Former President Donald Trump is planning to skip Wednesday’s debate with the GOP’s other candidates for president, he announced Sunday. Trump is enjoying a landslide lead in FiveThirtyEight’s poll aggregate for the Republican primary.
But by deciding to skip, Trump may be alienating the host state, a crucial battleground for the general election against incumbent President Joe Biden.
The other candidates will be debating in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Wednesday.
In 2016, Trump secured won Wisconsin by 0.77 points, and he first secured his Electoral College victory in the state. Then in 2020, Biden won the Badger State by an even slimmer margin.
For this reason, Wisconsin is set to be one of the biggest toss-ups in the general election. It’s a distinction held by a shrinking but often-shifting number of places, as former swing states like Ohio and Florida become more reliably Republican and Virginia and Colorado more Democratic. That leaves Wisconsin along with Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Nevada as among the most competitive states that could decide the presidency.
By skipping the debate, Trump is leaving an opening for his rivals — not only in the Republican primary, but also in the general election.
In a sign of Wisconsin’s importance, Biden traveled to Milwaukee last week to talk up his work to create manufacturing jobs. On Sunday, his campaign announced it is spending $25 million to run ads in seven states, including Wisconsin, to counter Republicans as they debate.
Republican leaders in other swing states — like Georgia — have taken personal offense to Trump’s allegations of election fraud occurring under their jurisdictions.
“The 2020 election in Georgia was not stolen,” Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, tweeted Tuesday. “Our elections in Georgia are secure, accessible, and fair and will continue to be as long as I am governor. The future of our country is at stake in 2024 and that must be our focus.”
For this reason, some Wisconsin Republicans have gravitated toward DeSantis, despite the Florida Republican’s struggles in national polling.
Trump was favored by 31% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents surveyed, while DeSantis was at 30% in a Marquette University Law School poll released June 29. But in a head-to-head matchup, DeSantis was favored by 57% and Trump by 41%.
DeSantis, during a July fundraising swing to Wisconsin, attracted more than a dozen Republican state lawmakers to an event, including former Gov. Tommy Thompson, former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Tim Michels, the 2022 Republican candidate for governor. The hosts included Republican mega-donors Dick and Liz Uihlein, who donated to efforts to get Trump elected in 2016 and 2020.
“At the end of the day, people here just want to win. Plain and simple,” former Gov Tommy Thompson, a Republican, said. “Wisconsin Republicans are going to think about one, is this somebody who can beat Trump in a primary and two, can they beat Biden?”
In a CBS News poll, Trump was enjoying a crushing lead over his fellow Republicans. Plus, he views himself as a known quantity to American voters. Citing those two reasons, Trump said on Truth Social, “I WILL THEREFORE NOT BE DOING THE DEBATES.”
Trump is betting on winning the primary… but he risks alienating Wisconsin voters in the general election.
Take a look —
Those expected to be on the debate stage include Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former Vice President Mike Pence, ex-Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Michigan businessman Perry Johnson also say they have met the requirements to make the stage. The official lineup is still coming together because candidates have until Monday evening to provide evidence to the RNC that they have qualified.
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article.