Will Trump chicken out of the presidential debate? Probably. He's a Grade-A coward.

The breathless advance coverage of the first debate between President Joe Biden and a well-known convicted felon has overlooked one key question: Will Donald Trump actually show up?

Until we see him set foot on the debate stage Thursday night in Atlanta, there’s a strong chance the former president chickens out and runs to the safety of a rally where he can comfortably air his myriad grievances and extract money from his gullible fans.

It wouldn’t be the first time he has blown off a debate. He refused to attend the second of three scheduled presidential debates in 2020 because it would be held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

And this year, he blew off all the GOP presidential primary debates.

Trump blasts out conspiracy theories ahead of a debate he clearly fears

Former President Donald Trump campaigns for reelection in Philadelphia on June 22, 2024.
Former President Donald Trump campaigns for reelection in Philadelphia on June 22, 2024.

Thursday's debate is on CNN with hosts Jake Tapper and Dana Bash moderating. There will be no audience, and the microphones will be cut off so only one candidate can speak at a time. These are all things Trump agreed to, but that hasn't stopped him and his allies from using unhinged conspiracy theories to lay down suppressive fire ahead of what they’re already claiming will be a “rigged” debate.

It’s on CNN, so it’s rigged against Trump! The moderators are Trump haters! Best of all, of course, is the now-gospel belief in the right-wing media ecosystem that Biden will be juiced up on some kind of magical elixir of youth.

Presidential debate prep: Trump spent the weekend lying. Biden prepped. Thursday's debate will be interesting.

“He’s gonna be so pumped up,” Trump said of Biden at a recent Wisconsin rally. “He’s gonna be pumped up.”

With what? The Super Soldier Serum that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America?

Trump's MAGA minions peddle pathetic claim Biden will be on drugs

President Joe Biden on June 17, 2024.
President Joe Biden on June 17, 2024.

Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller said the former president is always “demonstrating elite stamina” and “does not need to be programmed by staff or shot up with chemicals like Joe Biden does.”

What are the chemicals? Who knows? The lunkheaded speculation runs from simple caffeine to cocaine to vague “performance-enhancing drugs.” Where is the evidence? There is none. When you live in MAGA-Fantasyland, no evidence is required, just fever-swamp daydreams.

Trump has called for a drug test prior to the debate, ironic coming from a guy who keeps getting on rally stages and babbling nonsensically about sharks and Hannibal Lecter.

We must stop pretending Trump is a normal candidate

But despite all this preemptive excuse-making, many in the news media continue to presume Trump will show up at Thursday night’s debate and behave like a normal political candidate. He won’t because he is not in any way, nor has he ever been, a normal political candidate.

Presidential debate banner on the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, ahead of the first debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump on June 27, 2024.
Presidential debate banner on the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, ahead of the first debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump on June 27, 2024.

He is a narcissist and a liar. He is a convicted felon and an election denier. He is wholly disinterested in policy and singularly focused on grifting his followers and covering his own behind.

Either Trump won't show up at the debate, or he'll storm out

There are only a few honest scenarios that can be teased out ahead of the debate.

The first, as mentioned before, is Trump turns tail and runs away from the debate, screaming about how it’s unfair and he’s treated so horribly and everyone is out to get him. A WHAAAAAAAAmbulance is dispatched to pick him up and deliver him to a nearby MAGA rally, where he delivers a record-breaking two continuous hours of woe-is-me-ing.

Young voters are watching: Gen Z will be watching Trump and Biden debate. Will the old guys say the right things?

The second possibility is Trump shows up to the debate and then, after having his microphone cut off a couple of times or hearing a question about his own behavior that he considers unfair, storms off the stage, creating a dramatic, faux-tough-guy scene he can use to raise more money to pay his copious legal bills.

And if Trump does stay, it will be all noise and chaos and lies

The third possibility is Trump shows up and goes through the whole debate, acting like the oafish boor he is, hollering when his mic is off, making up fact-free nonsense about “rigged elections” and a “Biden crime wave” and whatever else passes through his spider-filled brain.

Then, afterward, he rails against the moderators, makes up more lies about Biden being on drugs, claims complete and total victory, says that “many are calling it the greatest debate performance they’ve ever seen,” and then puts out a slew of transparently scam-like fundraising emails trumpeting how the media and the deep state are trying to destroy him.

How some still pretend there’s anything remotely normal about Trump is beyond me. The only thing he is at this point is predictable. You know he'll do all these crazy things because those are EXACTLY the same crazy things he has always done.

The bar for Biden at the debate has been set so low a snake could trip over it. But despite all the “Sleepy Joe” rhetoric coming from Trump and his Republican allies, it’s clear they know Thursday night might not end well for Trump.

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That’s why my money is on him fleeing like the coward he has repeatedly shown himself to be.

He’s going to say he won, no matter what. Why bother showing up in the first place?

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Will Trump show up to Thursday's debate with Biden? Probably not