Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump abruptly announced on Jan. 26 that he would not be participating in the debate scheduled for Jan. 28 and hosted by Fox News.
Trump's campaign manager said the decision was "irreversible," according to The Washington Post. Instead, Trump will be holding a competing event during the debate which the candidate says will raise money for wounded veterans.
Trump was reportedly irritated when he heard Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly would be moderating the debate, after her questions angered him during the first Republican debate in August 2015.
Some of Trump's supporters are worried his absence from the debate will leave him vulnerable from attacks from Fox moderators and from opposing candidates, especially Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Cruz is just behind Trump in polls ahead of the Iowa vote and is undoubtedly banking on Trump's gamble to give him the boost he needs.
Despite the political risk involved for Trump, he has probably made the correct decision if he chooses to sit out the debate. Why is that? As the candidate mentions himself, Fox has been selling advertisements for the Republican debates at a high premium.
And as Trump himself most likely reasons, he is the reason the debates have been such a big draw for viewers and publicity since he announced his candidacy in 2015.
If Trump attended the next debate, he would have to contend with serious questions about his cavalier and inconsistent policies and initiatives he has supported. By not attending the debate, he will both draw attention away from Fox News and most likely be a large subject of discussion during the debate anyway, even if he is not there. This holds especially true for Cruz, who believes he needs to hammer Trump on policy issues in the days leading up to the Iowa caucuses.
Nothing controversial that has been said or done by Trump so far in this election cycle has led to any substantial drop in his poll numbers.
Reuters reported a tweet regarding Megyn Kelly made by the candidate on Jan. 27, which reads: "I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo, because that would not be politically correct. Instead I will only call her a lightweight reporter!"
Trump's critics and opponents for the Republican nomination argue that such brash and insulting outbursts make him unfit for the presidency, and perhaps they are correct. But even without Trump, the Fox debate already risks becoming all about him; if that indeed becomes the case, then Trump's decision is a tactical victory. The question is still open, but so far the attacks against the candidate have not stuck.