If you watch Donald Trump long enough, you see the same patterns over and over again. Even in instances where any thinking person knows he’s bluffing, he’ll still try his bluff, in the hope of scaring people into not thinking clearly. Then once he’s gotten enough people to fall for his bluff, he uses it as leverage for getting what he really wants. Trump is half senile at this point, but he’s not so far gone that he won’t try it again.
Believe it or not, we’re not too far away from the first stages of 2020 general election debate negotiations. We already know how Donald Trump will play it. He’ll threaten not to participate in the debates, as a way of trying to get concessions from the debate commission on things like format and moderators.
Trump will either get concessions or not get them, and then he’ll show up to the debates, like he was always going to. There’s no chance a bloviating narcissist like Trump is going to pass up an opportunity to go in front of a huge live national television audience and hurl insults directly at his opponent’s face. The only question is how much nonsense we have to go through before Trump finally admits he’s showing up.
When Trump starts making his empty threat about boycotting the debates, the media will know that he’s bluffing, because he pulled the same routine in 2016. But the media will nonetheless play up the possibility of not having any debates, because it’s the kind of narrative that’ll drive ratings and page views. Trump will count on all of you falling for this bluff, so he can go to the debate commission and say, “See, the people are afraid I won’t show up. You’d better give me something to get me to show up.”
The bottom line is that if you play up the scenario where Donald Trump refuses to participate in the debates, you’re handing him leverage that’ll allow him to force more concessions from the debate commission. If you play up the reality that you know he’s bluffing, he’ll have no leverage, and he’ll get no concessions. He’ll be at the debates either way. The only question is how much you help him by choosing to fall for his obvious bluff. Don’t take the bait.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report