WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 (Xinhua) — U.S. Republication frontrunner Donald Trump boycotted Thursday night’s presidential debate, but he still could clinch the Republican Party (GOP) nomination for the 2016 race for the White House, experts said.
Trump burst onto the political scene in summer, and has outlasted many analysts’ predictions that he would be just a flash in the pan, but the brash and outspoken mogul continues to lead the other GOP candidates, riding on a wave of anti-Washington sentiment and a general sense among Americans that the country is headed in the wrong direction.
“It might very well be the person who wasn’t even there,” Princeton University Professor Julian Zelizer told Xinhua when asked what the Thursday’s debate.
Indeed, observers opined that the debate was somewhat dull and dry without the controversial Trump, whose colorful language and what critics call over-the-top language have caused him to dominate the news cycle.
“The low voltage discussion reveals why voters in some states might find Trump so much more appealing to listen to,” added Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs.
Brookings Institution’s senior fellow Darrell West told Xinhua that Trump will not be hurt by missing one debate, since he is still the center of media attention.
Some experts added that missing the debate may even help him, as he will avoid media and competitor scrutiny just days before Monday’s Iowa Caucuses.
If Trump showed up, there would likely be many questions from media and rival candidates, and that could have raised some doubts with voters.
The debate itself lacked the star power that Trump usually gives to such events.
Dan Mahaffee, an analyst with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, told Xinhua: “Some might say that the winner was Trump, since he avoided any of the attacks from other candidates.”
Still, the debate did allow some candidates to tell the audience more about their positions, without the distraction of Trump.
Mahaffee said that with Trump’s absence, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush had a much stronger performance, but it remains to be seen whether that would be enough to change his momentum.
Indeed, Bush was just months ago considered a shoo-in for the GOP nomination, but has run a lackluster campaign and has not been able to rival Trump’s bombast and in-your-face style.
“Of the frontrunners, I would say that Rubio had the strongest night,” Mahaffee said, referring to the Florida Senator.
“With Trump not there, the debate focused largely on policy differences between the candidates. Given that Trump was not there as the wild card in the debate, many of the other candidates were able to more consistently hit their key talking points, and the structure of the debate was far more traditional,” he said.