If you haven’t seen enough debating to make up your mind regarding which candidate you’re going to support in the GOP primaries, the Republican National Committee apparently thinks you should have been watching closer.
After last week’s debate in Alabama, Axios reported, the RNC announced Friday that it will not participate in future such shindigs in the primary campaign.
“It is now time for Republican primary voters to decide who will be our next President,” a statement from the RNC declared.
And, to be fair, it’s not as if the decision will really move the needle one way in the other. Aside from a boost for former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley after the first of the four events, no one has come away with a breakthrough moment or landed a punch that’s ended a candidacy.
Perhaps most importantly, the biggest winner outside of Haley — according to polling aggregator RealClearPolitics as of Monday morning — has been the person who’s been absent: Former President Donald Trump, who now holds a 60.3 percent average in GOP primary polls.
Second place goes to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, with 12.7 percent, ahead of Haley at 12.3 percent, businessman and activist Vivek Ramaswamy at 5 percent, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at 3.0 percent. While none of these polls have taken place since the fourth RNC debate on Wednesday, scrutiny of the event evinces nothing that would materially change these numbers, with coverage reflecting that. (Sample headline at conservative outlet National Review: “A Desperate Debate Ends in a Draw.”)
Since the first debate, moreover, viewership has steadily dropped, with only 4.1 million people tuning in to the Wednesday night tilt on cable-news also-ran NewsNation.
Now, to be fair, the lack of RNC involvement doesn’t mean that there won’t be any more debates. In fact, as CBS News noted, three more are scheduled: One in Iowa hosted by CNN on Jan. 10, before the Jan. 15 first-in-the-nation caucuses there, followed by two debates in New Hampshire hosted by CNN and ABC/WMUR-TV, respectively.
The RNC, meanwhile, has made a decision that it will “release candidates from a requirement that they only participate in RNC-sanctioned forums,” as The Hill reported on Friday.
The question now is who will show up.
“Candidates’ ability to participate will hinge on meeting requirements laid out by each organization hosting the debates,” CBS News reported. “But as of Friday evening, Vivek Ramaswamy’s campaign was the only one to tell CBS News that the Ohio entrepreneur intends to be at each of the upcoming trio of debates, which were announced earlier this week.”
“More debate and free speech is better than less!” said Ramaswamy’s press secretary, Tricia McLaughlin, adding: “We’re in.”
While DeSantis has indicated on social media that he’s “[l]ooking forward” to future debates, he also seemed to indicate he’d like to see Trump show up in the future.
Looking forward to debating in Iowa! https://t.co/qeCvrTLwqy
— Ron DeSantis (@RonDeSantis) December 7, 2023
Look forward to debating in the Granite State next month! https://t.co/JPq2DJTYTy
— Ron DeSantis (@RonDeSantis) December 8, 2023
“I think he [Trump] has a lot to say on his keyboard but he should get on stage and stand up there for two hours and take the questions that everybody else does, I think would be useful. And I know a lot of voters here will expect that because they take this process very seriously,” DeSantis said in Iowa on Thursday, according to CBS.
This could be a way for DeSantis to indicate he’s “looking forward” to the debates so long as they’re not a big fat waste of his time — which, to be fair, they might indeed be without Trump’s participation.
The former president hasn’t participated in any of the four scrums so far and, according to CBS News, “did not respond to a request for comment about whether he would participate in the upcoming January debates.” One gets the feeling this is because of his campaign’s contempt for CBS News, however, rather than because he’s waffling about participation.
And why should he? His lead has never been in serious jeopardy, even after the failure of the GOP in the midterms was partially ascribed to the underwhelming performance of candidates Trump endorsed — particularly in Senate races — and has steadily grown since the debates began.
As for a second choice — well, by this juncture, if you’ve been kicking the tires for a non-Trump choice, you’ve seen about eight hours worth of the four non-Trump candidates still polling at above 1 percent in the RealClearPolitics aggregate, plus way more Doug Burgum and Asa Hutchinson than you probably ever have before if you didn’t live in the states they governed. (Quick, try and name them. Odds are that you’re either 1) a political junkie, 2) wrong or 3) insanely lucky.)
What’s been proved so far? The most prominent takeaway from the back-and-forth has been a heated rivalry between Haley and Ramaswamy which — if both weren’t married with families, one would be forgiven for assuming was the first act to the worst Hallmark Channel romance ever. (“Can an internationalist former ambassador to the U.N. find a place in her heart for the younger biotech CEO-turned-conservative activist she called “scum” on national TV? Find out — or don’t. Really, nobody cares anymore.”)
There, that’s the TL;DR version of eight hours of these four alternatives to Trump. Nothing changed last week, either. It got to the point where these were the kind of hot social media takes one was coming across during and after the proceedings on Wednesday:
I don’t care what ANYBODY says…REAL (Alpha) MEN DO NOT STAND WITH THEIR HAND ON THEIR HIP!!!! (especially with their hand open like this) pic.twitter.com/4eDbTPlIYH
— Dr.Darrell Scott (@PastorDScott) December 7, 2023
Insightful. And that’s from an adviser to Trump, by the way, which shows just how seriously the former president’s camp is treating the substantive points being made in the front-runner’s absence.
Endless debates were the bane of the 2016 and 2020 electoral processes — and those were competitive affairs, with significant volatility in the polls before the primaries began and with several key upsets once they got underway.
Absent an electoral plot twist so major as to confound the imagination — say, Trump firing a privately owned nuke at the state of Michigan just for laughs — or an inbuilt statistical error in current polling models so great that the whole practice should be abolished, the former president will also be the 2024 GOP standard-bearer. Period.
There are full series on Netflix that are shorter than the amount of time these candidates have spent on stage and the only critical development is that Haley might end primary season in second place, not DeSantis. Whoop-de-doo.
CNN, ABC News and WMUR-TV can do as they wish. Those outlets apparently need to fill the airtime desperately. As for the RNC, it has given the candidates more than enough time to make a persuasive case that Donald Trump shouldn’t be the nominee, and it’s only strengthened his position.
Thanks for coming, everyone. Good luck in your future endeavors, which almost certainly won’t involve being the 2024 GOP presidential nominee.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.