On Wednesday, the fourth Republican primary debate ended similarly to the previous three, with no candidate making up any ground on overwhelming frontrunner Donald Trump. And once again, Trump’s decision to skip the debate did not hurt his standing in the contest.

So have these Trump-less debates just been an utter waste of time?

On some level, yes. Just as only the most fervent football fans would watch a game between the two worst teams in the league, few Republican voters are interested in spending time watching candidates battle for a (distant) second place.

But it doesn’t mean they haven’t been instructive.

First, Trump proved wrong those who thought that the famously undisciplined candidate wouldn’t be able to resist the bright lights of a debate stage and the opportunity to humiliate his opponents. Trump made the strategically smart decision that many frontrunners do; starve your opponents of the political oxygen necessary to stay alive.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we are going to see a more disciplined campaigner in the fall. His rallies, media interviews and social media posts

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