It’s not rocket science. When you’re the challenger or behind in the polls, you want as many debating opportunities as possible to help close the gap. When you’re the frontrunner, you play a “Rose Garden” strategy, eschewing any risks that could torpedo your candidacy.
That’s why all the Democratic debates were scheduled on a weekend when relatively few people would be watching. The DNC was protective of Hillary Clinton and acted accordingly. Now, all of a sudden, with Bernie Sanders surging, Hillary wants more debates.
A similar dynamic is occurring on the Republican side. With Donald Trump back up in the polls after a scare by Ted Cruz, he does not want to risk his momentum by a poor performance. It’s far more than Megyn Kelly prompting him to avoid the upcoming debate. It’s hardball political strategy.
Only the voters can change these considerations. When a politician is viewed unfavorably because he is avoiding a debate, if his opponents can start to gain traction on the issue, he will reconsider fast.
One wonders though about the effect on Donald Trump. His unconventional strategy and his loyal followers just might overwhelm the laws of political gravity. With the Donald holding an event for veterans in a competing time slot, Fox News might reconsider their staunch support of Megyn Kelly. Losing out on viewers and ratings means real money, and if the viewership declines significantly, Mr. Trump just might find himself back in the driver’s seat for future debate negotiations.
Moreover, the increasingly negative tone the Republican candidates have adopted may start to turn off potential viewers without the entertainment value of a Donald Trump to interest them. Whether a third candidate can emerge while Trump and Cruz battle it out remains to be seen. It’s happened in the past during more conventional years. But don’t bet on it this time around.