It’s not certain yet but Rudy’s “unlikely to attend” and Mitt won’t commit. Ruffini puts it succinctly:

This is a big mistake. The Democrats are afraid to answer questions from Big Bad Fox News Anchors, and the Republicans are afraid to answer questions from regular people. Which is worse?…

Yes, some of the questions on Monday were trivial. Yes, they were partisan. (I expect many of the 9/17 questioners to be partisan Republicans.) Yes, they were messy. But so is democracy. And the fact that some place so much faith in the broken mainstream media over a benign format like this one says a lot about the difficult straits the Republicans are in right now.

The debate Monday night was no worse than the three previous ones and even if it hadn’t been, having to endure two hours of talking snowmen is worth it given the endless mileage the Democrats would get from them skipping out. “The GOP can’t face the people, the GOP can’t handle unorthodox questions, the GOP has no sense no fun” — it’s a PR disaster in the making. Although I’m not surprised it’s Rudy who’s leading the way. Formats that don’t lend themselves to pat answers aren’t his strong suit.

But why should the rest of the field follow his lead? In the case of the Fox debate, they all had to get out after Edwards got out lest they be seen as embracing Fox News and end up ceding to him the progressive high ground. In this case, if the frontrunner walks, the rest have every incentive to attend and then bludgeon Rudy with the same no-guts-no-fun talking points the Democrats have on ice. Fred in particular would want to be there as it’s set for three weeks after he’s supposed to declare and he needs all the free exposure he can get. His persona would work well in that forum too. McCain will be there, I assure you. In fact, having the rest of the field walk away would be his dream come true, as it would give him a stage to himself to do his maverick shtick and resuscitate his candidacy. Given all the obvious advantages to the others, Rudy will be there too. He’ll have no choice.

Then again, what does it matter?

Update: Another good one from Ruffini although he makes too much of the Rathergate analogy. No one except a few handfuls of bloggers and media wonks will care if the GOP comes off as pro-big media; everyone will care if they come off looking cowardly in the face of unscripted questions. He’s got Hewitt dead to rights on this point, though:

While I can certainly appreciate the desire to avoid “set up” questions, it is intellectually dishonest to simultaneously attack the Democrats for running from Fox News while raising the red flag at agenda journalism in the form of CNN/YouTube. I couldn’t agree more with what one of the Republican candidates said about this:

“Why is it that the Democrats wouldn’t even go on Fox, but we Republicans are happy to sit there and have Chris Matthews of the Carter administration, former chief of staff to (ex-House speaker) Tip O’Neill? We’re happy to sit there and have him dish questions to us, but they won’t even go on Fox.”

That candidate? Mitt Romney.

You can’t go crying about the Democrats ducking Fox and then pat Rudy Giuliani on the back for having the savvy to avoid a “set up,” boys. That dog won’t eat the dog food, as Fred’s latest cornpone koan (sort of) goes. Ruffini’s right too about the criticism that the YT debate is “unpresidential.” Revisit this video comparison Media Blog put together last month and remind yourself what a crack job the big media types at MSNBC did. I assure you, nothing will be asked by any YouTube user that’s half as moronic or undignified as “What do you dislike most about America?”