The major point of vulnerability for Donald Trump in this campaign is the danger of him being exposed as a shockingly uninformed candidate during the debates.
Unlike the GOP primary debates, there won’t be six or seven other candidates that he can insult and bully to distract from the fact that his knowledge of even basic public policy issues is sorely lacking.
What’s a candidate to do? Attack the debate schedule and laughably accuse the Democrats of trying to rig it.
For the record, the debate schedule and format are decided by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a private group made up of both Republicans and Democrats.
But that fact won’t stop The Donald. He’s on a roll.
His primary complaint is that two of the debates are scheduled on the same nights as NFL games.
That’s true. (It was also true in 2012, and the debates were still high-rated.)
In an interview with ABC News, Trump said he’s “fine” with the commission’s three debates, but objected to the specific dates.
“I’ll tell you what I don’t like. It’s against two NFL games,” he said. “I got a letter from the NFL saying, ‘This is ridiculous.'”
An NFL spokesman said Saturday: “While we’d obviously wish the debate commission could find another night, we did not send a letter to Trump.”
Is this guy capable of telling the truth about anything?
On Sunday morning, a Trump aide said that “Mr. Trump was made aware of the conflicting dates by a source close to the league.”
“It’s unfortunate that millions of voters will be disenfranchised by these chosen dates,” the aide added.
A “source close to the league” is a far cry from “a letter from the NFL.” And “disenfranchised” by a football game? Really? If someone chooses to watch NFL football, they are disenfranchising themselves.
The debate organizers have a different view: They note that the debates are easy to find all across TV, and people who choose to watch the football games live can still watch the debates later through video on demand.
Because Trump skipped one of the GOP primary debates in January, there has been speculation among media types that he may quibble with the fall debate schedule or even threaten to not show up.
Campaigns routinely haggle over the details of the debates, right down to the temperature of the studio, but every major party candidate in modern times has ultimately agreed to participate.
It would be risky for Trump to turn down the debates. Voters consistently tell pollsters that the sessions help them decide which candidate to support.
Trump hasn’t threatened a boycott. He told ABC, “I like three debates. I think that’s fine. I think it’s enough.” (The ABC interview was taped Friday.)
But he focused on the NFL scheduling conflict. RNC chief strategist Sean Spicer seconded it in an interview on CNN Saturday morning, and added, “The entire system needs to be re-looked at.”
The commission responded to Trump on Saturday afternoon by saying that it “announced the number, dates and sites for the 2016 general election debates in September 2015.”
Trump risks a lot having to appear next to Hillary Clinton and talk intelligently about subjects ranging from the budget to foreign policy. The fact checkers will have a field day. Trump has yet to demonstrate that he has a grasp of the nuances of any issue, much less basic knowledge about the challenges facing the country that would see him through a presidential debate.
So why risk the blowback from a debate when he can look like an anti-establishment hero by refusing to show up? The way things are going for him, he would probably benefit more from boycotting the debates than participating in them.