The upcoming 2024 Republican presidential primary is about to shift into a new phase, marked by two distinct events: a GOP debate in Milwaukee featuring at least seven contenders and the legal troubles surrounding the frontrunner, former President Donald Trump. Trump’s decision to skip the first debate has drawn attention, as he believes the public already knows him well enough and thus won’t participate. The Republican National Committee Chairwoman, Ronna McDaniel, expressed hope that Trump might still join the debate, but his absence denies other candidates the chance for standout moments.
The debate will be a significant platform for most of the Republican presidential candidates, providing them with their largest audience yet. Candidates like former Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, and South Carolina Governor Tim Scott have qualified for the debate stage.
Notably, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson also met the criteria to participate in the debate. Despite being a vocal critic of Trump, Hutchinson has chosen to sign a loyalty pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee. Hutchinson’s presence on the debate stage highlights the diversity of perspectives within the Republican party.
DeSantis, in the absence of Trump, will likely become the focal point of attacks from other candidates seeking to position themselves as alternatives to Trump. His campaign is prepared to face false accusations and attacks from rivals and the media.
The Republican primary is shaping up as a two-way contest between DeSantis and Trump, according to a memo from DeSantis’ campaign manager. Other candidates like Doug Burgum are using the debate stage to introduce themselves and their positions to a larger audience. Candidates like Nikki Haley have focused on town hall events as their preparation for the debate.
Despite Trump’s commanding lead in national and early-state polls, there is pressure from within the Republican party for him to participate in key campaign events. Some influential figures within the party have expressed concerns about his decision to skip debates and other traditional campaign stops.
Louisiana Republican Senator Bill Cassidy, who voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial, believes that the case against Trump for allegedly mishandling classified documents is strong and has suggested that Trump should drop out of the 2024 presidential race.
The debate and other campaign events are expected to occur before Trump’s impending legal proceedings related to charges in Fulton County, Georgia. As the 2024 Republican primary unfolds, the candidates are positioning themselves to appeal to voters and distinguish their policies from each other, with Trump’s absence generating both challenges and opportunities for his rivals.