Former President Donald J. Trump will not be participating in the first debate of the 2024 presidential primary, set to take place in Milwaukee on Wednesday. However, the rest of the Republican field is all but set for the debate, with at least eight candidates qualifying to be on stage. These candidates include Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota, former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, former Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, former Vice President Mike Pence, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. Several other candidates, including Perry Johnson, the businessman who previously ran for governor of Michigan, Francis X. Suarez, the mayor of Miami, and Larry Elder, a talk-show host who ran for governor of California, have yet to receive confirmation on their qualification status.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) had set a deadline for candidates to accumulate at least 40,000 donors and hit 1 percent in a certain number of qualifying national and state polls. While the RNC has published specific rules about qualifying polls, there remains some ambiguity as to which polls count. The RNC is expected to announce the final list of candidates on Tuesday.
Former President Trump's decision to skip the debate has garnered attention, with many focusing on Gov. DeSantis, who has consistently polled in second place. The debate will be broadcast on Fox News at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, with Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum serving as moderators. This debate will be a crucial moment for many voters, as it will be the first opportunity to learn about and hear directly from many candidates who have been campaigning across early states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
However, it remains uncertain how much the debate will affect the race, as Trump continues to lead the field by large margins in polls. The hosts of the debate have stated their intention to make Trump a presence in the debate through quotes and clips, despite his absence on stage. The candidates have been preparing for weeks, with DeSantis hiring a debate coach, Pence holding practice sessions, and Ramaswamy conducting sessions with advisors on his private plane.
The debate will provide an opportunity for some lesser-known candidates, such as Gov. Burgum, to introduce themselves to a national audience and showcase their biographies and credentials. Breaking through the media attention surrounding Trump will require a viral moment for these candidates, and their strategies remain undisclosed.
There has been some back-and-forth between the candidates regarding Trump's absence. Christie has called Trump a “coward” for skipping the debate, while other candidates have sought to position themselves as Trump critics without being overly critical of his administration, such as Haley, who served as ambassador under Trump. Pence has faced challenges in the race due to his perceived betrayal to Trump during the certification of President Biden's victory. Trump himself has not completely stepped out of the spotlight, as he plans to post an interview with Tucker Carlson as counterprogramming to the debate.
As the debate approaches, the candidates are aware that Trump's absence will likely result in increased scrutiny on the rest of the field, particularly on DeSantis, who is seen as the leading candidate on stage. Scott has gained momentum in Iowa, rising to third place in some polls, but has yet to catch up to DeSantis. The candidates' performances in the debate will be critical in shaping the narrative of the race moving forward.
In conclusion, while Trump's decision to skip the debate has dominated the headlines, the rest of the Republican field is gearing up for their moment on stage. The debate will provide an opportunity for lesser-known candidates to introduce themselves to a national audience and for the leading contenders to differentiate themselves from Trump. The candidates are aware of the challenges they face in breaking through the media attention surrounding Trump and are preparing their strategies accordingly. The debate will be a pivotal moment in the race, as it marks the first time many voters will tune in and engage with the candidates.
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