News out late today that Trump will skip Thursday’s GOP debate ahead of the Iowa caucuses next Monday, apparently objecting to the presence of Megyn Kelly on the Fox panel that will conduct the debate. Is this finally a blunder that will hurt him, or another stroke of genius?
Anyone who has previously said Trump had blundered with some of his outrageous remarks has been made a fool, and it may turn out to be so this time as well. But with Iowa’s notoriously volatile caucus electorate, this seems very high risk. It will look like he is ducking a debate, or afraid of a girl. (Ducking a debate in Iowa hurt Reagan in 1980; he was upset by George H.W. Bush.) It will look like he’s ducking the sharp questions of Megyn Kelly. Maybe he thinks that with a new lead in the polls he can sit on the ball and coast to a win on Monday. Maybe he thinks his absence will mean Cruz, Rubio, Fiorina and Bush will attack him relentlessly, and, counter-intuitively, bolster his status with Iowa voters.
This year, who can tell. If you had predicted last spring that Jerry Falwell Jr. would endorse a thrice-married Manhattanite who helped develop Atlantic City gambling, I’d have said you were smoking something not legal even in Colorado. But here we are. Game theory at this point is useless. I give up.
JOHN adds: I am pretty sure this won’t hurt Trump. If saying, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters” didn’t offend Trump’s supporters, skipping a debate won’t bother them either.
If this episode is notable, it is because it further confirms that Trump isn’t primarily seeking conservative support. Fox News and Megyn Kelly are popular on the right. A conventional Republican candidate–one trying to appeal to his party’s conservative base–would try hard to avoid a public fight with them.
Similarly, a candidate focusing his campaign on conservatives wouldn’t call Michelle Malkin a “loser” and a “dummy” who was “born stupid.”
In this respect like so many others, Trump is not a conventional Republican candidate. He won’t turn down conservative support, but his prime audience is the low-information center and is not necessarily Republican. Trump’s support in the primaries will come in large part from people who don’t usually vote, independents and, where allowed by state law, Democrats. To a considerable degree, Trump, alone among candidates of either party, is already running a general election campaign.
PAUL adds: Evidence for John’s concluding sentence can be found in a statement Trump made recently: “You know what? There’s a point at which let’s get to be a little establishment; we’ve got to get things done folks, OK?”