DANIEL VAUGHAN: Trump Skips Debate Due to Low Energy and Legal Peril

 August 21, 2023

Citing his "legendary" lead in polls, former President Donald Trump has decided to skip the upcoming Republican Primary debates. It's a net loss for the debate itself and Republican voters. Trump claims, "The public knows who I am & what a successful Presidency I had." It's an interesting claim from a man who doesn't want to answers from other Republicans on specific failures in his Presidency. People do know what kind of person he is — and they have questions about a second Trump term.

It's the kind of strategy that befits Trump, though. He hasn't had a successful debate since 2016, and he's never defended his administration that well — even when there is something to support. In 2020, the only moment the Trump administration defended its pandemic response was during Mike Pence's debate against Kamala Harris. And there's been no attempt to defend the myriad of shoddy hiring choices by the Trump Presidency.

Trump's legal woes prevent him from debating.

Beyond that, though, there are two more likely reasons Trump can't show up to perform at these debates. First, there are his legal woes. Trump brashly claimed he would release an "IRREFUTABLE" report on the Georgia elections. That report never came. Multiple news outlets report Trump's lawyers have convinced him to walk that back due to further legal exposure.

On a debate stage, a moderator or another candidate — Chris Christie in particular — would raise the four lawsuits against Trump. He'd inevitably make some claim on that debate stage that would further imperil his legal cases. Or worse, not be able to answer at all for fear of it incriminating him. Trump's legal team needs him to do the one thing that's the hardest for him: shut up. That's hard to do on a debate stage.

That's why Trump prefers to stick to the safety of a Tucker Carlson interview or some other similar "counter-programming." He can stick to the easy questions and stay clear of legal issues, unlike a debate where he's option number one to attack.

Trump lacks the money to campaign.

And then there are the issues of money and energy. Trump's PAC only has $3.6 million left in the bank, down from $100 million last year. His campaign and related committees have spent $40 million in legal fees and are spending nearly every dollar they bring in on the lawsuits. Trump's fundraisers aren't doing as well to put a dent in those troubles. And that's only him: Trump isn't helping pay for Rudy GiulianiJenna Ellis, or others in his circle - it's every man and woman for themselves.

That strategy will likely come back to bite Trump when one of these many "allies" turns government witness against Trump. So much for the claims of "loyalty."

A campaign has one job: sell the public on voting for a candidate. Trump's campaign has to focus on his legal woes first and a campaign second. That's a perfect campaign for Democrats.

Low-energy Trump.

More concerning, though, is the energy aspect. On numerous occasions, Trump has pulled away from campaigning in places like Iowa. Trump pulled out of an Iowa event last second, claiming a tornado threat. DeSantis campaigned through it. At the Iowa fair, he showed up for a few hours but left before everyone else, leaving unpaid bills behind for Iowa's governor and no-showing events. Even the press is calling him low-energy.

The strategy of only going to a few events, staying a short time, and avoiding challenging things is familiar to any observer. It's what Democrats are doing with Joe Biden. The White House doesn't even want Biden going up a strenuous staircase these days, opting for shorter ones with less risk of a fall.

Trump's pivot to fewer, more choreographed appearances is far from his sprawling, hours-long rallies in 2016 and 2020, where he'd work the crowd like a trained entertainer. Biden ran on his myth and appearances, and Trump seems desperate to do the same. A debate challenges that, just as it did for Biden in 2020.

Trump's Biden campaign strategy.

That's not to say Trump can't win despite all these things. It was a winning strategy for Biden, after all. But there's nothing new from Trump. Biden defeated him in 2020, and Trump's revenge pitch for the 2022 midterms fell flat, costing Republicans seats in the House and Senate. No one wants to re-litigate what happened in 2020 for the main reason they cast a vote in the 2024 voting booth.

Trump not debating is a sensible strategy for a man with a polling lead who has lost a step and is beset by legal challenges. Trump won't have the money to allocate towards his campaign like he did in years past, nor does he have the same energy. Trump is old, and there's no avoiding that.

Republican voters should be allowed to question whether or not this is the campaign strategy they want to deploy in 2024. Trump doesn't want to face those questions. It's a strategy that makes sense but leaves everyone poorer for it. Trump needs to answer voter questions on why his administration couldn't do much with all the infighting. He must answer whether he wants his family to run things, causing many issues.

He's the incumbent and has the lead. No one denies that. We are allowed to question whether or not he has the fire in him to actually run the race or do the job anymore. The White House isn't a senior citizen home for people who only work between 10 am and 2 pm, with no weekends. The US faces real challenges.

For a man with a "legendary" lead, he seems to have few answers in even softball interviews. But it's best not to tax his delicate condition in a debate. We don't want to tire him out or cause more legal issues. I'm sure Democrats will understand and treat him the same in the general election. Right? 

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Thomas Jefferson
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