Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Trump Won't Debate

The suspense was killing us, but now it's over. Donald Trump has announced that he won't join this Wednesday's Republican candidates' debate after all. He had been teasing his decision for weeks, so as to keep the spotlight on himself. Of course, not being on stage robs him of the spotlight, so he thought of something else to get him back into it: He recorded an interview with former Fox entertainer Tucker Carlson and the recording will be streamed at the same time as the debate.

Who wins and who loses here? One big loser is Fox. Many fewer people will watch the debate without Trump. Fewer expected eyeballs means lower ratings and less money from advertisers. Rupert Murdoch is not going to like that. He can't order his hosts to dump Trump because too many of his viewers worship him, but it will certainly put him in a grumpy mood Wednesday.

Another big loser is RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel. She really wanted Trump on stage to show that the primaries are fair and on the up and up. She even trudged up to his club in Bedminster, NJ, where he hangs out in the summer, to try to talk him into appearing at the debate, but to no avail. She wants to stimulate interest in the Republican primaries and fewer viewers doesn't help. Also, Trump's counterprogramming is going to anger some Republicans. They are going to call him a coward and worse. A split in the party isn't going to help her, either. Remember, her job is to elect Republicans up and down the ballot and starting with a fragmented party is not the best way to kick things off.

Another loser is Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). To get attention after the debate you need to get off a few zingers. With Trump no longer available as a potential target, many of the other candidates will likely aim their arrows at DeSantis instead. He certainly doesn't want to spend the evening fighting off other Republicans. If Trump were around, DeSantis could hide in his shadow.

Also losers are all the minor candidates. In this contest, even a former Vice President of the United States is a minor candidate. They need all the love and attention they can get, and fewer viewers means fewer donations and less love going forward. In particular, Vivek Ramaswamy expected this to be an opportunity to make a move into second place in the rankings. Now, he's going to be the top target of DeSantis.

Are there any winners? One big winner is Tucker Carlson, who may be on his way back from the dead. His interview with Trump is great PR for him and his show on "Twitter." If he can tie himself firmly to Trump, he can surely monetize it. After all, everyone who tunes into the stream thinks Trump is as pure as the driven snow. Incidentally, Trump knows full well that Carlson disdains him. Clearly, the former president is willing to put those kinds of grievances behind when he has to.

Chris Christie is another likely winner. He will tear Trump limb from limb and Trump won't be there to defend himself. Trump's absence will surely make Christie lose any inhibitions he might have had. He can call Trump a weak imitation of a failed fascist dictator. He can say that Trump is a certified loser and verified coward. He can claim that Trump is the only Republican in the country who could have lost to Joe Biden in 2020. "Hell," he might say, "John McCain could have beaten Biden, even though McCain has been dead for 5 years." Christie can say he talked to Stormy Daniels and Trump's encounter with her was actually the worst 30 seconds of her life, not 90 seconds. It doesn't matter if she goes on TV the next day and says, "No, it really was 90 seconds." Trump certainly doesn't need her in the news again. Christie is likely to get off multiple one-liners that get repeated ad nauseam Thursday.

What about Trump himself? We think it is more of a win than a loss for him. He doesn't need the PR the way, say, Nikki Haley or Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) does. Being on stage and being attacked from all sides would not be a good look. And it is possible he would lose his cool and say something outrageous that would be repeated a million times and could really turn off those much-desired suburban women. Carlson's questions will all be softballs (e.g., "Which aspects of the disastrous Biden administration do you consider the most damaging to America?") and will be nearly impossible to flub. On the other hand, without Trump around, some other candidate might shine and shoot up in the polls, at least for a while. Remember Pete Buttigieg, Herman Cain, and Ben Carson? Surprises happen sometimes. (V)

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