- Former President Donald Trump continues to weigh whether he will participate in the RNC’s first presidential debate on Aug. 23.
- Republican consultants and analysts told the Daily Caller News Foundation that there’s no reason Trump should attend the first debate, and that all of the attention will likely still fall upon him regardless.
- “I see no reason for him to go. I see lots of reasons why he might just want to stay home and hang out,” Mike McKenna, Republican consultant and president of MWR Strategies, told the DCNF.
As former President Donald Trump continues to weigh taking the first Republican presidential debate stage on Aug. 23, several GOP operatives warned against him attending to the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Trump is considering skipping the first two presidential debates held by the Republican National Committee, and might hold a countering event instead, citing his massive lead in the polls. The Republican consultants and analysts argued that Trump shouldn’t participate in the first debate, and told the DCNF his decision wouldn’t affect his massive lead in the primary.
“He won’t debate, he shouldn’t debate, it’s not in his interest to debate politically speaking,” Mark Weaver, a GOP consultant who heads Politics Counsel, told the DCNF. (RELATED: ADAM WEISS: Why Trump Should Steer Clear Of The Debate Stage — For Now)
The RealClearPolitics (RCP) average for a 2024 national Republican primary, based on polls conducted between July 12 and Aug. 8, indicates that Trump is leading a crowded field of GOP hopefuls by 38 points. The former president is also leading by double digits in all four key early primary states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — according to the most recent polling compiled by FiveThirtyEight.
“Whether he goes or doesn’t go he’s gonna dominate the news cycle,” Mike McKenna, a Republican consultant and president of MWR Strategies, told the DCNF. “I see no reason for him to go. I see lots of reasons why he might just want to stay home and hang out.”
Regardless of whether Trump participates, he will still be at the forefront of the debates, especially after his third indictment, according to Weaver and McKenna.
Trump was indicted on Aug. 1 for his alleged involvement in Jan. 6 and alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 election. The former president was also indicted in early June for allegedly mishandling classified documents and in late March for allegedly falsifying business records when paying back a hush money receipt.
“The indictments du jour are not changing people’s opinion about Donald Trump, so him showing or not showing for a debate will be watched by some very interested political people, but ignored by most Americans,” said Weaver. “It simply won’t have much of an impact on Donald Trump’s numbers.”
Though Jon McHenry, a GOP polling analyst and vice president of North Star Opinion Research, would like to see Trump take the stage, he told the DCNF the former president should avoid debating while he can.
“If I were advising the former President, though, I’d tell him to stay away for as long as he can. He’s surely lost five to ten miles an hour off his fastball, so it’s best to keep that from voters as long as he can,” said McHenry. “I think Governor Christie is bound to go after someone this debate, and if it is not Trump, maybe he’ll pick off another rival.”
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been a vocal critic of Trump since the 2020 election, and often slams the former president for being “afraid” to debate. Christie, who ran for the Republican nomination in 2016 and withdrew after coming in sixth in the New Hampshire primary, has an RCP average of 2.3%.
“There is only one person right now who matters in this primary, and it’s Donald Trump. That’s it. I don’t waste my time predominately on other people,” Christie said in a statement provided to the DCNF. “Now, if someone says something monumentally stupid, and I see it as the moment to say, ‘That’s really stupid,’ I’m going to do it … Yes, I have a plan, but I am absolutely both willing and able to change the plan on the fly, depending upon what happens on the stage.”
If the former president doesn’t attend the first debate, other candidates will likely take aim at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to try and demote him from the second place position in the primary, said Weaver, who called the governor “vulnerable.”
“Regardless of whether or not Donald Trump is afraid to debate, Ron DeSantis is looking forward to being on stage in Milwaukee talking about his plans to beat Joe Biden, reverse the decline in our nation, and revive America’s future,” Andrew Romeo, communications director for the DeSantis campaign, told the DCNF.
DeSantis has been undergoing a reset after a few tumultuous months on the campaign trail and a drop in the polls. The governor’s RCP average is currently 15.9%, and he has 20% support in Iowa, 9% support in New Hampshire, 22% support in Nevada and 21% support in South Carolina, according to the most recent polling compiled by FiveThirtyEight.
“It’s a big moment for Ron DeSantis because everyone in politics is watching to see whether he can move out of this low second position,” Weaver said. “He can either move out of it by getting closer to Trump or he can get out of it by being knocked out by someone like Chris Christie. I gotta imagine Chris Christie is coming loaded for bear against Ron DeSantis. I think Chris Christie is practicing one liners as we speak that are meant to cut Ron DeSantis down to a lower position in the race.”
McKenna argued other candidates will attempt to clear the field in Trump’s potential absence, but doesn’t believe the other contenders will take aim at DeSantis. Since the governor has strong support and financial backing, the 2024 hopefuls will attack South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott because he’s the “weakest,” he said.
Trump did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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