Former President Donald Trump has privately discussed skipping either one or both of the first two Republican presidential primary debates, according to three sources who have spoken with Trump about his plans.
Trump’s advisers have pointed to his commanding lead in the polls as one reason he is hesitant to share the stage with his GOP challengers.
“Why would we debate? That would be stupid to go out there with that kind of lead,” one Trump adviser said.
The New York Times first reported Trump’s discussions.
Fox News will host the first Republican primary debate in Milwaukee in August. The second debate will take place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
Trump has polled lawmakers, advisers and allies over whether or not they believe he needs to participate in the first debate, the sources said.
He has also told a number of allies that he does not want to debate at the Reagan Library, and complained in private conversations that he has never been invited to speak at the venue, blaming, in part, the chairman of the board of trustees, Fred Ryan. Ryan is the chief executive officer of The Washington Post.
Some close to the former president said that anything could happen between now and August and it was too early to make a decision either way.
A Republican National Committee source scoffed at the idea that Trump would not participate in the debates: “So he’s going to let Ron DeSantis and Mike Pence get up there and get all the attention?”
After Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel announced the first two debates, Trump began to suggest publicly he may not participate in them because of his lead in early polls and because he would face questions from what he described as “hostile” news networks.
Trump also said in a Truth Social Post that the RNC didn’t get “approval” from him or his campaign ahead of announcing the debates, though presidential candidates do not have singular control over the format or timing of primary debates.
A GOP adviser familiar with the process said Trump’s campaign was fully briefed on the timing, location and other specifics of the announced primary debates. McDaniel had told Trump personally that the debates would start in August, according to two sources familiar with the conversation.
While Trump bristled at the date, which he said was early, the sources said that he did not completely shut it down. But two Trump sources familiar with the conversations between Trump’s campaign and the RNC said that his team and the former president himself had made it clear that he would not attend a debate before Labor Day. One source noted that Trump has said he wants to enjoy his summer “because it’s the last free summer [he’ll] have for a while,” anticipating a 2024 win.