Republished with permission from Steve Schmidt
Donald Trump, the twice-impeached, disgraced former president of the United States and accused felon will be a no-show in Milwaukee for the Fox News, moderated debate by Bret Baier and Martha McCallum.
Before going further, Bret Baier is a major player in this moment of national tragedy. It was Bret Baier, who was on the Fox anchor desk on election night. It was his job to inform, to tell the American people who were tuned in to a cable news station that calls itself “fair and balanced” what reality was, what the truth was.
The reality was, the audience had been conditioned by election day, and Bret Baier knew it. He knew they didn’t want to hear the truth. He knew there was risk for informing them about reality. Tucker Carlson understood the risk as well. So it’s important to understand there is no difference—no difference—of moral standing between Tucker Carlson, who will be with Donald Trump on Wednesday night, and Bret Baier, who will be with the Republican candidates who seek to dethrone Donald Trump.
Donald Trump isn’t coming to the debate, though the debate will still be about Donald Trump. It will give his opponents an opportunity to show their mettle, to show their character, who is and who is not terrified of the coming mean tweet after the debate, and just exactly how delusional Vivek Ramaswamy is. All of these questions, and then some, will be answered at the Milwaukee debate.
One of the most unifying issues at this moment in American life is this: the American people—Democrats, independents, Republicans—do not want to see Donald Trump return to power. They do not want to see the MAGA retribution fantasies come to life, and another presidential term. They want to move on. We want something better. This is the “exhausted majority” that I often talk about.
There is an exhausted majority in this country, who is tuning out the news, tuning out the nonsense. But the fact is, the danger the country faces is from the MAGA minority joining to become a narrow majority with a coalition of indifference. Indifference plus extremism could be enough to win a contest in the Electoral College for Donald Trump.
Remember, this isn’t a sprint. It’s not golf. The rules aren’t fair. The start is uneven. The race isn’t clean, so to speak. One side has advantages over the other, and will apply them and press them with no mercy whatsoever.
Now, Donald Trump won’t show up at the debate. And he’ll be told, at least initially, that that was the smart thing to do. It was the right thing to do. Because he’s so big, and he’s so far out from it. But that doesn’t matter. Because those polling numbers mean nothing at this stage in the race.
There are four big things that have happened thus far in the Republican primary. The first is that Donald Trump stands accused of 90 felonies over multiple jurisdictions, including New York, the state of Georgia, and federal indictments.
Ron DeSantis, who was for a brief shining moment, the alternative, has completely collapsed. Tim Scott has moved into position in the state of Iowa to be a winner. Chris Christie is precisely in the position that John McCain was during his comeback in the New Hampshire primary coming out of the summer, and making the turn into September. That’s what’s happened thus far. All of the other candidates are non-entities. We already know that Ron DeSantis is going to attack Vivek Ramaswamy.
In a weird sideshow, who knows what Mike Pence will say about the man who tried to have him hung, or what the formerly sycophantic Nikki Haley will say?
And what Trump will be watching for is what Chris Christie says. Chris Christie should seek to demolish Ron DeSantis, and anybody who serves as Donald Trump’s proxy on that debate stage to give the American people a taste of what a debate with Donald Trump on the stage with Chris Christie will be. Donald Trump doesn’t understand that the debate will still be about him. He just won’t be there to defend himself. Instead, he’ll be over on Tucker Carlson’s Twitter cast, talking nonsense, spinning insanities and conspiracy theories.
He will, with each spoken word, poison the American body politic. He will add to his countless volumes of lies, numbered at this point in the 10s and 10s of 1000s. He will say that an election was rigged, when it was not. He will say that it was stolen, when it was not. He will try to paint himself as a victim. He will rage. He will talk about retribution and retaliation. He will not speak about the country. He will not talk about making it stronger. Instead, he will smear it. He will smear its institutions, and Tucker Carlson will steer him through that conversation. It will be steeped in racial malice, and in division. It will be two liars, poisoning America. It will mean nothing at all to the millions and millions and millions of hardworking Americans who are tuning out all of this bullshit, tired of it, exhausted by it, but who don’t wish to tolerate it any longer either.
