Trump Reportedly Plans to Skip GOP Debate for Interview with Tucker Carlson While DeSantis Allies Urge Him to Defend the Absent Frontrunner

Former President Donald Trump is reportedly planning to skip next week’s GOP primary debate for an interview with Tucker Carlson.


Former President Donald Trump is reportedly planning to skip next week’s GOP primary debate for an interview with Tucker Carlson. A debate strategy memo from allies of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, meanwhile, urges him to defend the absent frontrunner from attacks from other GOP candidates.

  • The New York Times reported on Friday that Trump decided within the past 24 hours to bail on the first presidential primary debate and hopes his online interview with the former Fox News host will “upstage” the Aug. 23 televised debate in Milwaukee.
  • The Times called his plans “an act of open hostility” towards the Republican National Committee as Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who was initially appointed by Trump, has “privately urged” the GOP frontrunner to attend the debate, which will air on Fox News. The decision to sit down with a journalist Fox News fired earlier this year is likely no coincidence.
  • A debate strategy memo posted on the website of a firm linked to DeSantis’ affiliated super PAC called for him to “take a sledgehammer” to rising outsider candidate Vivek Ramaswamy and to “defend Donald Trump” from attacks from former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
  • The memo outlined four must-do’s: attack Ramaswamy, defend Trump from Christie, “attack Joe Biden and the media 3-5 times,” and “state [DeSantis’] positive vision 2-3 times.”
  • The debate prep memo was prepared by Never Back Down, the DeSantis-supporting Super PAC run by Jeff Roe, who ran Ted Cruz’s unsuccessful 2016 presidential campaign. The hug-the-frontrunner strategy was also employed by Cruz, who won the Iowa Caucus but lost the nomination handily to Trump.


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  • NBC News covered Ramaswamy’s response to what he called “lame, pre-programmed attack lines against me” from “Robot Ron.” A Ramaswamy spokesperson said in a statement, “”If DeSantis struggles to use a spoon, I can’t imagine he is particularly agile with a sledgehammer.”
  • The Washington Post highlighted other nuggets from the memo. DeSantis is being urged show “emotion” by telling a story about his family and suggests zingers to use against “fake Vivek” and Chris Christie.
  • The New York Times called the disclosure of the memo an “unforced error” for DeSantis that seem “to leave Mr. DeSantis in something of a no-win situation. Follow the advice too closely, and he risks walking into a political buzz saw, with his rivals painting him as overly rehearsed, inauthentic or beholden to political consultants. Ignoring it may be the likelier route — but could also leave Mr. DeSantis open to criticisms that he failed to meet expectations, for instance, by not taking down Mr. Ramaswamy.”



  • The Wall Street Journal’s John McCormick and Eliza Collins posit that with Trump’s legal woes and DeSantis’ struggles, this may be the moment South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott has been waiting for. “Unlike some of the more combative candidates in the race, Scott offers an optimistic message, generally refrains from attacking rivals, and is almost universally liked among GOP primary voters who see him on the campaign trail. Now he has to convince them that they like him enough to support him.”
  • The Commentary Magazine podcast delved into DeSantis’ debate strategy and questioned his decision to follow the Ted Cruz strategy from 2016 (Cruz, of course, lost). The hosts noted DeSantis’ super PAC is run by the same folks who led the Cruz campaign and compared him to well-funded flops of yesteryear including Phil Gramm, Michael Bloomberg, and John Connally. 
  • National Review’s Noah Rothman cut to the heart of the matter: if DeSantis plans to defend the candidate who leads him by 40 points in the polls, then “what is the point of this primary?” “The campaign DeSantis has so far ran is a disappointing one, but it’s not a disaster. Not yet, at least,” Rothman added. “But on this trajectory — one that culminates in a humiliating spectacle in which the only viable alternative to Trump prostrates himself before the awesome might of his cult — DeSantis will not have a political career to slink back to amid his retreat from the national stage.”


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© Dominic Moore, 2023