By Cinzia Croce
As soon as Donald Trump confirmed that he would not participate in tonight’s debate, the airwaves exploded with opinions about the wisdom of his decision. I’d like to think he was listening to me when, back in October, I was questioning the necessity of additional debates.
What have we learned since then because of the debates? That Ted Cruz and Donald Trump disagree about ‘New York values.’ Chris Christie believes he is the only one talking about the issues voters really care about. Marco Rubio thinks Ted Cruz is a calculating politician! Not exactly the kind of information voters are looking for before casting their vote for leader of the free world.
Despite numerous reporters hyperventilating that Trump’s decision was ‘unprecedented,’ candidates with hefty leads in the polls routinely avoid facing their opponents. Begging for additional debates is the ‘Hail Mary’ of every losing candidate. Front runners have everything to lose and nothing to gain from participating in debates. And since the debate involves a network and a moderator that have shown for months a clear animus towards the leading candidate, Trump’s decision to skip it should surprise no one.
When was the last time the ‘he is afraid to debate’ line of attack was effective? In the case of Trump, the accusation that he is ‘afraid’ is even less credible, because he has already participated in several debates. In the last six months he has taken on the ‘kingmakers’ of the GOP nomination process, political correctness, the mainstream media, grievance groups, and the Clintons. Trump is not afraid. He recognized a no-win situation and found a way to avoid it while still maintaining his alpha male persona.
Let’s also drop the spin that failing to debate is a slight against Iowa voters or that the American public is somehow being deprived of an opportunity to learn more about policy proposals. Debates are not designed to inform the public about policy details. (“Please explain how you are going to balance the budget in thirty seconds.”) After six debates and several months of campaigning, anyone who is actually interested in the election already knows where each candidate stands on the issues.
If anyone should fear Trump boycotting the debate, it is the other GOP candidates. Sure, they are all pretending to be thrilled to have more time to present their case — except for Cruz, who immediately challenged Trump to a ‘mano a mano‘ debate. He has even gone so far as to arrange for his donors to pledge $1.5 million to veterans’ charities if Trump agrees to take up his challenge. Obviously, the Cruz campaign has spent many hours crafting debate lines that would expose Trump as ‘not a real conservative’ only to watch their plans crumble. Equally obvious: Ted Cruz is on the decline in the polls.
Without Trump, the GOP debate will be a replay of the decades-long quest to find the next Ronald Reagan. The donor class pet policies of tax cuts, free trade and a kinder, gentler immigration approach in all likelihood will take center stage. Social issues are certain to reappear and remind moderate voters why they have preferred Democrats over Republicans for five out of the last six presidential elections. Without Trump, the other candidates risk being exposed as just the latest crop of Republican candidates advancing stale ideas and policies that have failed to deliver for the middle class. Now that’s something to fear.