I get it. With 15 people onstage, the debates will be enough of a circus without having a clown there. But on what grounds would you go about excluding Trump and no one else?
And … wouldn’t this backfire tremendously? Let’s think this through.
“His involvement in any televised debate will be damaging,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist based in Texas. “It is my sincere hope that he is blocked from participating.”
“He’s a very toxic addition to the field,’’ said Katie Packer Gage, deputy campaign manager of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.
Mr. Trump so far has been invited to a number of GOP candidate forums, including one sponsored by the conservative website RedState slated for early August in Atlanta. Erick Erickson, the editor in chief of RedState, said he had concerns about including Mr. Trump but extended an invitation.
“We invited him yesterday,” Mr. Erickson said. “I like him. … There is a level of the conservative base who like him. My concern is that I don’t want the other candidates to be overshadowed by Trump.”
You could bar Trump on grounds that he has no realistic chance to be the nominee, but then you’ve got to bar Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, and, er, Mike Huckabee for starters as well. Obviously you’re not going to bar him on grounds that he hasn’t held public office before. The small-government party would never insist that government experience is the sine qua non of effective leadership. You could try to bar him by raising the polling threshold for inclusion in the debates, an ostensibly neutral filter for serious candidates, but then you’re stuck excluding serious candidates like Bobby Jindal and John Kasich who are also below the cut-off right now. You could, I guess, bar him on personal grounds, that he’s simply too boorish and obnoxious for a gentleman’s debate, but in that case I have two words for you: Chris Christie.
More to the point, if you bump Trump he’d call a presser and claim that the GOP excluded him only because they’re terrified he’d win if given a fair chance, the best evidence yet that the system is rigged against true-believin’ conservative populists like the Donald. And some grassroots righties would buy that. I bet he’d get a bump in the polls out of it, and there’s no doubt he’d spend the rest of the campaign attacking the party and its candidates viciously. Truth be told, I think the GOP is afraid of him — not because they think he’d win but because they know the media is at his beck and call and they know there’s a slice of the public that takes him semi-seriously. If Trump were to declare war on the GOP because they’ve affronted his ego or whatever, he could be a soundbite headache for them (and a boon to his friend Hillary) for the rest of the campaign. Mitt Romney didn’t agree to receive Trump’s endorsement in person three years ago because he wanted to be seen with Donald Trump. On the contrary, he did it through gritted teeth because he figured 10 minutes of adorning Trump’s photo op was a less bad outcome than Trump spending the rest of the campaign calling him a loser who’ll destroy the country just because Romney declined to show. Same with the GOP now. I think they’re going to give him a shot at the debates, extremely reluctantly, because it’s the less bad of the two alternatives he’s given them.
Which is not to say they’ll go on including him at every debate even if he acts up. A few choice soundbites from Trump about rapists from Mexico at the first event and they’ll tighten up those poll cut-offs right quick for the second.
Two thoughts in closing: One: If the dummies at the RNC had embraced my ingenious plan for a series of one-on-one debates, none of this would be a problem. You could safely quarantine the serious candidates like Rubio and Walker and stick Trump with a series of similar longshots, most of whom would be grateful for the exposure in taking on the Donald. Two: Don’t look now but Trump still hasn’t filed the form officially declaring his candidacy with the FEC. That’s an absolute prerequisite to appearing at the debates. He still has 10 days, and I can’t imagine why he’d go to the trouble of announcing his candidacy only to pull the rug out so soon and miss the debates, but Trump skeptics have long suspected that he’d never pull the trigger on disclosing his financial holdings in detail. Maybe … this has all been an elaborate fake-out? That’s probably the GOP’s best hope of resolving this peacefully.