The notion that the debates are...well...debates is off-the-wall. I have to admit to watching only snippets this time around but have seen enough to come to some conclusions. They tend toward arguments carried out by the candidates with the interrogators, as well as with each other, with lots of fire, no light. The nastiest one was staged by CNBC, which has been blackballed by the RNC as a result, canceling a February revisit and giving the lucrative prize to CNN instead.
Though not a Trump supporter, I think he has grounds for refusing the second Fox effort on the basis that by both word and body-language in the first go-around Fox's Megyn Kelly planned and carried out an effort not to interrogate Trump but to commit character assassination right out of the gate. She was practically frothing at the mouth when she tried to picture Trump as a woman-hater, something the media had trumpeted for some time – silly. Then, concerning the current imbroglio, Fox put out a sophomoric tweet ridiculing Trump vis-a-vis the ayatollah [Khameini?] and Putin. According to Trump, this was the last straw.
It's amazing that the Fox news-establishment, which must have known of the plan, allowed it to go forward; however, Fox gurus like Charles Krauthammer and others (especially with the Weekly Standard and National Review backgrounds) had begun belittling Trump long before the debate. It's obvious that the networks, so-called mainline and cable, have their agendas and have favorite candidates. In other words, they act as much as the campaign officials do to get a favored candidate either elected or at least be a recipient of free air-time or both.
On the basis of polling, candidates were placed by the broadcasters on either of two levels, the lower a pre-non-primetime-group, with the main show at nine EST. This not only was unfair but ungainly, though with the number of candidates so large (democrats don't have that problem) how else to solve the problem? In effect, the broadcasters have much too big a hand in determining who does and does not get heard, even within the debates themselves, though the candidates get in their licks by substituting short speeches for answers to policy-questions.
Trump is the only candidate with charisma – he connects with people, the key element in showmanship, at which he is an expert. The others are t-o-o-o-o politically c-o-r-r-e-c-t to even chance a questionable remark, while Trump just doesn't care...says what he thinks as, for instance, shutting down Muslim immigration until it's proven safe. The elites – interrogators and candidates – gasp at such a remark, knowing full well that most citizens (and probably they) agree with him...just plain common sense, especially in light of San Bernardino and Paris, scenes of recent gratuitous Muslim bloodletting.
The debates would be greatly improved if the interrogators were actual reporters – who are likely to ask the right questions without giving speeches – and not the news-agencies' commentators, who are paid to express opinions, which, despite all efforts to avoid it, will creep into the debates. Kelly, for instance, obviously didn't like Trump so she tried to make him look bad. Significantly, she was the one who disappeared for a while after that debate. In the person of Bill O'Reilly, Fox's uber-star, the network groveled on 27 January at a Trump appearance already scheduled.
Trump's absence may help more than hurt him since multitudes of folks probably concluded after that debate that Fox had conspired against him. On the basis of its panels of “experts” such as the one at six each evening (Baier) and on Sunday mornings (Wallace) such conspiracy did take place, and that's yellow journalism, if journalism at all. The other networks are no better, and one longs for the days of the open conventions and smoke-filled rooms, all the silly Primaries be damned.
And so it goes.