This Boise State political expert has some thoughts about a GOP debate without Donald Trump
If Former President Donald Trump skips the first GOP presidential debate – and it's quite likely – Dr. Sam Martin, Frank and Bethine Church Chair of Public Service at Boise State says it poses a heightened challenge to those who will show up.
“How much will they punch at Donald Trump and the challenges he faces?” asked Martin. “And how much will they continue to offer him praise and support, despite the fact that he appears to be the frontrunner?”
Just prior to the event which accelerates the race for the White House, Martin joined Morning Edition host George Prentice to preview the debate and talk about Idaho Republican’s efforts to attract more candidates to visit the Gem State.
“The biggest thing I think almost everyone will be listening for is, ‘Will there be any conversation that extends past the former president?’”Dr. Sam Martin
Read the full transcript below:
GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. We're not certain if there is a beginning to any political season anymore, especially on the national landscape. But we should note this week's first debate of candidates running for president in 2024. There are specific fundraising and polling guidelines to participate in Wednesday's debate. We know that Mike Pence, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Chris Christie will likely be there. It looks like Donald Trump won't be there. That said, it's fair to say that the former president will be subject to some of that debate. Let's bring in Sam Martin, the Frank and Bethine Church, chair of public affairs in the School of Public Service at Boise State. Dr Martin, welcome back to the program.
DR. SAM MARTIN: Good morning. Love being here. Thanks so much.
PRENTICE: What will you be looking for or listening for Wednesday evening?
MARTIN: Well, so the biggest thing that I think almost everyone will be listening for is… “Will there be any conversation that extends past the former president and his role in the campaign?” And how much will the candidates that are on stage, how much will Ron DeSantis, Tim Scott, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswami, how much will they punch at Donald Trump and the challenges he faces? And how much will they continue to offer him praise and support despite the fact that he leads the field and appears to be the front runner? Because there's sort of two ways to look at Trump's decision at this point, at least to not participate in the debate. On the one hand, it's easy to argue from a political standpoint that he has little to gain and a lot to lose. He just runs the risk of getting blasted or having questions come that are hard to answer, or giving people the opportunity to say things that turn into fine soundbites. But on the other hand, as Republicans continue to put up with his refusal to participate in really what amounts to our democratic process and our campaign process, another norm that he continues to break, refusing to show up for debates, refusing to stand toe to toe with his contenders. You know, these norms, these breakdowns are at the heart of the disintegrating system. And so it's really interesting… or interesting is really the nicest word you can give it. It's concerning that he remains with more than 50% of Republican primary voters supporting him despite these serious allegations against him. And I would argue even more… despite the fact that he is running a campaign that is outside of what we normally look at as the way campaigns work and how candidates are supposed to be accountable to one another and ultimately accountable to the people. And not only just their supporters or not only those venues in which they really want to appear.
PRENTICE: To your point… on where those votes might come from in a general election… is it fair to say that the Republicans are losing ground on independents? When we look at the 2022 midterms, they lost a fair amount of independence on the issue of abortion.
MARTIN: I think what you're pointing to is the sort of dual problem in American politics right now between strong party identification and negative partisanship, which is to say that even though many people will say they are independents, they claim to be independents, especially at the presidential level, our research shows that people trend toward they're really looking for a candidate on one side or the other. And so I might say that I'm an independent, but almost every time or every single time, if you look back over the last 6 or 7 elections, I voted for the Republican or I voted for the Democrat. So my labeling myself an independent is ultimately meaningless because I'm not really up for grabs. But that couples with this idea that when it comes to policies, there are some policies that have some salience that appear in abortion, turns out to be one of them that will grab a constituency and cause them to shift and look. And when it comes to Republicans, there are two things that have happened with a very important constituency since the emergence of Trump, and that is that women and perhaps especially affluent women are really taking note. Suburban women of the ways that the Republican Party has talked about and framed the role of women in the world and their bodies. And that began with the Access Hollywood tape and the MeToo movement. And then that just led right into the overturning of Roe and the efforts with abortion. And so there's a way in which what has happened with abortion, you could trace it all the way back. And that group of women that was a constituency of people who were very likely to say they were independent but perhaps have been voting for Republicans, and all of a sudden they turned up and voted for Democrats. And once you vote, once a person votes outside of the lane that they had typically been in, it becomes more likely that they'll be more willing to do that. And so that's the risk that Republicans run.
PRENTICE: Let's talk for a few minutes about Idaho…and the Idaho Republican Party, which it appears is doing everything possible to get candidates to come here. If not for the vote, then for fundraising. This is a pretty important fundraising state for Republicans.
MARTIN: Yeah, it's a really important fundraising state for Republicans. And it's easy. The Mountain West, Idaho, we certainly qualify as what people think of as flyover country. And, you know, you can fit the whole state of Idaho into the city of Chicago, right. Or into lots of cities. And so it's easy to get a chip on our shoulder and think, hey, nobody cares about us, But we're really important because and we point out, like we donate a lot of money to especially GOP politics. But the only opportunity to really get any attention at the national level is going to be during the primary season because of what I just talked about, which is that it's Idaho is really not going to be a state in play. And so, you know, the Republican Party is putting these rules into place to try to, you know, sort of like half off to be on the ballot….
PRENTICE: They’re requiring a certain fee to be on the ballot. But they're willing to waive a good chunk of that fee if you come here.
MARTIN: Right. And, you know, the Frank Church Institute actually did a poll a couple of years ago and it showed that…there's a way in which… I'm glad to see the Republicans doing that because it showed that it's not it's perhaps not surprising, but it does reinforce the frustration that citizens feel, which is, you know, the Institute did a poll and it showed that citizens in the Mountain West, citizens across the Mountain West in states like Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada, they feel like the federal government doesn't care about them and that the government doesn't understand them. And so if those candidates would come here, it's healthy for our democracy. And so to think about everything that I've been talking about, if we could go back and look at the idea that we have to have a democratic process that people participate in and that people trust, the only way that can work is, is if candidates come and talk to the people on the ground, even if they think their vote is a foregone conclusion. And so I'm glad to see the Republicans doing this, even if it feels a little bit hokey, if you look at it through the wrong lens.
PRENTICE: Dr. Sam Martin is the Frank and Bethine Church Chair of Public Affairs in the School of Public Service at Boise State. Dr. Martin have a great semester. And we look forward to many conversations through the political season. And thanks for giving us some time this morning.
MARTIN: It's my pleasure to talk to you, George. Thanks so much for having me.
Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren
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