I’m no fan of rap music, but the lyrics “This is so all bad, nothin’ good can come from this” come to mind for Donald Trump.
Trump was wise to drop out of Thursday’s debate. Lying in wait for him are no less than three candidates who had their guns dialed into his backside, chief among them Ted Cruz, champion debater, who was unlikely to repeat his hamfisted “New York values” retort. (Although that theme has given Cruz much mileage in TV ads.)
The rather lame excuse of not liking Megyn Kelly, whom he previously abused in every way possible, is simply cover for a larger problem Trump may well have come Monday. He knows he could lose the Iowa caucuses, but he doesn’t know by how much. Even if he wins, attending Thursday’s debate can’t help him in any way.
So by sitting it out, Trump accomplishes two things: One, he keeps the spotlight on himself, which is always useful to him. Two, he provides a cover story for losing, a C.Y.A. he can use that the media was unfairly stacked against him. Trump can paint himself as the victim while avoiding the worst thrusts from his rivals.
Now if Cruz or Bush or Christie or Paul want to slam Trump, they won’t have him (in person) to kick around Thursday. And Trump will undoubtedly do something to undermine or overshadow the debate in any case, producing even more cover.
I think many voters will see through the transparent reasons Trump gave for bowing out and that in itself could hurt him. But as all survivors do, Trump is planning ahead for damage control. There’s little more he can do in Iowa to win, but there’s lots more he can do to not let it hurt him if he loses.
He is practicing the fine art of C.Y.A.