If you listen to mainstream media, Donald Trump has the nomination all but wrapped up. The drumbeat of Trump’s foregone nomination is incessant and will grow louder next week when he wins all five primaries on Tuesday. Then, the primary pushes west for the final leg of this long race. Once it heads west, most of the primaries favor Ted Cruz.
Trump has been riding a wave of sympathy and, of course, anger ever since he and his media minions started chanting about how unfair and rigged the delegate process is. I won’t even get started on the lunacy of that narrative. However, if Cruz is able to win Indiana and at least five of the nine districts, he’s well positioned to prevent Trump from getting to 1,237 before the convention. With a contested convention, Cruz is currently the favorite. It’s for this reason that Trump needs a debate. He needs to show his chops man-to-man against Cruz (and no, John Kasich should not be invited).
Why is he ducking?
Most will say one of two things depending on which side they’re on. Trump supporters will say that since he’s so far ahead, he has no reason to debate. This is a lame excuse; Hillary Clinton is further ahead of Bernie Sanders and their last debate was a week ago. Cruz supporters will say that Trump is scared. I won’t discount it completely since he’s exposed nearly every time he’s pressed on actual policy issues, but I think it’s more than that. I don’t think Trump is scared of being exposed because from Trump’s perspective his weaknesses can be turned into strengths. For example, his exchange about placing tariffs on Chinese imports was a combination of idiotic math and Sandersesque trade policy that left every debater foaming at the mouth trying to chime in and call him a fool. The moderator pretty much called him a fool. He changed his own story a couple of times within a couple of minutes. The next day, his poll numbers went up.
I don’t think he’s scared of being exposed as much as he’s worried about being made to look foolish. There’s a difference. Cruz landed a few powerful blows on Trump in the most recent debates. Those blows didn’t so much hurt Trump’s polling numbers as much as they hurt his ego.
Then, there’s the fatigue issue. Trump seems to be getting tired. It’s been a long campaign season and while he’s always been a dynamic business leader and seems to be extremely healthy, he’s also showing signs of wearing down. It’s subtle, especially for those of us who have been watching him very closely from the beginning, but it’s noticeable if you pay attention. He seems to need to try harder to answer questions in interviews. He’s had a few gaffes lately such as referring to the September 11 terrorist attacks as 7-Eleven and saying that the system is bad on “our side” but even worse on “the Republican side.”
In essence, I don’t believe he enjoys debates at all. He doesn’t like debate prep. He doesn’t like standing for long periods of time. He doesn’t like having his thoughts and words called into question in front of a national television audience. He doesn’t like sharing a stage.
No, Trump isn’t scared. He might be a little reluctant to face Cruz, but it’s less out of fear than out of fatigue and the lack of enjoyment he feels before, during, and after debates. He’ll take a podium and fawning crowds over a hostile situation any day.