Once again the political world is talking about Donald J. Trump. His decision to not participate in the Republican Debate on Thursday has taken the world by storm and generated reaction from all corners. Some are sure that it is just another Trump ploy to create buzz and increase the audience for the Debate when he does show up. Others see it as an opportunity to deride his behavior as weak and question his ability to deal with the difficult personalities he would confront as President. The establishment candidates are quietly relieved that finally his physical presence will not dominate the debate and they will have some breathing room to present themselves as viable candidates. There are those who believe that his decision shows him to be a strong leader that is not willing to tolerate disrespect from anyone. Finally, there are those observers who are amused by the entire spectacle and just enjoying the discomfort displayed by so many heretofore self-confident and arrogant spokespeople and leaders of the Republican Party. Wherever you place yourself in the current situation there can be no doubt that once again Donald Trump has effectively placed himself on center stage.
It is important to view this situation through the lens of Donald Trump. First and perhaps most important, he created and has controlled the entire disagreement. It was his decision to confront Fox about what he considered to be the inappropriate and unprofessional behavior of their reporter, Megyn Kelly. Roger Ailes didn’t press the issue or confront Trump. Trump pressed the issue and threatened not to show if Kelly was one of the questioners. Ailes defended his journalist and refused to back down. He probably assumed that Trump, as in all of his other threats prior to debates, would not follow through. Feeling confident in his advantage, a member of his staff, presumably with his consent, wrote two taunting tweets about Trump’s threat. This was a bad miscalculation that fed right into Trump’s hands and at that point he announced his final decision to not appear at the debate. Certainly, at anytime Trump could have laughed off the inappropriate behavior of Ailes’ staff, providing Ailes the chance to disavow the actions of the staff member. Trump could have then presented himself as bigger and magnanimous and agree to participate. He was in control. However, had he taken that path the story would have fizzled and it would have just been another debate. Instead, Trump decided to continue to play the game of chicken with Ailes and declare his nonattendance. This has accomplished two things. First, it keeps Trump as the number one political story of the day. And second, he believes, he presents himself as strong, assertive and controlling, while at the same time handing Ailes a defeat that will cost him dearly in audience share. The clear message to all who would dare: “you don’t want to tangle with me I won’t back down and you will lose”.
What does all of this tell us about Donald J. Trump? First and foremost, this is a very dangerous and calculating guy. While others have attempted to manipulate and control the media, Trump has proven that he is remarkably skilled at it. He has utilized the press to his advantage from the first day of his campaign, frustrating his opposition with his ability to dominate the news cycle at will. The second thing for us to understand is that this is not an ideologue. He is a pragmatist who will do what he needs to achieve his goals. Part of that pragmatism requires that he has loyalty to no individual or group. He is a user and will discard people and groups at will as long as it moves him closer to his goals. Finally, he believes first and foremost in himself and the truth of his vision. He believes that he and he alone is the answer to the needs of America and the world. I don’t know about you, but I find him quite disturbing and frightening. Has this decision been self-destructive? I believe quite the opposite, he has proven himself once again to be a master at self-promotion.