Donald Trump said this morning that he has definitely decided not to participate in the Republican debate later this evening. The stated reason is his war with Fox News personality Megyn Kelly (which by the way has an astonishing similarity to a love-hate romance). But Trump wants to pick his own questioners, and even for Fox News, to allow that would be a new low in journalistic integrity.
It's hard to see who would regret the "loss" of Trump on the podium. Not he himself; he tells us so, and professes he doesn't need to be there, and as far as his standing in the polls is concerned, he's probably right. Not, surely, the other candidates, who may welcome a chance to be heard without the constant bullying. And even more definitely not voters who are not his fans. In truth, all these groups already know what Trump has to say and if they've been listening they know they shouldn't expect anything else.
Could Fox News be financially hurt, as Trump suggests, if his failure to appear cuts the advertising audience? I doubt even that. I have no clue whether Fox has a contract with Trump for his appearance; perhaps it's more of an "invitation." But I have trouble believing they haven't thought to have contracts with their advertisers and I would guess delivering Trump (or any other candidate) is not a part of the deal. Maybe Fox is concerned, though, because they seem still to be hoping he will appear, and even sicced Bill Reilly on Trump to try to persuade him to come.
Personally, I accept Trump's refusal as firm. To change his mind and turn up tonight might be the most damaging thing he could do to his fan base, who would perceive him as having caved.
If as I expect, Trump doesn't appear, we can learn something too. A severe drop-off in viewer numbers for the event would, in my view, demonstrate what many of us suspect anyway: That many of his fans love him not so much as a serious contender to deal with the country's problems, but more for his entertainment value. tuning in only to hear his latest outrage. In that case, the petulant Trump may succeed only in revealing that the would-be emperor lacks political clothing.
There remains one other possibility, too horrid to contemplate: That Fox caves and pulls Kelly from the panel. I don't really expect this but the lesson then would be how low we have all sunk.