First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Trump's big debate gamble
Well, guess who's dominating another news cycle for a controversial move. If you answered Donald Trump, you've been paying attention to the past six months. Trump's announcement last night that he will skip Thursday's Fox News debate in Iowa is a big gamble that could be brilliant or disastrous for his campaign. Here are four reasons why it's potentially smart:
- It essentially freezes a race that he's leading;
- It turns Ted Cruz into the candidate with the target on his back at the debate;
- It allows Trump to dominate another news cycle with just five days to go until Iowa;
- And it gives Trump the opportunity to demonstrate strength -- if he thinks he's being treated unfairly, he has the power to walk away, which other GOP candidates don't have.
But there is one significant risk for Trump here: It allows his critics -- and he's got plenty of them -- to make it look like he's scared on the tough questions coming his way. "If Donald is afraid of [Fox's] Megyn Kelly, I would like to invite him in your show to participate in a 1-on-1 debate between me and Donald," Ted Cruz told conservative radio host Mark Levin, per NBC's Hallie Jackson. More Cruz: "If he thinks Megyn Kelly is so scary, what would he do with Vladimir Putin?" Conservative pundit Erick Erickson: "So Donald Trump can't handle tough questions from Megyn Kelly, but he'll be able to handle Hillary Clinton. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha."