Two weeks from today, several GOP candidates for the 2024 presidential race will stand on a stage and debate each other on the issues and concerns of the United States. Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, Tim Scott, Vivek Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, Mike Pence, and Doug Burgum have all qualified to appear on the stage, and it’s unlikely any others will between now and then.
Almost every single one of those candidates is eager to get on the stage and explain to Americans how he or she is the most qualified person for the job. The only person who has made noise about not attending is Trump.
People who are wary of Trump want to see a debate that doesn’t feature him. They do not like the fact that Trump sucks all the air out of the room, and they at least want the alternatives to be heard. but the media has been very sure to keep the focus on Trump, the 2020 election, and Trump’s antics. And, yes, Trump and his mannerisms would be, at minimum, extremely distracting on the big night.
The problem, with regards to Trump, isn’t so much if he’s going to attend the debate. Instead, it’s a question of whether or not, he should attend the debate. A lot of the inside chatter from the Trump campaign is that he doesn’t need to take part in a debate when he’s already so far ahead of all of his other opponents, including the second-place candidate, DeSantis. But, the issue about Trump attending the debate actually goes even much deeper than that.
Trump is facing a host of legal issues right now. There are multiple prosecutors who are looking at putting the former president behind bars, and Trump does himself no favors when he’s unscripted and starts making comments about whatever he wants to talk about. Let us never forget that Trump, in 2016, was goaded into talking about the size of his hands.
That prospect was also raised by POLITICO this morning and noted that Trump probably wouldn’t take being warned to avoid it by his lawyers very well.
One well-placed GOP source who has communicated with the Trump team said there is “real concern that he could put himself in more legal jeopardy by going to the debate and getting goaded into saying something dumb.” A person close to the Trump campaign told us none of his attorneys have warned Trump away from attending. “And if they did, they wouldn’t like the response,” the person said.
Just imagine if Trump is sparring with Ron DeSantis over the 2020 election and start spouting off on more things that Jack Smith will then use in part of a superseding indictment regarding the election conspiracy. Or what if Mike Pence, trumps, former vice president, manages to get Trump to talk about the documents at Mar-a-Lago? The moment he steps off that debate stage, Donald Trump will find himself facing more penalties from prosecutors who are eager to get him on as many charges as possible.
So, even if Trump weren’t as far ahead in the polling as he is, there is a chance that his team might discourage him from attending the debates because of the pending litigation, which he could use as an excuse, and not seem like he’s running away. All Trump has to say is that a weaponized Department of Justice continues to charge him with crimes that he didn’t commit, and because he knows they are still engaged in this witchhunt, he will be focusing on his legal defense and campaigning to continue his work for the American people.
I don’t know if, strategically, it would make sense for Trump to appear on the stage. Legally, I know it’s a risk that I, if I were his lawyer (or a lawyer at all), would not want him to take. But Trump does a whole hell of a lot that is inadvisable, and he somehow survives it.