Fox News is just not ready to let go of its recent debate scuffle with Donald Trump.
As results poured in showing Trump underperforming in the Iowa caucuses, Fox News analysts hypothesized that Trump’s decision to skip last week’s GOP cost him dearly, according to a Media Matters round-up.
In particular, they theorized that participating in the debate contributed to Marco Rubio’s late-in-the-game surge to a solid third place finish.
Fox News correspondent John Roberts laid out the theory:
“Also Bret, interesting to point out that Donald Trump did not do particularly well with people who decided late,” Roberts discussed with his colleague, Fox News anchor Bret Baier. “Marco Rubio seems to be doing better with them, so he may come to rue the day that he did not show up for that final debate on Thursday night because a lot of people were looking to that debate for some signals on how to make up their mind. Trump was not there.”
He added that Trump’s absence may have pushed “late deciders” to “go a different way.”
Baier ran with the theory, asking a number of Fox News analysts and regular guests if they agreed.
Fox News panelist Charles Krauthammer said he wasn’t “sure that you can draw a firm conclusion” when Baier asked him how Trump’s debate boycott affected the night’s results.
“The fact that he’s getting half the late deciders, I mean, half as many of the late deciders as Rubio, would indicate that he’s rising and perhaps part of it is a result that Rubio did well in the debate and Trump was a no-show,” Krauthammer said.
Baier floated the idea to conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, asking her to look “at the numbers and the surge that perhaps other candidates, Ted Cruz, Rubio had,” and weigh in on “the debate had any effect on these numbers?”
Baier presented the question to Fox News contributor Stephen Hayes as well, asking him if “can we definitively say that not going to the debate hurt Trump, a strategic error, that close?”
Pundit Kirsten Powers suggested that “Trump missed an opportunity to make his closing arguments” and “it looks like he’s paying a price for it here.”
Fox News commentator Dana Perino argued that two polls that showed Rubio gaining traction were a “direct result” of the debate, comparing it to the last cycle, when “45 percent of people decided after the last debate in 2012.”
“I think that looks like it could be true this time as well,” she said.
While other guests couched their read of the theory, Fox Business Network host Neil Cavuto said it was “going to come through loud and clear.”
“One thing that’s going to come through loud and clear is how different this night might have been for Donald Trump — and this isn’t just because I work at Fox — had he participated in that debate,” he said.