The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Donald Trump on a debate stage is Republicans’ worst nightmare

Let's start here: Donald Trump doesn't think super highly of my abilities.

So, he's not likely to agree with me when I say this: Having Donald Trump on the Republican debate stage come August, which is when the first presidential debate is scheduled, would be a total nightmare for the Republican Party.

Here's why: Donald Trump will say almost anything to get a rise out of people. He is in the entertainment business, a professional provocateur of some renown. The business he is not in, of course, is politics.

That's a big problem for a party desperately working to prove it is ready, willing and able to take the reins of government back from Democrats. The most important thing for Republicans to accomplish in this debate season is to show they are serious about governance and have ideas on how to do things better than Barack Obama has done over the past eight-ish years. It's why Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus moved very early in the 2016 race to limit the number of debates and to have a much more active role in choosing who gets to host them. He wants to put the best face of the Republican Party forward.

[Your next president, Donald Trump, basically tweets like a 12-year old]

Trump has the potential to blow up those well-laid plans. He will interrupt, bully and seek to dominate the  debate in ways that will make it impossible to get a word in edge-wise. And, if past is prologue, the sorts of things he does say when he gains control of the debate floor will be stuff that appeals heavily to the Republican base and turns off, well, almost everyone else.

The Trump problem is particularly relevant given two stories -- one in The Post, one in the New York Times -- over the past 24 hours that lay out the challenges before Republican Party leaders when it comes to who should and shouldn't be included in the debates. If polling averages are used -- and they have almost always been used in the past as a way to separate wheat from chaff in terms of debate inclusion -- then it may be hard to keep Trump out.

While it's possible Trump's poll numbers collapse between now and August, that doesn't seem very likely since much of how you perform in national polling at this point is a function of pure name recognition, and Trump has plenty of that.

The best case for Republicans to avoid Trump on a debate stage is to limit the debates to announced candidates for president -- and, in so doing, effectively call Trump's bluff. Trump would be forced to either declare or admit that his "interest" in this race is just like his "interest" in every other presidential race: A made-up thing designed to get attention.

The Republican Party has three months to figure it out. But make no mistake: If Donald Trump takes the debate stage in Ohio come August, it's a big loss for a Republican Party desperately trying to prove itself anew to a skeptical public.

Donald Trump spoke on his personal wealth, China, Secretary of State John Kerry's bike accident and more in the top moments from his presidential announcement. (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

This post initially went up May 13.