Cruz to Trump: Show up on Thursday or you're disrespecting Iowans

A sneak preview of what you’ll hear from Cruz on Thursday night in the highly unlikely event that Trump doesn’t show. You’ll find all the points you’d expect in the clip below: Trump is snubbing Iowans by skipping the debate; Trump is too mercurial to be president; Trump is afraid to defend his record from Cruz; and the ever-popular “I’ll debate you one-on-one anywhere” challenge that’s never worked in all of political history. Depending on how daring Cruz wants to be, you may hear a variation on this point on Thursday night too:

Reaaaaally iffy to attack Trump for doing something for vets, but his interest in charity for them does seem to peak whenever he’s pulling a debate-related stunt at the media’s expense. Cruz, ever calculating, will probably avoid an attack along those lines because it’s too risky. Jeb Bush, who has less to lose and who’s trying to stand out as the most anti-Trump candidate in the race, might not be able to resist.

Jazz and Ed haven’t left much meat on the bone of Debategate this morning but let me say three things. One: Jazz thinks Trump skipping the debate is sound strategy because it “was going to be yet another situation where he would have to stand up on center stage while the rest of the candidates took shots at him.” That’s true, Cruz certainly would — but the rest of the field wants Trump to win Iowa. Remember, each of them is convinced that they’ll beat Trump head-to-head; they’re less sure about beating Cruz. My guess is that Thursday night will involve Cruz taking shots repeatedly at Trump and the rest of the field taking shots at Cruz to try to help Trump defeat him. By boycotting, not only will Trump (supposedly) not be there to rebut Cruz’s attacks, he’s missing a chance to join in with the others to create the perception that the party’s united against Cruz. And for the record, I don’t think the debate’s going to be a ratings disaster. As Jazz says, Trump will remain the story whether he’s there or not; ratings will be down without him but people will still tune in to see what’s being said about him. And who cares what the national ratings are anyway? Iowans will be tuning in to see the candidates’ closing arguments. They’re all that matters now.

Two: Ed slaps Fox for suggesting that Trump’s campaign manager bears some responsibility for the death threats that Kelly allegedly received after her dust-up with Trump in August. As I read Fox’s release, they weren’t accusing Corey Lewandowski of encouraging threats; they were saying that Lewandowski knows from media reports that Kelly’s been threatened before after a major scrape with Trump and that he’s now using that as leverage to get her removed from the debate (supposedly he said he’d hate to see her have another “rough couple of days” like she did after the last one). He may not be orchestrating harassment but he’s morally culpable for exploiting the near-certain prospect of another round of it once Trump starts riling people against Kelly again. I don’t think that’s a nutty interpretation for Fox to have of what he meant. And frankly, I don’t know why Trump fans would resist it. One of Trump’s supposed core virtues is that he’s ruthless with the media. If that’s the ethic that governs his organization, why wouldn’t his campaign manager start using other people’s death threats as leverage, even if he’s not behind them? Gotta be “tough,” especially with the jackals in the press, right?

Three: It’s fair to say that Fox News’s trollish press releases goofing on Trump vis-a-vis Putin were unprofessional. I have a harder time buying the idea that that’s the smoking gun that proves Kelly, Bret Baier, and Chris Wallace would have been biased against Trump on Thursday night. Outside the hard-news hour at 6 p.m., which features old-schoolers like George Will and Charles Krauthammer who regularly criticize Trump, Fox News is far more pro-Trump than anti. I put the question to Twitter last night: Apart from NBC with its “Apprentice” series, which network has done more over time to promote Trump than Fox News? He’s been doing chummy interviews with Fox & Friends, Greta, O’Reilly, and Hannity regularly for years. Kelly has never said or done anything on her show to weaken Trump as much as Hannity has done to build him up as a legitimate choice for grassroots conservatives this year. If anything, because Kelly, Baier, and Wallace are all sensitive to their image as balanced reporters on a network of right-leaning commentators, they’d probably overcompensate for this fracas on Thursday by straining to be extra “fair” to Trump. And another thing: Although Fox’s statements mocking Trump were trollish even for them, the Fox PR department has been infamous among media pros for years for being snotty and vindictive. Their nastiness to Trump isn’t a sign of overweening bias; more likely, it’s a sign that they were tired of him endlessly demagoging Kelly and figured that the biggest troll in American politics wouldn’t go crying when they gave him a dose of his own medicine. Still unprofessional, but don’t be overcome by those smelling salts when you’re contemplating how mean they were to poor Donald.

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