Donald Trump’s rivals for the 2024 presidential nomination are already pinning their hopes on scoring some big points against the former president and front-runner in the first Republican primary debate, to be held in Minneapolis later this month.
But throwing punches at Trump may not be as effective if he doesn’t actually show up on August 23. The former president, who faces multiple criminal charges, has yet to confirm his presence at the debate. In an interview last month, Trump said that “if you have a big lead, you don’t do it”.
Trump’s onstage performance could be risky: It would give his opponents the chance to attack him personally, potentially creating a viral moment to fuel their campaign. It’s also possible that Trump’s ego just can’t pass up an opportunity to soak up all the attention.
Keeping everyone on edge, the former president conducts an impromptu poll of his supporters on the idea at a campaign event on Tuesday.
“Maybe we’re going to do something different,” Trump said in Windham, New Hampshire, teasing the possibility of a competitive event.
Virtually everyone in the GOP has an interest in Trump taking the stage, not least the Republican National Committee and Fox News, whose executives recently lobbied the former president to attend a dinner at his Bedminster golf club .
“I think it’s a mistake not to do the debates,” RNC president Ronna McDaniel said last month. “If you want to win the nomination, you have to get in front of those primary voters. But to me it’s another part of it… this is an audience of 20 million people, plus.
Trump’s main rivals are piling up this week trying to challenge him to debate.
“Hopefully former President Trump has the courage to show up,” former Vice President Mike Pence’s campaign said Tuesday after announcing that Pence had qualified for the debate.
It was Trump who urged Pence, his then Vice President, to show “courage” on January 6, 2021 by fraudulently overturning Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election. Pence claims he was not authorized to do so under the U.S. Constitution, blaming Trump’s “mad lawyers” for pushing through the plan.
Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, meanwhile, turned the tables on Trump after the former president mocked him for his weight and appearance in New Hampshire.
“Don’t call him a fat pig,” Trump told the crowd, referring to Christie.
“Christie, he’s eating now,” he added. “He doesn’t care.”
Christie, a former close adviser to Trump who has since become one of the former president’s most outspoken critics, responded in a post online urging Trump to “say it to my face.”
The campaign of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Trump’s biggest challenger in the race for the Republican nomination, also argues that skipping the debate would cost Trump in early primary states.
ABC News reported that the DeSantis campaign believes the move could be bad for Trump, based on polls of Republican voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. New
If Trump attends, DeSantis is expected to “use the face-to-face opportunity to highlight the differences between him and Trump,” the outlet reported.
If anyone needs a Hail Mary right now, it’s DeSantis. The governor is struggling in the polls and his donors are pushing for a change of strategy.
On Tuesday, DeSantis’ campaign announced its third personnel change this summer: the chief of staff of his gubernatorial office replaced his presidential campaign manager in an effort to revive DeSantis’s wavering bid for the White House.