donald trump, debates
Donald Trump speaks during the second presidential debate watch party in Public Media Commons in St. Louis, MO, on October 9, 2016. Photo credit: Fred Ortlip / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Will we ever see Donald Trump on a debate stage again? It seems unlikely.

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With primary debate season just around the corner, former President Donald Trump is once again making a big deal out of whether he will participate in any of these events. At various points over the coming weeks, he will play coy, make demands, and try to exert pressure — all to generate as much media coverage as possible in the process.

So, when and where will we see Trump debate next?

There are really only four options:

a.)    On a stage with other Republican candidates in the coming months

b.)    When facing Joe Biden or another Democrat next fall

c.)    When competing for Cell Block C inmate representative

d.)    Never

Out of these four, the last option seems most likely.

There are many reasons for Trump not to debate. First of all, he isn’t very good at it. In the past, he had some truly disastrous performances, which makes sense, because this format doesn’t suit him.

Trump likes events where he is fully in charge. If he were to design a debate setting, then the audience would consist only of raucous MAGA supporters, the moderator would be deeply sympathetic to him, all questions would be very easy, there would be no fact-checking, and he would be allowed to ramble on uninterrupted for as long as he wants.

A good debate is none of these things, which is why he generally does poorly.

And while it made sense for him to be on stage with his rivals in 2015, when he was not the clear frontrunner, there is no strategic reason for him to debate other GOP candidates this year.

Trump is leading by so much that he has nothing to gain from participating. In fact, the opposite is the case.

If he doesn’t show up — or even holds rival events at the same time, as he has suggested he may — fewer people will watch the debates, which is bad for the other candidates. It seems pretty clear that Trump will be the main target in either case, so why give the event a ratings boost?

In addition, it seems doubtful that the former president will sign the mandatory pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee even if that is not him (of course, such a pledge would also be meaningless to him, so he might as well sign it now and disregard it later).

Finally, Trump is especially unlikely to participate in the first event because it is hosted by Fox News. While the right-wing network used to be 100 percent loyal to him, the former president believes that the higher ups at Fox now favor Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the GOP primary.

In a post on his social media site Truth Social, Trump blasted Fox for not covering his speeches but then expecting him to be the main draw in a debate.

“All they do is promote, against all hope, Ron DeSanctimonious, and he’s dropping like a rock,” he wrote. “Sorry FoxNews, life doesn’t work that way!!!”

This also illustrates that Trump will continue to dangle his participation in front of Fox News as leverage to get the network to cover him more in the meantime.

Chances are that this will work… and that he still won’t bother to show up on August 23.

But not everybody feels the same way. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, for example, thinks he can “shame him into showing up.”

He hopes to accomplish this by somehow appealing to Trump’s nonexistent sense of decency.

“He owes it to his voters and to all the voters in the Republican Party to show up and debate. If he wants the honor of being the Republican nominee for president, he has an obligation to show up at those debates,” Christie said on a podcast on Thursday. “But you know, ‘Oh, it’s not fair. It’s not fair to me. I’m so far ahead. Why should I let people talk about me?’ Because you decided to run for president. That’s why.”

The obvious flaw in this plan is that Trump has no shame and can therefore not be shamed into doing anything.

That leaves the presidential debates in 2024. However, there is a good chance that neither candidate will have much of an appetite for appearing on a televised debate stage since the downsides of a bad performance far outweigh the upsides of a good one.

And that is why we believe the answer to the original question is “Never”… unless Trump decides to run for Cell Block C representative, in which case all bets are off.

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