WASHINGTON, D.C. – Next week is the first GOP primary debate. A handful of candidates have met the Republican National Committee’s qualifications to participate in the debate. But one of the biggest questions is: will the republican front runner, Donald Trump, debate?
“I think this debate is really important for a lot of these candidates who are lesser known,” said Todd Belt, professor and director of political management at George Washington University.
Ahead the August 23rd GOP debate, Belt said well known candidates like Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis and Mike Pence, might not necessarily need this debate.
“Debates help the people who are behind to catch up,” said Belt. “But for people like Vivek Ramaswamy or some of the other candidates in there, it gives them a chance to get their message out there and to help define their campaign to voters. The reason this is very important is if you look at 2016 there was almost a candidate of the week that was gonna be the one who would be the alternative to Donald Trump. These candidates are trying to make the case that they are the alternative to Donald Trump and waiting around for him to fall.”
Other candidates like Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, Chris Christie and Doug Burgum, have all qualified to debate.
Days leading up to the big debate, we still don’t know if Donald Trump, who is the leading candidate according to polls, is going to show up.
“He’s said he’s not going to sign that loyalty pledge which is required and they need to give 48 hours notice and that loyalty pledge for him to show up,” said Belt. “He’s actually floating some ideas of doing some counter programming himself which he has done in the past and that might divide some of the attention this debate gets.”
Belt said Trump doesn’t need this debate stage to stay in the spotlight.
“Because the media will follow him wherever he goes,” said Belt. “Into the courtroom or at his mugshot whatever its going to be for Donald Trump but this debate is important for the others.”
Whether Trump shows up or not, Belt said candidates who once worked for him like Haley and Pence need to separate themselves gently from him without trying to alienate those important Trump voters. Belt said at the same time, they need to try to make themselves look like a reasonable alternative.