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Debate stage without Trump gives candidates more air time

GOP+Debate
Photo by Graphic by Sydney Farris
GOP Debate

With less than a week remaining until the Iowa caucuses, Republican presidential candidates — with the notable exception of Donald Trump — will have one last chance to make a national impact at Thursday’s debate. 

The prime time debate will start at 8 p.m. Central Time and will feature the top-six nationally polling candidates, with the exception of front-runner Trump, who decided not to participate Tuesday. Trump has claimed he will not be debating due to a perceived bias by the Fox network and moderator Megyn Kelly, who Trump made comments about after she moderated in August last year. 

“Unlike the very stupid, highly incompetent people running our country into the ground, Mr. Trump knows when to walk away,” a statement released by the Trump campaign on Tuesday said. “Roger Ailes and FOX News think they can toy with him, but Mr. Trump doesn’t play games.” 

William Martinez, chair of Texas A&M College Republicans and political science senior, said Trump is making a strategic move by missing the debate. 

“Most of the moderators for the previous debates have tried to throw candidates into the ring with Donald Trump and see who survives,” Martinez said. “The absence of Trump gives him more media exposure since he is the front-runner, and right before the Iowa caucuses. It will be interesting to see if the debate dynamic changes without Trump.”

Kirby Goidel, a fellow at the Public Policy Research Institute and communication professor, said this will give the remaining candidates the chance they may need to close the growing gap between themselves and Trump.

“It does present these other candidates with an opportunity to sort of emerge,” Goidel said. “It may be emerging to fewer viewers, but a lot of what we know about the debates and how they go is because of the post-debate coverage anyway, so it’s probably a win for the other candidates if they can stand up and do something interesting.”

Trump is not the only candidate to have skipped a debate this year. After being demoted to the undercard debate on Jan. 14, Rand Paul decided to boycott it altogether. He saw a gain in his numbers and will be debating on the main stage this Thursday. Trump will instead be hosting an event in Iowa for veterans. 

For the candidates who will be debating, Goidel said even the timing of Trump’s announcement to not participate was a strategic move because it will likely throw not only the candidates off their game, but the moderators too, who will now have to refocus their questions. 

“He could have said he wasn’t going to debate months ago,” Goidel said. “He could have said, ‘If she’s back, I’m not going to do it.’ He waited, he knew what he was doing.”

This debate is the last time the leading candidates — Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich and Rand Paul — will have a national platform before the Iowa caucuses on Monday. Martinez said this makes this debate even more important than the others. 

“This is the last chance for the candidates to solidify their base of support, swing any undecided voters and drive home why they should be the party nominee,” Martinez said. “We can assume that the campaigns in Iowa and New Hampshire are already in their mobilization phase to turn out their supporters.”

President of Aggie Democrats and geophysics senior Amol Shalia said regardless of the lineup, the Republican debate will offer nothing of substance to voters. 

“Underneath all the chest beating, shouting, fear mongering and bullying, all the Republican candidates will be telling lies and falsehoods about the Obama Administration’s record and the direction of the country as a whole,” Shalia said. “There will be no substance, no serious issues be discussed seriously.”

The lower-polling Republican candidates — Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Jim Gilmore — will debate earlier that evening at 6 p.m. Central Time on the Fox News Network. Fox News Anchors Bret Baier and Chris Wallace will join Megyn Kelly as the moderators of the main event. 

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