The first Republican debate of 2023 happens tonight. Here’s what to know


The stage is set for the first Republican debate of the 2024 presidential contest, with eight candidates on stage who have met the Republican National Committee’s qualifications. The GOP frontrunner, former President Donald Trump, announced on social media Sunday that he would skip it.

The debate is taking place in Milwaukee, the largest city in Wisconsin, a critical  battleground state that Trump flipped in 2016 but President Biden flipped back in 2020. The 2024 Republican National Convention will also be held in Milwaukee. 

This first debate comes just under four months before the Iowa caucus on Jan. 15, the first nominating contest of the primary season. A CBS News poll released Sunday showed that despite four separate indictments, Trump now has his largest lead so far in the race. 

Among likely Republican primary voters, Trump led with 62%, followed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, way behind with 16% support. The rest of the candidates were in single digits. 

Here’s everything you need to know:

Who has qualified and what were the qualifications? 

The RNC said late Monday that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former Vice President Mike Pence, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina all qualified for the debate.

The RNC required that candidates reach at least 1% in multiple eligible polls, gather at least 40,000 donors and sign a pledge committing to support the ultimate GOP nominee and promising not to participate in debates not sanctioned by the party, including the general election debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Christie, who was once a strong Trump supporter but has since turned against him, has previously criticized the RNC’s use of a loyalty pledge. Trump says he won’t  sign it. 

“Why would I sign it?” Trump said in an interview on the conservative cable network Newsmax. “I can name three or four people that I wouldn’t support for president. So right there, there’s a problem.”

Why is Trump skipping the debate?

Although Trump didn’t make it official until Sunday, he has been hinting he wouldn’t participate. He explained on Truth Social Sunday why he wasn’t going.  

Citing the CBS News poll, Trump said he had “legendary” polling numbers and “I WILL THEREFORE NOT BE DOING THE DEBATES!” 

Trump taped an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson that is likely to be broadcast sometime Wednesday. It’s unclear where it will air, although the social media platform X, previously known as Twitter, is a possibility, since Carlson launched a show on X soon after he left Fox News.

Where is the debate being broadcast and who are the moderators?

The two-hour debate is being hosted by and broadcast on Fox News at 9 p.m. ET. Fox News anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum will moderate. 

What topics are expected to be discussed?

MacCallum told Fox News earlier this week that she will be asking candidates to share “what they would do to make the country better.” 

“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,” MacCallum said.

MacCallum told TVNewser that abortion and the U.S. role in Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion are among the topics she would like to discuss. 

What is the 2024 primary debate schedule?

The next debate is set to be held on Wednesday, Sept. 27 at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California.


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