Donald Trump’s decision to pout on the sidelines during the final Republican debate before the Iowa Caucus is a bad idea.
There are several reasons why Donald Trump’s decision to pout on the sidelines during the final Republican debate before the Iowa Caucus is a bad idea. The biggest reason is that this will give us our first real opportunity to see what the Republican contest looks like without him in it. And that’s going to be great.
Here are four things to look for in tonight’s Trumpless debate—and its effect on the contest in Iowa.
1) Will the usual rules apply again?
Imagine if, instead of sniping back and forth about the latest outrageous thing Donald Trump said, the debate can actually focus on ideas, public policy, and the candidates’ records—just like they used to before the Republican primaries were turned into a reality TV show.
I know: boring, right? And that would be awesome. Making good decisions about whom to vote for requires being informed, thinking about the issues, and making difficult judgments of character. A debate should engage our brains and not just our emotions.
We have a better chance at that with the field that is likely to be on stage tonight, which will include candidates who have spent their careers developing informed and substantive views on policy, and who represent a diverse set of ideologies, backgrounds, and temperaments.
There is the Tea Party firebrand Ted Cruz, the great libertarian hope Rand Paul, the foreign policy interventionist Marco Rubio, the moderate conservative establishment type Jeb Bush, the liberal Republican John Kasich, the East Coast tough guy Chris Christie, and the gentle, witty Dr. Carson. If they can talk about the issues and how they approach them, it offers a good range of choices to the voters, which is exactly what the primaries are supposed to do.
But this assumes the candidates follow the Voldemort Rule put forward by Jennifer Rubin. They should treat Trump as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and make sure the debate is not all about him even in his absence.
2) Will Trump’s absence help Rubio?
If this debate isn’t all about Trump, who is it about?
Ted Cruz has been working hard for the past few days to make this a two-man race, presenting himself as the only man who can save us from Trump. Hence his challenge to debate Trump separately, one-on-one, cutting out all of the other challengers. But tonight’s debate undermines that plan.
In the expected line-up above, it’s hard not to see this becoming the Cruz vs. Rubio matchup it probably should have been all along. Nobody else has the same level of support, ability to perform in a debate (sorry, Jeb), or potential to appeal to the typical Iowa voter (sorry, Chris Christie). Consider also that Rubio has recently received a high-profile endorsement from the Des Moines Register and now has Iowa Senator Joni Ernst campaigning for him. A lot of Iowans are going to be interested in seeing more of him—just at the point when Trump is getting out of his way.
All of which is saying that Trump’s absence now, at this critical point, makes it much more likely that the contest will take on the form it might have had if he had been absent all along.
Continue reading below…