Eight Republican hopefuls — but not former President Trump — will meet Wednesday night in Milwaukee for the first debate of the 2024 presidential campaign season.
The debate will be a great opportunity for Trump’s rivals, who are far behind in polls of Republican voters, to get some attention. This is especially true for the lesser-known hopefuls, to whom the debate can serve as an introduction to many voters.
Trump’s absence is likely to reduce viewership for the live broadcast, but that may not matter much — a primary goal of candidates in debates is to create attention-grabbing moments that go viral on social media.
Who’s on stage?
The Republican National Committee announced Monday evening that these eight candidates had met the criteria of 40,000 individual donors and 1% support in the qualifying polls:
Governor Doug Burgum of North Dakota
Former Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida
Former Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina
Former Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas
Former Vice President Mike Pence
Vivek Ramaswamy, a businessman
South Carolina Senator Tim Scott
Three other hopefuls, Larry Elder, a radio talk show host in California; Perry Johnson, a businessman who was running for governor of Michigan; and Francis X. Suarez, the mayor of Miami, attempted to qualify but failed to make the RNC’s cutoff.
Elder and Johnson have protested, saying they plan to travel to Milwaukee anyway.
Where is Trump?
The former president announced on Sunday that he would not participate in debates, citing his large lead in the polls.
“The public knows who I am and what a successful presidency I’ve had,” he said on his Truth Social site. “That’s why I’m not going to do the debates.”
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Trump taped an interview with Tucker Carlson, the former Fox News star who was fired in April. His campaign has not said when the interview will be released, but Trump is widely expected to do so during the debate.
His aides have said Trump will be at his Bedminster, NJ, resort on Wednesday evening, though several candidates have reportedly prepared for the possibility that he could show up mid-debate and demand to take the stage.
On Thursday, he will travel to Atlanta to surrender to authorities and face felony charges in the case brought by Fulton County Dist. Atty. Fani Willis accuses him of racketeering in connection with his efforts to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results.
Where will the debate be broadcast?
Fox News is hosting the debate in front of a live audience in Milwaukee. The moderators will be presenters Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum.
The RNC also plans to stream the debate on Rumble, a free online video-sharing platform with a heavily Republican audience. Co-sponsoring the debate can be important for the platform. A Pew Research Center survey last year found that 20% of American adults had heard of Rumble, but only 2% received regular news of it. Of those who did get news from the site, three-quarters identified as Republicans.
What time is the debate?
The debate begins at 6 p.m. Pacific Time and continues until 8 p.m
What do the polls show?
Trump has a big lead for his party’s nomination, as he has had for most of the year. He has just over half the vote in the average of the national polls tracked by the FiveThirtyEight website.
A distant second nationally, DeSantis has lost significant support in recent weeks. He is now at 21% in the poll average. Ramaswamy, who has recently received support, ranks third with 9%. Pence, Scott, Haley and Christie are close together at 3% to 4% each. Burgum and Hutchinson are trailing at less than 1%.
In Iowa, where the first game of the race will be held on January 15, and where the candidates have already spent time and money, the game is a bit more exciting and has a different order:
Trump has the support of 42% of likely participants in the state’s Republican caucuses, according to a survey released Monday by veteran Iowa pollster J. Ann Selzer.
DeSantis had the 19% support. Scott, who has aired extensive television advertising in the state and focused on the support of the large bloc of evangelical voters, ranked third with 9%, followed by Haley and Pence, with 6% each, Christie with 5% and Ramaswamy by 4%.
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This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.