The relevance-seeking RNC is urging Trump to attend, as are ratings-hungry Fox News executives. But by RSVPing in the negative, Trump will be doing everybody — voters, his opponents, his party, the animal kingdom and even the universe — a major favor. Trump should come no closer to the debates than watching them from his clubroom.
Consider the biggest advantage of deleting Trump from the line-up: As the ever-burning supernova of his party, Trump outshines his competitors by several degrees of magnitude. There’s nobody on the continent who doesn’t know who he is and what he stands for. At this point in the clinched campaign, there is no point in having him win more votes. His media magnetism and skill at domination are so grand that any debate with a panel of Republicans that includes him tends to be about him. Even if Trump were to contain his energies, the rest of the pack would insist on attaching themselves to him because that’s what these GOP candidates do: Hungrily grab any Trump-related morsel of news coverage that they can.
Whether Trump wins the general election in 2024 or not, the Republican Party needs to start preparing itself for a Trumpless future. Yes, someday he will be gone, either summoned to heaven or the other place, enrolled in a Bureau of Prisons work program, or lounging on the patio in retirement. By excluding Trump from the debate, the current crop of party leaders could use the forum to present themselves and their ideas to voters without the oppressive background noise of the Trump siren. He’d still be the elephant in the room, but only a baby elephant. Of course, the candidates would still make Trump the subject. That’s how today’s iteration of the Republican Party works. But given the reluctance of any of the candidates — except Chris Christie — from directly confronting Trump so far in the campaign, what would be lost by his absence?
It would be naïve to think that a Trumpless debate would reach new heights of discourse. Campaign debates have rarely offered that sort of performance. Even without Trump, the primal instinct to fanny-whack the first runner-up — in this case, Ron DeSantis — would remain strong. But DeSantis doesn’t possess the sort of clout and appeal that would make him a target for the entire night. Why bother dethroning DeSantis as the heir apparent when he’s already doing such a good job of it himself? Nobody has needed to reboot as frequently as DeSantis since the days of Windows 95. The candidates would have no alternative but to make a case for themselves and their positions. There might not be a Cicero among the current crop of candidates able to hold audiences spellbound with their oratory. But showcasing the Trump understudies without his presence would help prepare the party for the future.
With the countdown destined to send Trump to a certain political retirement by 2029, if not earlier, let’s use the Republican debates to shape the post-Donald landscape.
Despite all the highfalutin talk about a clash over policy, presidential debates don’t really give voters the opportunity to judge the candidates’ views on the issues. People don’t listen to candidates’ answers as much as they judge their presentations. Are they likable? Are they clever? Do they act like confident leaders? Do they possess political reflexes and nerve? By taking his debate vacation, Trump will free other voices to be heard and inadvertently launch his party’s next stage of evolution.
Do you suppose we can convince Trump to play hooky from all of the Republican debates?
With Trump unavailable to savage, what will Chris Christie have to say? Send speculations to [email protected]. No new email alert subscriptions are being honored at this time. I’m still calling it Twitter but discourage anybody from following me there or on Mastodon, Post, Bluesky, Notes, or [http://@[email protected]]Threads until the market settles. Don’t subscribe to my RSS feed, either. You had your chance.