Since last week, when Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann all made it clear that they had no interest in participating, it was obvious that the Donald Trump-moderated presidential debate scheduled for December 27 was headed for cancellation.
And it's all but official now, with Trump announcing this afternoon that he's backing out. All that's left is for Newsmax, the debate sponsor that recruited Trump under the mistaken impression that his star power would be a magnet for GOP candidates, and Ion, the low-rated cable channel on which it was to be broadcast, to formally pull the plug.
When all of the candidates except Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum snubbed him, the only real suspense was over what face-saving spin The Donald would devise. Obviously, he couldn't admit what had really happened: that the majority of GOP candidates calculated that Trump's mere presence would turn the debate into a stature-diminishing farce. Nor could he concede that their refusal to participate signified how little actual clout he has in politics. Instead, he settled on this:
"It is very important to me that the right Republican candidate be chosen to defeat the failed and very destructive Obama Administration, but if that Republican, in my opinion, is not the right candidate, I am not willing to give up my right to run as an Independent candidate," Trump said.
Ah, there it is, the old Trump standby: an empty threat to run for president. It's the perfect cover for this situation, isn't it? Romney, Bachmann, Paul, Perry and Huntsman -- they didn't snub me because I'm a joke, they're scared of me because I might run against them!
For what it's worth, Rush Limbaugh apparently played golf with Trump over the weekend, and on his Monday show made it sound like Trump was truly taken aback by his inability to make all of the GOP candidates come running at the snap of a finger:
I tried to discuss the debate. He wasn't interested in talking much politics. We talked a few minor things, some people, a little bit about Obama, some of the people in the Republican field, and he did say that it was curious, "All these people are calling, wanting my endorsement, and they won't show up at this debate." He said, "I gotta praise Newt. I mean Newt's the first guy that shows up. He's got guts; he's got courage. Santorum." I tried to engage him a couple times, and all he wanted to talk about was how great his golf course was.