For Republican presidential candidates, it appears that debate attendance is optional and that it might actually help their campaigns.
Rand Paul proved as much earlier this month when he opted out of the last Republican debate on Fox Business Network. Now, Donald Trump is giving the tactic a try. The GOP frontrunner announced this week that he would not be attending the party's next presidential debate after engaging in a political game of chicken with host network Fox News.
If Paul is any indicator, Trump's bet will work out. After failing to make the cut for the January 14 main stage event held in South Carolina, the libertarian senator went on a week-long media blitz. He stopped by "The Dr. Oz Show," sipped on bourbon with Trevor Noah during a singles night debate on "The Daily Show," and made multiple appearances on cable news networks.
Ratings-wise, the appearances paid off. Based on the show's averages, CNN Politics estimates the Paul interviews were likely watched by at least seven million people. The undercard debate to which the senator had been assigned averaged just two million viewers (the primetime debate had 11 million).
Paul also held a competing event with the debate, hosting his own #RandRally, an interactive town hall live from Twitter's New York City office. "Turn the TV off. Choose liberty, unfiltered and direct from the source," he wrote in a campaign email.
Again, it worked. Paul's event hashtag was the third-most popular hashtag in the U.S. on Twitter, and he gained the fourth-most Twitter followers after the debate of all the GOP candidates.