. Neither of these happened under his administration, yet President Biden was able to get an infrastructure bill passed in short order which further highlights Trump’s inability to enact a domestic agenda that isn’t based upon the simple premise of undoing everything related to the previous administration.
He’s boasted that he would end the conflict in Ukraine in 24 hours. Many fear his solution would be to simply capitulate to Vladimir Putin’s demands by withdrawing American support, leaving the other NATO nations holding the bag.
With no specific plans, avoiding the debates seems to be his best strategy. He’s almost assured of getting the Republican nomination, so why would he want to appear inept on the national stage?
That’s the answer to the question, why won't Trump debate.