What does it mean if Republicans won't debate?

For starters, the RNC’s reasons to prohibit participation in the debates are important. And that’s because they fall in line with an important strain of Trumpism: a claim to being the victims of unfair treatment. To be fair, evidence does show that some important cultural institutions, including the news media, are more likely to be populated by Democrats than Republicans, but conflict between presidential campaigns and debate organizers about the journalists who moderate the debates is hardly one-sided — or new. After all, the purpose of debates is to allow voters to see candidates perform under pressure and to evaluate their responses — tension with the campaigns on how to best facilitate this is to be expected. But this move represents the Trumpist Republican Party only further rejecting established institutions and democratic practices…

So what would be different if the Republicans refuse to participate in the next round of presidential debates? One possibility is a more stable campaign, even if not much changes about the outcome. Analysis here at FiveThirtyEight suggests that debates do move the polls — it’s just that those “bounces” tend not to last long. It’s possible that this kind of campaign stability would be beneficial to some candidates over others. It’s also the case that presidential elections have gotten much closer in our era of heightened polarization, and in an especially tight race, anything can matter.

The larger stakes of this decision, though, is whether the Republican Party can continue to pull out of institutions that it can’t control, without facing much in the way of consequences.