Via Mediaite. He did the right thing but, Mitt being Mitt, I can’t help wondering what the political calculus was behind it. Remember, he’s not above pandering to Trump. He met with him at his office a few months ago while taking care not to be caught on camera doing so, natch. Skipping the debate, I take it, is designed to show undecideds that he’s more presidential (and therefore electable?) than Newt and Perry, and maybe to signal that he’s more willing than people assume to take a political risk. Expect a “Sistah Souljah” reference or two in the coverage of this, needless to say. This is, however, a bona fide risk, no matter how freakish the debate might be: The Trump event is set for December 27, just a week before the caucuses, and it’ll probably do major ratings thanks to Trump’s star appeal. As such, it’s a last chance for Newt to close the deal with Iowans or for Perry or Bachmann to gain traction and vault past Romney, which would be ruinous to his campaign heading into New Hampshire. Plus, Trump doesn’t handle snubs well, as Huntsman and Ron Paul could tell you, and will likely spend the rest of the month dumping on Romney publicly. Don’t believe me? Here’s how he reacted to Romney’s “no” this afternoon:

“It would seem logical to me that if I was substantially behind in the polls especially in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida, I would want to participate in this debate,” Trump said in a statement to ABC News on Tuesday. “But I understand why Gov. Romney decided not to do it.”…

A source close to Trump confirmed that the phone call took place and that Romney was seeking to keep the door open to a potential trump endorsement.

The sort of Republican voter who loves Trump isn’t going to vote for Romney anyway and the sort who hates Trump will feel defensive on Romney’s behalf when The Donald attacks him, so a war of words isn’t totally bad for Mitt. (Huntsman’s clearly reveling in the attention from his own feud with Trump.) It all depends on how Trump attacks him. If he needles him for trailing Gingrich, who cares? If he needles him over flip-flopping or RomneyCare, as surreal as that would be, he could seriously raise awareness among the base about Romney’s vulnerabilities.

Exit question: What if Ed Rollins is right and the debate ends up being canceled due to lack of interest from too many candidates? Will Romney get a boost vis-a-vis Gingrich for taking a stand, or will no one care?