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Will Trump’s Strategy of Skipping the Debates Really Work?

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Should Donald Trump rethink his strategy of skipping the GOP primary debates? Well, it depends on who you ask.

If you ask Trump, it worked out perfectly. “Would somebody please tell RINO John Roberts of FoxNews that my poll numbers went up after the last ‘debate,’ they didn’t go ‘slightly down,’” he said in a post on Truth Social on Tuesday. “I am leading DeSanctimonious by more than 50 Points, and Crooked Joe Biden by a lot. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

 

Trump was referring John Roberts’ interview with Chris Christie (R-N.J.), in which he pointed out to the former governor that Trump “is still the frontrunner by a longshot.” But Roberts also noted that “he dropped a little bit after the first debate, but he has still got a leg up on everybody else.”

So, who is right?

For starters, I’m not sure what poll shows Trump leading Joe Biden “by a lot.” Recent general election polling does show a shift in Trump’s direction, with him leading Biden in some polls, and Biden leading in others. But Biden still has a modest average lead of one point.

As for his post-debate standing amongst GOP primary voters, whether Trump wants to admit this or not, he has experienced a slight dip in some polls since the debate. His Real Clear Politics average has dipped, albeit modestly, since the debate. It’s arguably a trivial amount, but that doesn’t make Trump’s claim any more true.

But then, some polls show a more significant dip. The latest Emerson poll finds that Trump still has the support of half of Republican primary voters, but that is down six points from the organization’s pre-debate poll.

Related: Which Won? The Trump Interview or the GOP Primary Debate?

And quite a few of Trump’s competitors saw their support increase.

“Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is at 12%, a 2 percentage point increase from last week. Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy follows with 9%, a one-point drop from the pre-debate poll,” reports Emerson College Polling. “Former Vice President Mike Pence received 7% of voter support, a 4-point increase from the pre-debate poll. Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley saw the largest increase in support among Republican candidates, jumping 5 points from 2% to 7%.”

While the shift in this poll doesn’t exactly make a substantial dent in Trump’s lead, it’s an ominous warning that his plan to skip the debates isn’t going to work as intended.

“While Trump saw a slight dip in support, the question from this poll is whether this is a blip for Trump or if the other Republican candidates will be able to rally enough support to be competitive for the caucus and primary season,” Spencer Kimball, Executive Director of Emerson College Polling said.

But here’s the real problem for Trump: according to Kimball, “There appears to be a softening of support for Trump since last week’s survey, where 82% of Trump voters said they would definitely support him, compared to 71% after the debate.”

A separate poll from Public Opinion Strategies found that Ron DeSantis is closing the gap with Trump among Iowa voters, with DeSantis increasing his level of support from 14% pre-debate to 21% post-debate. So while Trump remains the runaway frontrunner, this poll serves as an ominous warning that skipping the debates is not a viable strategy for maintaining his lead in the long term.

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