The debates have basically become a contest over which not-Romney candidate can draw the most blood from the frontrunner. This is great for voters, who get to see Mitt Romney’s positions challenged, and great for the other candidates, who get a chance to try to knock him down a peg. But there’s not much of a benefit there for Romney, whose campaign floated the idea to Byron York that he may sit out some of the upcoming debates:
“There are too many of these,” Romney strategist Stuart Stevens said after Monday night’s Fox News debate at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. ”We have to bring some order to it. We haven’t accepted Florida…It’s kind of like a cruise that’s gone on too long.” …
More generally, Stevens suggested that in the long course of the campaign, this year’s key issues have been exhausted. “We’re down to the most obscure questions,” he said. “When more than ten debates mention Chilean models, and it’s not a fashion show, then something’s wrong.”
Rick Perry’s next move after this weekend’s primary could factor into this. Perry insists he’ll continue on to Florida, but he’s polling in a distant last place in South Carolina, which raises the possibility that he may not last much longer in the race. If Perry does drop out, would it even be realistic for the networks to hold a debate without Romney? That would leave just Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul on the stage — not a very interesting contest. If voters don’t tune in, it could mean an end to the primary debates and almost certain victory for Romney.
But skipping debates wouldn’t be without significant risks for Romney. It could be viewed as a snub to Florida voters, as if he was taking his support in the state for granted. And it would definitely leave him open to attack from other candidates. It really depends on what the public interest in debates is like at that point – if voters are just as tired of them as Romney is, then it might not make a difference to them what he decides to do.