Rick Perry has decided to pass on the Dec. 27 debate to be moderated by Donald Trump, citing his busy campaign schedule in the final days before the first GOP primaries. The statement from Perry’s campaign, as relayed by the New York Times:
Governor Perry has talked to Donald Trump in recent days and respects him and the folks at NewsMax very much. There are two debates in the next seven days.
Traditional retail campaigning in the days and weeks leading up to the Iowa caucus is the Perry campaign’s top priority. In the coming weeks, Governor Perry will be in Iowa almost continually, meeting with real voters, doing town hall meetings and events and talking American jobs, faith and overhauling Washington, D.C., to Iowa voters.
So we have respectfully declined the invitation for the Dec. 27 debate.
That’s not inconsistent with Perry’s previously expressed, somewhat infamous, and semi-recanted view that there are too many debates, and they’re cutting into the candidates’ time to perform ground work in the crucial early primary states.
Mitt Romney declined to participate in the debate on Tuesday, prompting a cordial response from Trump, who was a lot tougher on Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul when they said no. As Newsmax, host of the Dec. 27 debate, reported:
“I’m doing a favor for Newsmax, which is really a great organization — they asked me to do it — and it’s certainly getting a lot of press,” Trump said today on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “I’ve never seen anything like it.
“If I were Mitt, I’d want to be on . . . a lot of people will be watching,” Trump said, adding that he expects the Dec. 27 debate in Des Moines to be “well covered” in the media.
“I’m surprised Mitt Romney said no,” Trump said, noting that Romney, who has sought his endorsement, “was very nice” and called him Tuesday to give him the news first hand. He said Romney told him, “You know, I’m very busy.”
Michele Bachmann hasn’t given an answer yet, but as ABC News reported on Tuesday, she has concerns about Trump’s impartiality:
The Minnesota congresswoman said “one concern” about participating was an announcement Trump made that he is close to endorsing a candidate. Trump has also hinted that he might yet run as a third-party candidate against the Republican nominee.
“One concern is he’s already leaning towards a candidate,” she said. “So there’s questions about objectivity.”
Some outlets have erroneously reported that Bachmann already said she would participate; she has not.
Bachmann, who has met with Trump several times, said today, “I have great respect for him.”
Personally, I think the candidates ought to be taking advantage of the audience Trump would bring them. It’s not just the size of that audience, but its composition. A lot of viewers who didn’t pay much attention to previous debates will be tuning in, or at least curious enough to check out highlights afterward. That might have even more ramifications in the general elections than the primaries.
As for Perry’s comment about time taken away from retail campaigning: the Newsmax/ION debate will be held in Iowa. How long would it take for candidates already burning up ethanol as they canvass the state to drive to Des Moines? I think the debate participants are guaranteed to have good parking spaces.
It’s not unreasonable to wonder about Trump’s agenda. If he’s already leaning toward endorsing someone, such as Gingrich, then the other candidates could be understandably concerned about entering a contest they’re fated to lose. It’s hard to imagine how Trump could make them all look bad enough to materially boost either a wildly improbable attempt to grab the GOP nomination himself, or a suicidal third-party bid.
Trump does emit periodic warning growls that he’s considering such a third-party run, but that seems profoundly contrary to the vision expressed in his book, in which he spends a good deal of time thrashing the man he would be guaranteeing a second term. Besides, if he really is thinking about it, showing up at the Newsmax debate is the best way to talk him out of it. And if the fix is truly in, and Trump’s planning to abuse the GOP candidates for his own benefit, we’re at least assured of a really epic cage match between him and Newt Gingrich, who is so ornery that he once shot a debate moderator in Reno just to watch him die.
So, it looks like we’ll have Gingrich, Santorum, and maybe Bachmann on December 27.