If Trump’s the 2024 nominee, he’ll almost certainly refuse to participate in any debates with Biden. The Republican Party’s move can perhaps best be seen as a way to justify Trump’s refusal by writing it directly into a party pledge: Not only are our candidates free to dodge debates, but we’re gonna make it a new rule that nobody is even allowed to debate. That gives Trump an out so he doesn’t look like such a spineless coward when he refuses to do it.
Note, however, that the Commission on President Debates only hosts the presidential and vice presidential debates after both sides have nominated their candidate. The party isn’t yet bowing out of all debates, just those final ones. For those final debates, the party says they intend to have their own version, hosted by a group or groups of their own choosing. That likely means that Ronna McDaniel and the rest of the Republican Party will demand “alternative” presidential debates hosted by some virulently pro-Trump outlet like OAN, demand that Biden shows up to those train wrecks in waiting, and then puff and preen when Democrats refuse.
All of this is being telegraphed in advance because the party really doesn’t have any other choice. Trump is going to refuse to debate because he thinks anyone not waving a Trump flag while punching a Capitol police officer is biased against him; the task for Trump’s hand-picked party leaders is to weave together some narrative that makes Trump’s paranoias look vaguely defensible.
We have been here before. Donald Trump has, for decades, insisted each time that a business failed, or when he didn’t win a television award, or when a photograph of him didn’t come out looking how he wanted it to, that is was because the people in charge of those things had conspired against him. This is his routine. It has always been his routine. Donald Trump is a narcissistic incompetent who believes that any failure on his part can only be explained by others acting against him. It was only when he joined the Republican Party that he found a collection of marks willing not only to believe in his paranoias, but purge anyone in their midst who didn’t.
When he made the same conspiracy claims about Emmy awards or his casinos, everybody just laughed at him. Now he’s got sitting U.S. senators nodding along pretending he’s not a crackpot ranting at imaginary elves.
Republicanism has long given up on standing for anything; during the 2020 elections, the party famously refused to adopt a new party platform after Trump’s four-year rampage had torn up large parts of it based on whatever new proclamations he would blurt out during any given speech. There’s no advantage in debating in any venue that demands policy positions or, God forbid, knowledge of provable reality. Even if Trump is for some reason not the nominee—an eventuality that at this point seems impossible unless he literally dies between now and then, and perhaps not even then—anyone else willing and able to cater to the Republican base of conspiracy theorists and white nationalists will have nothing to say that they want a national audience to hear.
There will be Republican debates, ones where each candidate attempts to cater to the anti-democracy base with statements that are as unhinged and provocative as possible. But there will likely be no debates afterwards in which the Republican candidate inches back towards center ground so as to prove to the general public that they are not nearly as radical as their previous statements declared. Those debates are unneeded now. The party has gone all in on appealing to the worst elements of their racist, expertise-hating base and will rely on anti-voting measures to winnow down the votes of those who are unnerved by their rhetoric. It’s going to be an ugly, ugly, ugly “campaign.”