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Trump prepares to derail his own party’s primary debate process

Will voters ever again see Donald Trump on a debate stage, either in the primaries or the general election? It now seems highly unlikely.


It was about a year ago when the Republican National Committee announced a rather dramatic shift in how the party would approach presidential debates going forward. According to the RNC’s plan, the party’s presidential candidates will commit in writing to only participating in RNC-approved debates — and the party said it would no longer sanction events hosted and organized by the independent Commission on Presidential Debates.

The rationale was difficult to take seriously — the RNC and Donald Trump accused the non-partisan commission of “bias,” reality notwithstanding — but the move opened the door to a new era in which general election presidential debates, a modern staple of the political process, no longer occur.

But at least the Republican National Committee will still hold important presidential primary debates, right? According to the party, yes. According to the party’s likely 2024 nominee, maybe not.

Two weeks ago, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel announced that the first Republican debate of the 2024 cycle would be held in Milwaukee and aired on Fox News in August. Last week, she added to the schedule, announcing that the party’s second debate would be held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

Donald Trump used his social media platform to suggest he’s reluctant to show up at either event. The former president’s missive, published midday yesterday, read in part:

“I see that everybody is talking about the Republican Debates, but nobody got my approval, or the approval of the Trump Campaign, before announcing them. When you’re leading by seemingly insurmountable numbers, and you have hostile Networks with angry, TRUMP & MAGA hating anchors asking the ‘questions,’ why subject yourself to being libeled and abused?”

He added that Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan helps lead the Reagan Library board, and since Trump believes the newspaper is out to get him, he concluded his written message, “NO!”

Part of the problem is that the former president seems to be under the impression that he should exercise some control over the Republican National Committee. But just as notable is a detail Trump didn’t mention: As part of the RNC’s process, presidential candidates wishing to participate in debates will be expected to sign a pledge, vowing to support the party’s eventual nominee, no matter who prevails.

Trump is not only reluctant to stand on a debate stage because he’s the frontrunner, but he’s also made no secret of the fact that he doesn’t like the idea of signing a pledge to support a ticket that he might not be on.

I don’t doubt that there will be RNC-sponsored presidential debates in the coming months, but after yesterday's statement, it’s possible that voters will never again see Trump on any debate stage ever again.