DES MOINES, Iowa—What have the Republican debates ever done for Donald Trump? They’ve generally featured a bunch of other candidates taking shots at the frontrunner, who tended to perform listlessly, making faces and lashing out at his foes every now and then. They’ve seemed to have no effect on his standing in the polls. And sometimes the moderators—notably Fox News’s Megyn Kelly—have gotten under his skin.
So when Trump declared, after being insulted by Kelly and Fox, that he would skip Thursday’s affair—the candidates’ final face-off before Monday’s Iowa caucuses—there was a certain logic to it. He could be found, instead, across town, in a medium-sized auditorium on the campus of Drake University, holding a “benefit” event for veterans, though he’s yet to provide evidence that the money raised has gone to any actual veterans’ groups.
“I didn’t want to be here, I have to be honest,” Trump proclaimed, after striding up to the microphone to Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” “I wanted to be about five minutes away.” He noted that “all the online polls” had given his debate performances high marks. “But you have to stick up for your rights,” he said. “When you’ve been treated badly, you have to stick up for your rights…. And that’s what our country has to do.”