Last week, Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis climbed behind CNN podiums in Des Moines for a final pre-caucus debate. As he has for every debate since the primary season began, Donald Trump chose to sit it out. But just because Trump refused to be seen on the same stage as his opponents doesn’t mean he spent the night in the endless shrimp line at Mar-a-Lago. Instead, Fox News gifted Trump with 90 minutes of self-care, giving him a solo “townhall” in which all the questions were the softest of softballs and all of the audience were fawning Trump supporters.
At the end of the night, Haley and DeSantis clubbing away at each other earned an average of 2.62 million viewers. Trump engaging in a self-gratulatory smug fest knocked down 4.4 million viewers.
On Wednesday, CNN announced that it is calling off its Republican primary debate in New Hampshire after Haley said she would not attend unless Trump was also present. This follows ABC’s announcement that it was dropping its debate, which was scheduled for earlier in the week.
It’s clear the talking is over. Barring some kind of miracle that makes Trump think he would have something to gain by looming creepily over Haley, there won’t be any more Republican debates. For both DeSantis and Haley, that likely means their opportunities to speak to a national audience will now be limited to whatever snippets they can sneak into a news cycle. That won’t be the case for Trump.