Watch CBS News

Skipping the GOP debate: What's at stake for Donald Trump

Claiming he is being treated unfairly by Fox News, Republican front-runner Donald Trump says he will not participate in Thursday's GOP debate
Donald Trump plans to skip GOP debate 06:17

Donald Trump plans to skip the seventh Republican debate over his displeasure with one of the Fox News moderators, Megyn Kelly, whom he complains "doesn't treat me fairly." This latest move by the Republican front-runner less than a week from the first voting contest in Iowa has its pros and cons.

There are several advantages for the billionaire candidate that CBS News Political Editor Steve Chaggaris has identified.

"He will have successfully diverted most of the media's attention to himself at a time when his opponents will be making their final pitch before the Iowa Republican caucuses," Chaggaris said. "Trump also removes himself as a punching bag from the debate stage four days before the caucus, perhaps setting up chief opponent Ted Cruz and perhaps Marco Rubio to be the main targets during Thursday's debate."

"It could energize his supporters who admire Trump for playing hardball," Chaggaris added. But there are also disadvantages, too, like the criticism he'll face for ditching the debate. Other candidates have already begun to mock him openly.

"If he thinks Megyn Kelly is so scary, what exactly does he think he'd do with Vladimir Putin?" Cruz asked, before challenging him to a separate "mano-a-mano" debate (Trump has turned him down). Rand Paul, in an interview on Fox News, quipped, "The IQ of the debate went up a couple dozen points."

Trump also risks alienating voters not just in Iowa, but across the country.

"We're not sure how Iowans are going to feel about him walking away from them at the last minute, but it should be clear to the American public by now that this is rooted in one thing -- Megyn Kelly," Fox News said in a statement about Trump's boycott.

Skipping presidential debates has some precedent. The New York Times pointed out that Ronald Reagan opted out of debating George H.W. Bush before the Iowa caucuses in 1980. This irritated Iowans, and Reagan lost that first contest, though he won the nomination. Bush's son, George W. Bush, skipped the first few debates in 2000 and lost New Hampshire but went on to win the nomination. CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett noted that John McCain similarly tried to dodge a debate in his 2000 run but eventually succumbed to media pressure and participated.

Still, as campaign watchers have seen, Trump so far been able to say and do things that would have sunk other candidates, a phenomenon noted by former top aide to Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Josh Holmes.

"Almost anybody would say a candidate who chooses to skip the last debate before ballots are cast is usually in a pretty bad spot, but he's defied conventional wisdom on each and every point throughout this entire campaign," Holmes said in an interview on CBSN Wednesday.

"Throughout, we've seen consistency doesn't matter. Conservatism doesn't seem to matter. A lot of things that traditionally matter to primary voters don't seem to matter as they apply to Donald Trump," he added. "I think the big outstanding question is whether or not the support we see in the polls translates into votes in Iowa and New Hampshire."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.