He won’t be on stage, but Donald Trump will still be a central figure in the first debate of the GOP presidential primary on Wednesday night, when the remaining candidates running against President Joe Biden will contest in person for the first time. time.
The eight adversaries scheduled to attend the Milwaukee debate hosted by Fox News will likely face pressure to express how they would differ in style and substance from Trump, who has a commanding early lead in the race. That could be a tricky task, forcing candidates to decide how far they align with the former president’s more outlandish positions, including his lies about widespread fraud during the 2020 election.
With less than five months to go until the Iowa caucuses kick off the Republican Party’s presidential nomination process, the debate is a crucial opportunity for the lowest-ranking candidates to present themselves to millions of voters, many of which are just beginning to pay attention to the contest. The pressure is perhaps greatest on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who announced his campaign in May with great fanfare but has struggled to gain momentum since then and is now fighting to retain his distant second-place finish.
“It’s really important to the whole crowd and an opportunity for them to connect (with her),” said Larry Hogan, a former Republican governor of Maryland, who declined to run for office of his own. But the stakes, he added, are higher for DeSantis.
“It really is a matter of life and death for him, make it or fail. It’s finally time to show that he is a capable candidate. And if he doesn’t,” he added, “I think this could be the end (for him).”
In addition to DeSantis, the debate will include Tim Scott, Senator from South Carolina; Nikki Haley, former US ambassador to the UN; Vivek Ramaswamy, a biotech entrepreneur; Chris Christie, former Governor of New Jersey; former Vice President Mike Pence; and Asa Hutchinson, former Governor of Arkansas.
Doug Burgum, the governor of North Dakota, also qualified for the race. However, he may not be able to participate in Wednesday’s debate because he was injured playing basketball this week and had to be taken to an emergency room. Burgum plans to enter the arena despite him having a leg injury and then assess with his campaign whether he is fit to debate.
Trump is now the overwhelming favorite in the race, raising serious questions about whether the party will have a competitive primary. Still, Trump’s vulnerabilities in a general election are clear, especially in the wake of four criminal indictments accusing him of hoarding secret government documents, conspiring to overturn the 2020 election, and secretly paying money to keep a porn actress quiet. other women.
Yet Trump’s position in the primary has only strengthened as the allegations have mounted, leaving the GOP on track—barring a stunning realignment—to nominate a candidate who would enter the race against Biden in a potentially weak position.
A poll this month by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 64% of Americans are unlikely to support Trump if he is the Republican nominee, including 53% who say they definitely would not. and 11% who say they probably would not support it in November 2024.
At the Fiserv Forum in downtown Milwaukee, metal barricades stood outside what is also the home ground of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks as candidates, campaign staff and media gathered. Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), and local officials had scheduled an event to introduce local businesses ahead of next summer’s convention, which will also be held in the city, an indication that both parties are closely vying for supremacy in the state. The Democrats planned to hold rival events.
The RNC had set polling and donor thresholds and required contestants to sign a loyalty pledge in order to qualify for the debate, which will be moderated by Fox’s Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum.
However, his decision to boycott is a blow to the network, which publicly and privately courted him to come. Instead, Trump pre-recorded an interview with former Fox host Tucker Carlson, which is expected to air on platform X, previously called Twitter, while the debate takes place.
But even in his absence, Trump’s presence is expected to be felt in the debate. MacCallum has made it clear that he will press his rivals to speak out about the allegations Trump faces, telling Vanity Fair that they “absolutely have an obligation to address them.”