There’s been speculation in the recent weeks that Trump may opt to skip the primary debates with Hillary Clinton. There’s certainly an incentive for him to do so, as Hillary Clinton is an experienced and talented debater, and primary debates are heavily laden with policy. During the primary, with multiple candidates on stage, Trump was able to dominate by being bombastic and shifting policy discussions to personal attacks on his opponents, something he would be unable to do effectively with Hillary Clinton in a one-on-one debate.
Furthermore, Trump has obviously shown he doesn’t mind skipping a debate in the past, as he refused to attend two separate debates during the Republican primary.
On Friday, Trump tweeted out the following:
The complaint is clearly a false equivalency. First, Trump is well known, obviously not lacking name recognition, so the comparison with Bernie Sanders is apples-to-oranges. Few people knew who Sanders was at the time, and Clinton has been in the public eye for more than two decades, so the complaint was that Democrats weren’t allowing voters to get to know him.
Second, Presidential debates are enormous events that always attract huge numbers. Unless a debate is scheduled during the Super Bowl, it’s going to draw 10’s of millions of viewers. When Obama and Romney debated in 2012 on the same day as both Monday Night Football and game 7 of the NLCS, more than 59 million people still tuned in to the debate.
Trump may simply be using the debate schedule as another way to attack Hillary Clinton and Democrats, but it seems more likely he’s setting himself up for the option to pass on debating Clinton. Even if Trump thinks his policies are better and more convincing to Americans than are Clinton’s, which he almost certainly does, he understands that Clinton’s able to discuss those policies with more clarity and depth.
Clinton’s been involved in politics at some level since she worked for Barry Goldwater way back in 1964. She’s also been involved in dozens of debates over her tenure in public life. She knows both politics and policy inside and out. Trump, on the other hand, has no political experience. He’s never worked on legislation and he’s never had to debate somebody one-on-one. He’s well aware that 60 million plus people will be watching as moderators and audience grill the candidates and policy specifics, and he may very well be looking for a way out.