GOP Primary Obviously Isn’t Over, but the First Debate Is Crucial

If one is to believe the prevailing narrative from Donald Trump’s current campaign to retake the White House, the 2024 Republican presidential primary might as well be over. The former president has been consistently dominating the top-line horse race polling for months now, the argument goes, despite (or perhaps because of?) the fact he has now been criminally indicted four separate times, by three different prosecutors, in four different jurisdictions. Therefore, the Trump triumphalists shout from their rooftops, the other candidates should just drop out right now. “Spare your dignity and coronate Trump today!!!”

This argument is absurd for approximately a million different reasons.

First, and perhaps most important, the last time I checked the calendar, it still said, “August 2023.” While commentators, campaign operatives and political junkies with apparently nothing else better to do in their free time are already intensely following the Republican presidential primary, the same is simply not true for the vast majority of Americans who largely tune out the news during the dog days of summer. A political party’s first televised presidential primary debate marks the unofficial beginning of its normal, non-activist voter base paying attention in earnest. Yes, Trump has maintained a stubborn lead in the national horse race polls for months now. But it is still ridiculously early.

Second, and perhaps next important, it is totally unclear what shape Trump might find himself in six months from now, to say nothing of one year from now. Many of the former president’s “coronate him today!”-style enthusiasts tend to suppose, because of the thoroughly unjust nature of the ruling class’s sprawling multistate legal persecution of Trump, that he will be inevitably exonerated from all charges and acquitted of all legal woes.