I am incapable of predicting whether Donald Trump’s actions are savvy or suicidal. Every time he makes a boorish statement or engages in bullying behavior that I am sure will backfire, he comes through with higher poll numbers than ever. And I’m not alone in this — the punditry has predicted Trump’s demise at every turn, and he’s still here.
So don’t ask me if Trump’s decision to skip the next Republican debate and get into a public catfight with Fox News will hurt him. It seems like a silly gamble to me; why miss out on the free air time and let your fellow contenders point to your empty lectern all night long? But Trump’s gut may be telling him something else — that his supporters like his unconventional approach and are as happy to watch him ripping big media as they are to see him cutting down boring politicians. Perhaps they see a missed debate as the ultimate thumb in the eye to the establishment and are thrilled he’s doing it.
One thing is clear: right now Trump dominates the news cycle and sets the story line, and the others are just reacting and always a move behind. And responses like Ted Cruz’s — that if Trump is afraid of Megyn Kelly, how will he stand up to Hillary Clinton or Vladimir Putin — no doubt seem feeble to Trump’s supporters. They no doubt see Trump, after six debates, not as afraid but as fed up, just like they are.
If Trump in fact skips the next debate — and that’s a big if, given his mercurial tendencies — he will be going all in on one of the biggest gambles American politics has seen in a long time.