GOP debates reach a dead end

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GOP DEBATES REACH A DEAD END. The first unique thing about the 2024 Republican race is that at no time in living memory has a former president, popular with the party base, run for the office he used to occupy. The second unique thing is that former President Donald Trump is so far ahead of his GOP competitors that the Republican contest is essentially a one-candidate race. According to the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, Trump is 43.7 points ahead of second-place Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and 48.9 points ahead of third-place former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. He is more than 50 points ahead of everybody else. The third unique thing about the race is that Trump has skipped every debate, including the third one, held Wednesday night in Miami.

That has changed the nature of the debates, making them, by and large, underwhelming, unsatisfying exercises. The reason is obvious: With the leading candidate absent, the stakes are lower. We have now had three debates with the purpose of identifying a first, and a second, runner-up. That is a meaningful task — if Trump falters, one of these candidates will be the nominee. But the debates are missing the ingredient that makes high-stakes debates compelling.

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