Our new book is titled Divided We Stand: The 2020 Elections and American Politics. Among other things, it discusses the state of the parties. The state of the GOP is not good.
The media — a traditional arbiter of many debates — is so reviled by Republican primary voters that campaigns now recognize there may be more to gain from criticizing the process than participating. There’s also been a surge in self-funding and celebrity candidates in 2022, whose inexperience at debating and fears of campaign-ending missteps may be leading them to dodge debates altogether. Then there’s the shadow of Donald Trump, whose complaints that debates are rigged is now the party line, with the Republican National Committee throwing the prospect of presidential debates in two years into question.
“The media will fight like cats and dogs, because it’s the last thing in a campaign environment they have any control over,” said Dave Carney, the Republican strategist who advises Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, whose campaign is suggesting he may not debate his Democratic opponent, Beto O’Rourke, in the fall. “But in 10 years, when debates don’t happen anymore, no one will notice, voters won’t notice or care.”
Debates, Carney said, are “crazy … It’s like having your candidates do pet tricks for the media, and I’m against them.”
So far this year, in more than a half-dozen Senate, House and governor’s races across the electoral map, Republican candidates have skipped primary debates, seemingly with few repercussions.
Former football star Herschel Walker, the front-runner in Georgia’s Republican Senate primary, has refused to debate his primary opponents. So has Jim Pillen, a Republican gubernatorial candidate in Nebraska, and Mike DeWine, the incumbent governor of Ohio. In North Carolina, Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) ducked a Senate primary debate last month. Mehmet Oz, the TV personality-turned Pennsylvania Senate candidate, says he wants to debate Anthony Fauci — who isn’t running against him — but has skipped debating the Republicans who are. And in Nevada’s race for governor, Joe Lombardo, the Clark County sheriff, was a no-show at a debate among Republicans last month.