Editorial: Of course Trump should skip the GOP debates. He’s unfit for office

Republican presidential candidates on Feb. 25, 2016
Republican presidential candidates, from left, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich take part in the primary debate at the University of Houston on Feb. 25. 2016.
(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)
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On Wednesday, candidates for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination will assemble in Milwaukee for the campaign’s first televised debate. Conspicuous by his absence will be Donald Trump, the front-runner despite two impeachments, four indictments and a loss in the last election that he refused to recognize.

On Truth Social, Trump wrote: “The public knows who I am & what a successful Presidency I had . . .. I WILL THEREFORE NOT BE DOING THE DEBATES!”

Trump’s refusal to join the debate is a sign of his narcissism, but his absence is welcome. No one who has attempted to overturn the will of the voters deserves to be on a debate stage again. But while Trump the candidate may be missing, Trump the issue very much belongs in the debate.


Eight GOP hopefuls — but not Donald Trump — will meet Wednesday night for the first debate of the campaign season. Here’s a look at who’s on stage.

Aug. 23, 2023

It’s appropriate for the Republican candidates who do participate to answer questions about their positions on abortion, Ukraine and the federal deficit, but they need to be pressed on the urgent, overarching issue of whether a president should be able to scheme to undermine the integrity of American elections with impunity. Inextricably entwined in that question is a judgment on Trump’s past conduct and present unfitness.

Lawyers can argue about whether Trump should be convicted of particular crimes and whether he is ineligible to appear on the ballot under the 14th Amendment because he participated in an insurrection or rebellion, as two conservative legal scholars have argued in a much-discussed article. There can be no doubt, however, that Trump’s attempt to overturn a democratic election and cling to power — a campaign that inspired a riot at the U.S. Capitol on the day electoral votes were to be counted — should disqualify him.

A Manhattan grand jury voted to indict the former president on charges related to paying hush money to a former porn star. Convicted or acquitted, he is not fit for office.

March 30, 2023

All current and potential Republican candidates for president must be asked if they agree with that proposition. They also should say whether they would accept the result in 2024 if they were the nominee and lost. Vacuous sentiments about the need to “look forward, not backward” are unacceptable. So are exercises in whataboutism, false equivalence and loose talk about the prosecution of Trump or Jan. 6 defendants amounting to a “weaponization” of the administration of justice.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently admitted that Trump lost the 2020 election, but a now-infamous memo prepared by a firm associated with a pro-DeSantis super PAC recommended that DeSantis “defend Trump when Chris Christie attacks him,” a reference to the former New Jersey governor who has been vocal in condemning Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election. (Fox News reported that DeSantis said he hadn’t read the memo.) North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum bobbed and weaved in a “Meet the Press” interview when he was asked whether he thinks Trump tried to overturn the election results in 2020.

California’s Democratic governor and Florida’s GOP governor are opposed on the right U.S. course. Voters would benefit from hearing them make their case.

Aug. 21, 2023

It’s no mystery why some of Trump’s opponents would be skittish about condemning his assault on democracy and declaring him unacceptable. Candidates are understandably loath to alienate Trump supporters who hold the former president in a cultish veneration. A sobering CBS News/YouGov poll found that 71% of Trump voters feel that what Trump tells them is true, while 63% said they trusted what they were told by friends and family.

Yet it’s possible that Trump’s support among Republicans would ebb if more GOP candidates — and other figures in the party — followed the example of Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson in forthrightly condemning Trump. Trump’s Republican opponents and party leaders need to look beyond the nomination process to reflect about how Trump would fare in the general election. Not everyone who will be watching Wednesday’s debate will be a Republican or a Trump supporter. Many viewing the event will think better of candidates who acknowledge the brutal fact that Trump is unworthy of either nomination or election.