Donald Trump’s rivals for the Republican presidential nomination have responded with mostly muted reactions to his decision to skip all of the party’s primary debates. Trump’s team believes that as the clear frontrunner, he would gain little from appearing on stage with his many rivals. However, his legal team may be concerned that Trump could say something that could be damaging in the numerous legal cases against him.
Ron DeSantis, Trump’s closest rival, stated that no one is entitled to the nomination, including Trump, and that candidates must show up and earn it. DeSantis, whose campaign is seen as struggling, needs to make an impression during the debates to gain support.
Trump cited a CBS News poll on his online platform, Truth Social, which showed him with a 46-point national lead. He boasted of his “legendary numbers” and declared that he would not participate in the debates. Fox News, the host of the first debate, has urged Trump to attend, but an unnamed Trump adviser revealed that the former president has always been against participating in the second scheduled debate.
Despite facing 91 criminal charges in relation to hush-money payments, election subversion, retention of classified documents, and other cases, Trump continues to lead in national and state polls. Previous polls have shown Trump with a significant lead over DeSantis and other challengers.
Trump has already recorded an interview with Tucker Carlson to be broadcast as counter-programming to the Milwaukee debate. DeSantis is expected to become the top target for attacks during the debate, even from candidates such as Chris Christie, who has been critical of Trump and accused him of being a coward for skipping debates.
Vivek Ramaswamy, a biotech entrepreneur and contender for second place, criticized DeSantis as another career politician beholden to the donor class. According to an Axios report, DeSantis’s campaign manager warned that the Milwaukee debate would present an opportunity for other candidates to attack the governor.
Overall, Trump’s absence from the debates is expected to change the dynamics, with DeSantis becoming the top target on stage. The race for the Republican nomination is seen as a two-man contest between DeSantis and Trump.