For about 46 percent of Republican Party voters, tonights’s debate among the primary candidates will have some meaning. For the remaining 53 percent, they could care less.
Donald Trump has a commanding lead, as we all know, and as he tells us every time he takes to his Truth Social site. It bears repeating, but it absolutely boggles the mind that a man facing four criminal indictments in four different jurisdictions that include 91 counts of wrongdoing leads all Republican primary presidential candidates. Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bob Dole are all spinning in their graves.
Is that what Wednesday night’s debate is at its core? A graveyard of eight wannabe candidates all vying for a lifeless slice of that 46 percent? Is this metaphorically a tree falling in the forest that no one hears for at least 53 percent of tuned-out Republicans? Will it matter if Chris Christie and Ron DeSantis trade acerbic barbs? Will Mike Pence be booed when he repeats — again — "anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be president of the United States."
If you want to call it advantageous for concerned citizens — that is the remaining white, middle-aged, upper-middle class Christian Republicans who feign concern — the debate will be more about issues than grievances than if Trump was present.
What issues they will discuss remains to be seen. DeSantis will most likely take every question he gets and spin it back to his main message points — anti-books, anti-trans, antigay, slavery wasn't so bad. Since DeSantis will be the de facto leader among the trailing eight, he will likely come into everyone’s crosshairs. Each one of the debaters will target DeSantis in the hopes of bringing him down so that they can ascend to second place behind Trump and pick up DeSantis’s paltry 14 percent of support.
You’ll have Christie telling viewers that DeSantis isn’t “nice enough.” Oh, the irony there is rich; yet, in Christie's defense, when he was governor of New Jersey, he didn't ban books, deny slavery, or tell his constituents not to say gay. You’ll have DeSantis say “How dare you” to Pence every time the former VP castigates Trump’s behavior on January 6, 2021. DeSantis hopes there will be one or two wavering MAGAs watching the debate who he will convince that he is the next coming of the Donald. Does that mean DeSantis’s goal is to gather as many criminal indictments and impeachments as he can?
And for Pence? Well, his “courage” for speaking out against Trump’s January 6 shenanigans stops there. You will see Pence fawning over the “record President Trump and I worked on together.” Pence thinks he can have it both ways. Call Donald a naughty man, but then turn around and take credit for what Donald did — which we all know is limited to trying to overturn the Constitution, lower taxes on the rich, and load the courts with religious zealots. The latter, of course, is right up Pence’s sanctimonious alley.
And as for Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Tim Scott? The misogynist and racist Republican voters watching will wonder why that “young lady” and “colored people” are up on that debate stage. Do these three not realize that there is no real room for women or people of color in the Republican Party?
So that leaves us with — who cares? Now you see why Trump decided not to get in the middle of what will truly be a clown show. Too bad, because having the top clown there would have made sure that the entire debate was about relitigating the 2020 presidential election. And maybe that’s why his attorneys were likely vehement that Trump stay away from the debate.
Finally, and on a serious note, these eight debaters are likely to be asked if they think the 2020 presidential election was rigged. If each one of them does not answer no, then we can assume that whoever answers yes is complicit in Trump's scheme to undermine the results of that election. They all need to be unequivocal in saying that Joe Biden in the legitimate president of the United States.
If Trump were to participate in the debate, we all know how he would answer that question, presumably putting him in further legal peril. And before we move on, there's always a chance Trump surprises everyone, and shows up. This wouldn't be the first time he's thrown a monkey wrench into a debate. You'll recall the time he held a pseudo press conference with three women who accused Bill Clinton of sexual abuse before a debate with Hillary Clinton. It was shocking, but that looks like child's play compared to all else he's wrought.
Trump wouldn’t be able to help himself if he was up on that stage. He would malign the judges overseeing his cases — accept of course MAGA’s own Aileen Cannon in the Florida Mar-a-Lago documents trial. He would repeat over and over again his puke-inducing proclamation, “I am being indicted for you.” He would call writer E. Jean Carroll, who he sexually abused, according to a New York jury, a “whack job,” Special Counsel Jack Smith “deranged,” Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg a “psychopath,” and accuse Fulton County DA Fani Willis of being a “rigger” — we all know what he means there.
And most annoyingly, he would repeat the fact that none of the people on the stage with him would be there if it wasn’t for Trump. Christie would interject by saying “That’s not true.” Trump would call him fat in the same way Christie would call DeSantis mean. Vicious circles.
Trump is too lazy to prepare for a debate. Even if he participated, he wouldn’t practice. He’d just show up and interrupt everyone and throw around “nasty” insults. Campaigning to him is flying to some rural stadium, walking to a podium, boring the crowd to tears with nonsense for 90 minutes, and walking back to the plane, and taking off. He doesn’t have to shake anyone’s hand or interact with people who he loathes in secret.
Given the choice, would Trump shake hands in a rope line with Indiana farmers or lazily DJ from his phone, at his table, among the wealthy at Mar-a-Lago? Even Mike Pence knows the answer to that question.
Instead, Trump has recorded an interview with Fox’s onetime favorite racist, Tucker Carlson, where the two men will toggle the way two white men are supposed to fight. This “exclusive” interview will be dropped at the start of the Republican debate on Twitter or X, or whatever Elon Musk is calling it these days. Trump said this morning that "sparks will fly." Maybe they'll take their bigoted and sexist language up a few notches?
Two things seem strange with this Carlson/X interview. First, Trump should have checked with DeSantis about what it’s like to do a big campaign-related event on Twitter or X. The fact that it isn’t live sort of takes all the fun out of it and seems to go against the ethos — or former motto — of Twitter. Second, why isn’t Trump doing this on his own Truth Social? Oh, that’s right, no one really cares about that platform.
The best guess is that people won’t crash Twitter or X to watch or listen to what these two yardbirds have to say — a little dated pun on Twitter. Carlson without Fox is like MAGA without red hats. Carlson needs Trump more than Trump needs Carlson, so when the whole thing is a bust, it will be easy for Trump to place the blame on Carlson, i.e. “nobody cares about him anymore.”
If the reverse happens, and Carlson and Trump break Twitter or X, then we all know what will happen after that. Trump will go back to his Truth Social, and say he saved X and was a savior for Carlson.
And finally, on Thursday, the "Monday morning quarterbacking" post-debate analysis will be short-lived. Trump, ensuring that the news the following day is all about Trump, is planning to turn himself in to Fulton County authorities, where he will get his mug shot taken, fingerprinted, and pay bail. A verifiable media circus. They'll be no time for second guessing the debate.
The bottom line on all this is that the debate, as well as Carlson and Trump, will be less sizzle and more fizzle. The second season of The Ultimatum: Marry or Move On with Nick and Vanessa Lachey premieres Wednesday on Netflix. It’s a foregone conclusion that sophisticated and intelligent audiences will opt for that reality show versus tuning into Fox or Twitter or X, or whatever it is.
John Casey is senior editor of The Advocate.
Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.