Should upright citizens be outraged by Donald Trump's refusal to appear on a debate to be aired Thursday by Fox News (and co-moderated by his nemesis Megyn Kelly)? Not really.
To the extent that Trump's no-show is a continuation of his nasty needling of Kelly -- who famously asked him in an earlier debate about his degrading comments about women -- he's open to criticism. Candidates look bad when they boycott a journalist because she did her job.
But there's more to this story than the Trump-Kelly feud. Fox provoked Trump with a bizarre news release by which (as David Zurawik of the Baltimore Sun aptly put it) the network "let itself be dragged down to Trump's level of snark and ridicule."
"We learned from a secret back channel," the Fox News release said, "that the ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president — a nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings."
Proving that he can give it out but can't take it, Trump said: "With me, they're dealing with somebody that's a little bit different. They can't toy with me like they toy with everybody else. So let them have their debate, and let's see how they do with the ratings."
Trump's Republican rivals are criticizing his decision to boycott the debate, suggesting that's either cowardly or somehow unpatriotic. Gov. Chris Christie said: "You gotta show up."
Actually you don't, if you object to the venue or the sponsors. Of course, if the voters also feel insulted by your absence, they can refuse to support you.
But I suspect a lot of Trump voters -- and others -- don't see debates as a quasi-religious exercise in which candidates must participate. Anyway, Trump already has appeared in a lot of debates; what's really lost if he misses this one? If potential caucus-goers have a question about where Trump stands, they can follow him in his natural habitat -- on Twitter.
Follow Michael McGough on Twitter @MichaelMcGough3.
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