We are told, over and over and over again, by all of the geniuses who have missed almost every happening over the last seven years, that for sure Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee. I’m not so sure. There is not a national primary election day. There is a succession of state contests. And what has to happen for Trump to implode to deflate and fade away is for him to lose Iowa. And then for him to lose New Hampshire. Then the mystique will suddenly be gone, and the predator will be the prey. It is a vicious game. And let’s face it. Donald Trump doesn’t look like he’s on his A-game.
He looks stressed, tired, hunted. He knows the walls are closing in. His campaign is a grift. It’s incoherent. Every dollar raised goes to a lawyer and the Republican Party because of its crisis of cowardice, because of a depravity that has seeped deep into the Republican soul. The party is going down with the ship. The Republican Party is Donald Trump, and Donald Trump is the Republican Party. MAGA and the Republican Party are each other’s vessels. Each hollow, each able to carry each other’s agendas. Each agenda poisonous for America’s future.
The MAGA agenda is going to be on criminal trial. And the MAGA agenda will face a political test. The test though is on the shoulders of the American people. We are told over and over again by a broken media is that what we want, as a country, is Trump. That we want this as our politics. It’s a billion-dollar industry. And it doesn’t seem to matter to anybody in it, that people are turning it off and tuning it out. And that most of the people in the boxes on television have no credibility whatsoever, and live lives that are completely detached from the lives of ordinary working Americans.
They’re in the business of puffing up Trump. They are his indispensable business partners. Donald Trump is simply sending them a message by refusing to appear on Fox News. He’s unhappy. He’s aggrieved. What he’s saying is, “I’m going to take the money, the rapes, and bring them over here to this guy. Though he hates me, he has been faithful to me.”
This is the sick MAGA world—make no mistake, the decision to fire Tucker Carlson was because Fox News lied its way into almost a billion dollars in defamation liabilities. All of these things are connected.
Bret Baier and Tucker Carlson are the same millionaire liars who deceived the American people with misinformation, the tip of the spear in a billion-dollar disinformation economy. Donald Trump is staging a walkout and heading over to Twitter. There we see a startling duality. The men and women who seek for him to be President of the United States, the man, the accused criminal, who they were all slavishly devoted to, with Tucker Carlson, outside, cast out.
There is disloyalty everywhere. And then on the stage, will be all the pretenders hoping and praying that they could be the person who rises up if Trump suddenly deflates. There’s one person who’s different, and he’s far from perfect. That guy is Chris Christie. He knows Trump. He knows him well. He was the only guy who ever sat amongst them with Donald Trump. That’s how we related to him. Chris Christie’s friend Donald almost killed him by giving him COVID during debate prep. Chris Christie has been telling the truth about Donald Trump, and more importantly than that, he’s been doing it effectively. He has been cutting Trump, and will continue to do so when he steps up and gets into a room in New Hampshire.
Don’t underestimate the importance of New Hampshire. They won’t like a candidate like Trump, who doesn’t show up. They didn’t forgive Rudy Giuliani for it in 2008.
The race is far from over. This debate is going to get Donald Trump the exact result he didn’t want. It’s going to put him at the center of attention and unable to respond to the truth. The person who’s going to deliver that truth on the stage is Chris Christie, and the people who will try to stop it, who will try to oppose it with their BS, are not particularly talented.
It’s going to be fun watching the New Jersey governor steamroll Trump and the other candidates. Donald Trump will be at the second debate, and he’ll be at every one after that because his ego can’t handle not being in the room—the room where it happens, and he won’t be in there. The room where it happens in is any room that Tucker Carlson isn’t in anymore. There will be many twists and turns in the race ahead.
Buckle up. This debate is the start of the interesting phase of the campaign.
Steve Schmidt is a political analyst for MSNBC and NBC News. He served as a political strategist for George W. Bush and the John McCain presidential campaign. Schmidt is a founder of The Lincoln Project, a group founded to campaign against former President Trump. It became the most financially successful Super-PAC in American history, raising almost $100 million to campaign against Trump's failed 2020 re-election bid. He left the group in 2021.