Donald Trump ran riot on Super Tuesday, winning a majority of the states and racking up delegates. Those wins firmly cemented him as the GOP frontrunner for the 2016 nomination. Now rumors are swirling that Trump may skip out on the Salt Lake City GOP presidential debate on March 21.
There is speculation that Trump will not take the stage in Salt Lake City because he has nothing to gain as the clear frontrunner of the Republican field.
Utah GOP Chairman James Evans says he’s heard the same rumblings second or third-hand, but nothing concrete.
“He’s always threatening things,” said Evans of Trump. “That’s how things operate with the Trump campaign. There are all kinds of rumors out there.”
Trump declining to debate would make sense strategically. If Trump becomes the solid frontrunner, refusing to take the stage with the trailing candidates takes away any chance they have to tee off on him. Remember, Trump declined to participate in the final debate before the Iowa Caucuses, and he still finished in second place.
The most recent GOP debate was a perfect example. Trump did not have the best performance, and he was knocked off balance as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio laid into him. Not debating reduces his chances of turning in another sub-par performance.
While the on-stage chaos between Trump, Cruz and Rubio may have been entertaining to watch (see below), it’s not something Trump would want to subject himself to as the presumptive nominee. Simply put, Trump would have nothing to gain and everything to lose.
Before the Salt Lake City debate, Republican voters will cast ballots in Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, District of Columbia, Wyoming, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio. If Trump wins a majority of those states, his path to the nomination would be all but assured, and his incentive to participate in the Utah event will be diminished.
Trump not showing up to debate in Salt Lake City would be a blow to the Utah GOP, which pulled off a major coup securing the event over Arizona, which also holds their presidential nominating contest on the next day. Not having Trump would take the luster off what could be a marquee event for the state party.
Evans says he’s been in contact with the Trump campaign and is determined to ensure the front runner shows up on March 22.
“I expect him to show up and take part in our debate just like I expect all the other remaining candidates to be there,” he says.
Should Trump take a pass on Salt Lake City, it would be an unfortunate snub for many voters in the Intermountain West.