Once Newt Gingrich accepted the invitation to Donald Trump's debate, the oh-so-wise political pundit class predicted (well, I predicted) that what was supposed to be a sideshow event would turn into a full-on debate. After all, Newt is currently leading the polls, so what candidate would pass on the opportunity to attack the former House speaker exactly one week before the Iowa caucuses?
Turns out, it's an offer most of them felt fine refusing:
Michele Bachmann has officially said “no” to the Donald Trump-moderated Newsmax debate scheduled for later this month… this leaves just two candidates— Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum—who plan to show up at the Dec. 27 event in Des Moines.
Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Rick Perry, Ron Paul have all declined to attend. Perry became the latest to decline Trump’s invitation on Thursday.
Beyond owning up to my own mistaken predictions, it's interesting that Gingrich will be debating Santorum one-on-one, a format Gingrich has favored of late. He went to Texas last month to face Herman Cain in a Lincoln-Douglas style debate and is scheduled for another against Jon Huntsman in New Hampshire on Monday night. That first debate was a friendly affair, with the two declining to criticize the other. That won't be the case for these next two, as both Huntsman and Santorum make their final desperate gasps at gaining traction in their preferred states.
I haven't looked at my presidential history, but it seems rare that a candidate would face off against so many individual opponents beyond the usual group debate format (excluding the final primary debates when all of the other candidates have dropped out). If things stay consistent, Gingrich is on a path to trade wins with Mitt Romney for the first month of the primary, making it likely the two will share the stage until late next spring.