GOP presidential candidates have been hustling to meet the Republican National Committee’s requirements to get on stage at the first primary debate in August. But former President Donald Trump continued to downplay the idea that he will show up at all Sunday, citing his lead in the polls.
“Ronald Reagan didn’t do it and a lot of other people didn’t do it. When you have a big lead, you don’t do it,” Trump said during an interview on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.”
“We have a lead of 50 and 60 points in some cases. … You’re leading people by 50 and 60 points, you say why would you be doing a debate? It’s actually not fair. Why would you let somebody that’s at zero or one or two or three be popping you with questions?”
The former president also shrugged off the idea that bypassing the debate could allow for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — who has been consistently polling second behind Trump — to gain on him.
“Do you see any risk that if you don’t show up, Ron DeSantis has a good night and it cuts into your lead?” host Maria Bartiromo asked.
“Or somebody else has a good night and cuts into his lead, because that’s what’s happening. He’s going down and a couple of them are going up,” Trump replied.
But he added: “I haven’t really made up my mind.”
DeSantis has said he’ll be on the debate stage in Milwaukee next month. On Sunday, he called it a “great opportunity” to get in front of voters.
“There’s a lot of Republican voters out there, they like what we’ve done in Florida. They know I’m a good governor … but they haven’t seen a lot about me up close and personal, so that gives us a great opportunity to be able to share our vision,” he said of the upcoming debate during an interview on Fox News’ “MediaBuzz.” “What we’ve found on the campaign trail in these early states when we’re able to make that case to voters directly, we get a tremendous response.”
Reagan did participate in GOP debates during the 1980 presidential election — even paying for one in New Hampshire out of his own campaign funds — though he did bypass the first one in Iowa. There were no debates during the 1984 primary season when Reagan was seeking a second term, as Reagan had no significant Republican opposition.