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The First GOP Presidential Primary Debate Is Tonight: Here’s What You Need to Know

Eight Republican candidates will be on stage tonight for the first Republican presidential primary debate of the 2024 cycle. One major candidate, however, plans to skip. Here’s what you need to know:


Eight Republican candidates will be on stage tonight for the first Republican presidential primary debate of the 2024 cycle. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The first Republican presidential primary debate is being held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The debate will air on Fox News Channel from 9-11pm ET/8-10pm CT. Fox News anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum will moderate the debate.
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy will appear on stage.
  • Former President Donald Trump, the clear GOP frontrunner in national polling, plans to skip the debate. In a post on Truth Social, Trump made it clear he feels no need to attend any of the GOP primary debates (although he did find time for a town hall hosted by CNN).
  • Fox News leadership and Trump’s hand-picked RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel requested Trump appear at the debate to answer questions for the benefit of GOP primary voters like all other Republican candidates before him, but he refused. McDaniel said she is “holding out hope” Trump will make a last-minute reversal and participate in this or future debates.
  • Instead, Trump sat down for a pre-taped interview with Tucker Carlson that will be posted on X during the GOP debate. The choice of Carlson, who was fired from Fox News earlier this year after the network paid out $787 million to settle a defamation lawsuit, is an apparent dig at Fox News, the hosts of the debate.
  • Trump will surrender at the Fulton County jail on Thursday to be booked and have his mugshot ahead of his trial in Georgia on RICO and conspiracy charges related to his efforts to overturn his 2020 defeat.
  • RNC Chairwoman McDaniel will appear on an official debate pre-show hosted by Josh Holmes, Michael Duncan, John Ashcroft and Comfortably Smug of the Ruthless podcast that kicks off at 5:30pm ET/4:30pm CT on YouTube. Sen. Ron Johnson and Guy Benson are also set to appear on the ESPN-style pre-show before the debate kicks off later in the evening.
  • The Republican National Committee is organizing the GOP primary debates. The RNC’s qualifying criteria – finding 40,000 unique donors and earning at least 1% in a combination of three qualifying national or early-state polls – has led candidates to adopt some unique fundraising techniques.
  • North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez both offered $20 prepaid gift cards in exchange for a $1 donation (Disclosure: your correspondent donated $1 to each and made a tidy $38 profit. It ain’t much, but it’s honest work). Hutchinson’s campaign paid hundreds of college students $20 for each person they could persuade to donate $1 to get him on stage.
  • Burgum successfully qualified for the debate while Suarez failed to make the cut. Burgum’s attendance was thrown into question early Wednesday after he suffered a leg injury playing a game of pick-up basketball on Tuesday night. Burgum had to go to a Milwaukee emergency room and his campaign told Fox News its “unclear if he will be able to stand at the debate.”
  • The second Republican debate will also be hosted by Fox News and will be held on Wednesday, September 27 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.


reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • The New York Times’ Nate Cohn called the debate an important piece of “the race for second place.” Cohn wrote, “But either way, Mr. Trump’s decision not to compete in the debate might wind up being a useful one…without Mr. Trump on the debate stage, it’s entirely appropriate to consider the campaign without him. That’s the race we have tonight. It may just be the race we have next year.”
  • CNN reported President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign is running “Dark Brandon” themed ads on Fox News’ website ahead of tonight’s debate. The campaign also paid for meme-filled billboards throughout Milwaukee and a mobile billboard to drive around the debate site.
  • Politico covered the griping from the candidates who failed to make the debate stage. Larry Elder and Perry Johnson, whose respective gubernatorial bids floundered in 2021 and 2022 and are now seeking a promotion regardless, said they plan to sue the RNC. Former Rep. Will Hurd accused the RNC of trying to “cherry-pick” polls to keep him off the stage.



  • Fox News reported the questions for each candidate are being determined by MacCallum and Baier. “One of the things that you really want to accomplish here is to give people a chance to share with the audience what they would do to make the country better,” MacCallum said. “We really want people to walk away from the debate on Wednesday night feeling like they can have a better sense of all these people and maybe their eyes are open to one or two of them that they want to hear more from. I think that’s honestly, that’s the main goal, is to move this process forward in a way that people feel is edifying and that they are more interested in the morning after on Thursday.”
  • National Review’s Rich Lowry argued “the GOP is not quite as over as it seems.” Lowry wrote, “a sense of inevitability can be a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it disheartens the opposition and communicates strength; on the other, it can fade into a high-handed sense of taking the voters for granted.” Lowry noted Trump’s support is soft in Iowa, which has a tendency to break late just before voters head to the caucuses.
  • The New York Post covered the ongoing controversy over Vivek Ramaswamy’s comments “just asking questions” about how many federal agents were on the planes that hit the Twin Towers. Ramaswamy tried to claim the media took his remarks out of context and that he was talking about Jan. 6. He called CNN anchor Kaitlan Collins a “petulant teenager” for accurately quoting him, only for The Atlantic to release the full context of his remarks showing that she was accurate, and he was eliding the truth. As Megyn Kelly posted on X, “Vivek was not misquoted by The Atlantic. And his attempt to say this controversy is all the dishonest media’s fault is itself dishonest.” (Author’s note: Folks, if you’re on day 4 of trying to clean up to your bizarre remarks about the worst terrorist attack in American history, you’re doing something wrong.


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© Dominic Moore, 2023

1 comments On The First GOP Presidential Primary Debate Is Tonight: Here’s What You Need to Know

  • Me and my family will be watching Trump w Tucker Carlson. Even if itcwas taped.
    Only person worth our watch is Kennedy,
    And he is running dem.
    Obviously I am an independent.
    Wish Trump would have Kennedy as his vice p.

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