Monday’s GOP presidential debate scheduled here in Utah been canceled, FOX 13 News has confirmed.
The debate followed Donald Trump’s announcement on “FOX & Friends” that he would not be appearing at the Salt Lake City debate. Instead, he said he would be appearing at a pro-Israel group’s event on Monday night. Trump dropping out led John Kasich to indicate he would not be appearing at Monday’s debate.
“We had hoped to contrast Governor Kasich’s positive inclusive approach to problem solving with Trump’s campaign of division,” said Kasich chief strategist John Weaver in an emailed statement to FOX 13. “If he changes his mind, we will be there.”
I understand why Trump didn’t want to do it, especially after last night. His lead is now big enough that he can afford to play a prevent defense the rest of the way. Why let Ted Cruz back into the race by giving him two hours to run rings around him on a big stage? What I can’t understand for the life of me is why Kasich refused to show up unless Trump did. All things being equal, Kasich wouldn’t want to tangle with Cruz one on one either. But all things aren’t equal; Kasich needs any stage he can get if he wants Republican voters to start thinking about him as a compromise candidate at the convention. If that means going head to head with Cruz for a couple of hours, so be it. Frankly, given the high odds that Cruz would have pulled out rather than agree to elevate Kasich by debating him one on one, Kasich should have dared Cruz to debate him. “I’ll be there because I respect the voters. Will you, Ted?” Instead he let Cruz off the hook.
Which leaves us … where? Business as usual for the Fox News line-up on Monday night or will they schedule some other form of special programming to fill the hours? Cruz and Kasich could probably negotiate a pair of individual candidate forums, but I don’t know how much anyone would care at this point. If I were Cruz, I’d borrow Fox’s idea for a Trump/Sanders debate and challenge Bernie to a showdown on Monday night. It’d get him some buzz, and Sanders is now far enough behind Hillary that he might accept the offer just to goose his own fan base. It’d also give each of them a chance to seem more “presidential” by engaging in a facsimile of a general election debate. If that can’t be arranged, Cruz should dial up Rubio and see if he’d be willing to endorse Cruz on Monday night in some sort of joint sit-down interview on Fox. Maybe Rubio won’t do it; maybe defeat is still too raw right now. Maybe Cruz doesn’t want him to do it — yet. Remember, Arizona is one of the two states voting next Tuesday and Cruz linking himself up to a member of the Gang of Eight the night before the vote might not play well. It’d certainly get buzz, though. They could present it as a unifying gesture among anti-Trumpers for the primaries ahead: The race has now entered a new phase, we need to come together, and so on. Fox would probably jump at the chance of a newsworthy event like that now that they’ve got a hole in their schedule.
But all of this is gaming longshots. After last night, Trump seems all but certain to become the nominee. I was one of the righties celebrating Kasich’s win in Ohio earlier in the evening, thinking that it all but guaranteed a brokered convention, but it was a pyrrhic victory in hindsight. It would have ensured a floor fight if Cruz had performed well in Illinois and Missouri, but he got beat badly at the delegate level (thanks in part to a divided vote with Rubio and Kasich). Trump is still on pace to clinch — and thanks to that Ohio win we were cheering, the anti-Trump vote will go on being divided for weeks or months to come with Kasich remaining in the race. Whether Trump makes it to 1,237 delegates or not, it seems a cinch now that he’ll get close enough so that his delegates plus Kasich’s delegates will get him a majority, which is another way of saying that the only thing preventing a Trump nomination at this point is Kasich’s insistence that he won’t be Trump’s VP. The moment that changes, all hope is lost. So that’s the ticket you’re likely looking at this fall: Trump/Kasich. Hooray.
Update: I’m not the only righty who thinks Kasich’s decision to skip the debate is stone-cold nuts. Maybe the fix is already in and the Trump/Kasich ticket is congealing as we speak.