Once Governor and now-presidential candidate Ron DeSantis (R-FL) entered the 2024 Republican presidential sweepstakes, Republicans and the politically keen immediately flocked to their Google search bars to see when the first primary debate would take place.
Trump vs. DeSantis: For the heavyweight championship of the world, it seemed. However, President Trump is opting for an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson instead of attending the debate on Aug. 23, citing his 30+ point lead in many national polls.
The move is not a bad one, politically. It’s the conservative play. Why would he risk a 30+ point lead and simultaneously give airtime and viewership to his opponents in the process? It can be reasonably inferred that a debate without President Trump will have significantly lower ratings than a debate with him.
Could there be any reason that the former President and the 2020 GOP presidential nominee that leads seemingly two to one in almost every poll should attend this debate?
By conventional political strategy? No.
However, this move seems to go against conventional and non-conventional Trump behavior that his base, Republican voters, and the American people have become accustomed to.
Street fighter, brash, boastful, filter-less, daring.
All of these phrases are commonly used to describe Donald Trump. He surprisingly won the hearts of Republican voters at the debates during the 2016 race when he criticized “low energy” Jeb Bush, “little” Marco Rubio, “lyin’” Ted Cruz, and “crooked” Hillary Clinton.
He told millions of Americans that the Bush administration lied about the weapons of mass destruction that Iraq supposedly had, providing a rationale to invade the country following 9/11.
“They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none. And they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction,” Trump stated.
Audience members reached their own conclusions regarding Trump’s statement. However, it can also be reasonably inferred that there was some culture shock following that moment.
“Is he allowed to say that? Did he just accuse former President (and fellow Republican) George W. Bush of being a war criminal?” thought viewers across the country.
That was Trump’s brand.
But the decision to not debate – is not.
Two things can be true at once:
1) Deciding not to debate is probably the best decision.
2) Trump is backing down from what many anticipated to be a 15-round slugfest against his most capable opponent ever in the Republican Party.
Additionally, he could use the debate stage as a platform to reach millions of Americans directly regarding his side of the story surrounding the indictments.
Yes, the DeSantis campaign has had its problems (Huge). But you don’t win the state of Florida by 20 points and 1.5 million votes on accident.
DeSantis, like the rest of the field of candidates, desperately needs for Trump to debate him because he needs voters to see a stark difference between the two men.
A debate with both Trump and DeSantis would be epic, but could come a steep price to either candidate.
Trump has won all of his past primary debates. Actually, he crushed the entire field in 2016. DeSantis limped through his gubernatorial debates in 2018 and 2022, but still came out on top.
Will Trump be Trump and show up? If he doesn't debate, will he look weak in the eyes of millions of Americans who looked forward to watching him take on his past Republican and Democratic challengers?
~ Jackson Bakich, Staff Writer. Publisher Javier Manjarres contributed.