Former President Donald Trump decided to forgo participating in the first GOP debate and opted for an exclusive online interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson. This unexpected move generated significant buzz and left many wondering about the implications of Trump's absence from the debate stage. To say the least, this was a genius move by Tucker Carlson and Trump to hit back at Fox News by releasing the interview five minutes before the GOP debates, and setting a viewing record on the X platform with 150 million and counting.
According to Trump, his decision to skip the debate stems from his substantial lead in the polls. In a pre-taped interview with Tucker Carlson, Trump highlighted his commanding position, stating, "You see the polls have come out, I'm leading by 50 and 60 points. And some of them are at one and zero and two. And I'm saying, 'Do I sit there for an hour or two hours, whatever it's going to be and get harassed by people that shouldn't even be running for president? Should I be doing that? And a network that isn't particularly friendly, frankly.'"
Trump's absence from the GOP debate had significant ramifications for both the candidates on stage and the hosting network, Fox News. During the debate, the candidates were asked if they would support Trump as the GOP nominee if he were convicted in any of the four separate cases against him. While six candidates, including former Vice President Mike Pence, raised their hands in support, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did not. This divergence within the GOP field highlighted the divisions and uncertainty surrounding Trump's legal troubles.
Moreover, Trump's decision to conduct an interview with Tucker Carlson as a counterprogramming tactic was a direct slight to Fox News, the host of the debate. Trump's strained relationship with the conservative news network, which canceled Carlson's show in April following a settlement over its 2020 election reporting, was evident in his choice to prioritize an alternative platform. At the time of this writing, the interview has garnered over 150 million views on the X platform.
The pre-recorded interview between Trump and Tucker Carlson provided a platform for the former president to express his opinions on various topics. Trump discussed the 2024 field, remarking that if President Biden isn't the Democrats' ultimate candidate, "it would be a free-for-all," and the nominee wouldn't necessarily be Vice President Kamala Harris. He also shared his thoughts on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, expressing the belief that DeSantis is no longer a contender in the race.
Unsurprisingly, Trump criticized his former vice president, Mike Pence, for his refusal to overturn the election results on January 6, 2021. Despite Pence's repeated assertions that he lacked the authority to do so, Trump maintained that Pence had the power to send the election results back to the states.
The interview between Trump and Carlson was not without controversy. Trump's remarks about his political opponents potentially wanting to end his life raised eyebrows and further showed how disgusting the global elites and the Deep State are. He referred to them as "savage animals" and suggested they would go to extreme lengths against him. Additionally, Trump continued to praise the crowd of supporters who gathered on January 6, 2021, before the Capitol siege, emphasizing the love and unity he perceived among them.
The timing of the interview, just before Trump's expected appearance at a Georgia jail to face charges related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, added another layer of significance to the conversation. Trump's decision to align himself with those charged for their roles in the insurrection through a fundraiser hosted at his New Jersey golf club reinforced his unwavering support for those involved.
Despite mounting legal challenges, Trump's lead in the polls has continued to grow. Recent polling data, such as the CBS News/YouGov poll conducted this month, indicates that 62% of likely Republican primary voters would choose Trump if they voted today. His closest rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, lags far behind with only 16% of the support. These numbers underscore Trump's enduring popularity within the Republican Party, despite the legal jeopardy he faces in multiple criminal cases.
Trump's decision to skip the GOP debate can be seen as a manifestation of his ongoing feud with Fox News. While the network had encouraged him to participate, Trump's dissatisfaction with what he perceives as unfair coverage led him to opt for an alternative platform. By choosing to appear with Tucker Carlson, a former Fox News host known for his honest coverage at the network, Trump further solidified his departure from the network.
Although Trump skipped the first GOP debate, it remains uncertain whether he will continue to abstain from participating in future debates. His complaints about the location of the second debate in September, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, due to the involvement of the Washington Post's publisher and CEO, Fred Ryan, indicate that his decision may depend on various factors beyond his poll numbers.