We’re in year eight of Hopenchange. Honestly, this is the best possible use of this guy’s time at this point.

Whether or not he succeeds in making America great again, Trump has already succeeded in making trolling great again. He’s been trolling his opponents expertly, none more so than Jeb Bush, for seven months. This weekend he trolled Megyn Kelly to the point where Fox PR started trolling him back, much to the annoyance of Trump fans. Now he’s got Josh Earnest trolling, and not for the first time. Ted Cruz? Yep, he’s trolling too:

No one, however, out-trolls the master:

No response yet from Cruz as I write this, although presumably when he chimes in it’ll be with something like, “Anytime, anywhere. You bring the mics and maple syrup, I’ll bring the podiums and poutine, hoser.” Trump also dribbled this one out earlier this morning, which I suppose qualifies as “trolling” even though it’d be treated as a serious offense if someone made the same insinuation about a woman who’s allied with populist righties:

“Bimbo” is mild compared to what some Trump fans are dropping on Kelly on social media today, which is odd because she hasn’t pushed back much as Trump has attacked her. His main antagonists are Ailes and Fox PR; Kelly’s “offense” is simply refusing to recuse herself from the debate in accordance with the wishes of His Yugeness.

A debate’s been swirling all day on social media over whether this is a joint Fox/Trump PR stunt that’ll all be resolved with a deus-ex-machina compromise tomorrow at noon that ensures his participation in the debate or whether Trump really is PO’d at Fox for sniping at him. I think there’s a chance it started off as a joint op, whether overt or tacit, and Fox ended up bruising Trump’s ego by essentially calling him chicken for wavering on facing Kelly. One thing you don’t do to a guy who’s wholly invested in his alpha-male status is question his guts. At that point, maybe Trump felt he had to call Fox’s bluff — and now Ailes, with his own alpha-male status under scrutiny, feels he can’t afford to back down by apologizing to Trump or else Trump will own him. That’s the best reason to think Trump really won’t show tomorrow night, even though it’s in his political interest to take part. If you don’t like that theory, though, try this one, which is clever and just Machiavellian enough to be plausible:

Would he rather lose Iowa and have to seem weak by making excuses or lose Iowa with a tangible reason that he can echo with his whining about everything being unfairly stacked against him? Remember, he has very little that he can gain from a debate containing substance and this debate will likely focus more on substantive issues than any of the previous debates. He’s good when the topics are fighting ISIS or sealing the border but he fails when they ask him tough question such as how to fix the nuclear triad.

If he wins Iowa without the debate, he’s in the strongest possible position to win the nomination. If he loses but has the Fox News asterisk to place next to his defeat, he’ll attempt to turn that into momentum for New Hampshire and beyond. This cannot be allowed to play out as he has planned. People must be made aware of what he’s going to do so they can see it unfold with discernment. Otherwise, they’ll risk hearing his Pied Piper call.

He’s skipping the debate, in other words, to preemptively generate a convenient excuse in case he goes on to lose Iowa. I’ve thought all along that the excuse among Trump fans if he loses would be that the polls are rigged, even though there’s a mundane turnout explanation to account for why Trump might underperform. But blaming Fox and Kelly for kinda sorta “excluding” him from the final debate through relentless bias is a nice fallback excuse in case the “rigged!” one doesn’t gain much traction. Gotta be someone’s fault if/when Trump fails, and it certainly can’t be Trump’s.

Exit question via Patrick Ruffini: According to Trump’s campaign manager, they’re working with another network to carry Trump’s event opposite the debate live on television. Did any cable outlets offer Rand Paul a deal like that when he boycotted the last undercard debate?

Update: No turning back now, I guess: A reader e-mails to note that Trump’s campaign website is advertising an event tomorrow night in Des Moines opposite the debate.

Update: Great catch by reader Aizen. Obama may not have “backed out” of a debate after saying he’d attend, but at least one tentatively scheduled Democratic debate in 2008 — to be moderated by Katie Couric — had to be canceled when Obama refused to commit to it. And Obama, Hillary, and John Edwards all refused to participate in a scheduled Fox News debate in 2007 as a sort of mass pander to Fox-hating lefties.