In a typically rambling speech in Macon, Georgia, last night, Trump said he had been treated unfairly by CNN, so, “How about I tell CNN, who doesn’t treat me properly ... I’m not gonna do the next debate, okay? ... I won’t do the debate unless they pay me $5 million, all of which goes to Wounded Warriors or goes to vets!” Trump has not mastered public policy, but he has figured out two of the most basic political tricks: bash the media and shamelessly use troops as props.
But the $5 million ransom is dangerous for Trump. He needs free media. Last night, he also compared himself to Moneyball, saying he was leading the race despite having spent the lowest amount of campaign cash compared to his rivals. Trump has only been able to do that by getting an enormous amount of media coverage, partly because of to his willingness to play along with the press. He gives a ton of interviews. He’ll comment on almost any story—even a story as small as the Civil War plaque on his Washington golf course that is full of lies. And his debate performances generate a ton of attention, because he insults people and makes funny faces. If Trump skips the debate, he’ll be starving his own campaign.
In September, Trump suggested CNN donate its profits from the debate to veterans, but didn’t make his appearance contingent on it. CNN did not pay up. It seems unlikely CNN will pay ransom this time. So has Trump drawn a red line he can’t hold? He did leave himself a little wiggle room, saying, “The problem is they’ll say ‘Trump is chicken.’ ... One thing I’m not is chicken, okay?” We’ll see! The debate is December 15.