The 2024 GOP presidential debate stage is shrinking after the Republican National Committee announced late Monday that seven candidates are set to participate in the second debate – down one from their first clash.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum met the RNC’s heightened polling and fundraising standards for Wednesday’s debate, the party announced. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who appeared in the first Republican presidential primary debate, did not. Former President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 GOP nomination, is skipping the event.
The debate, at 9 p.m. ET Wednesday and hosted by Fox Business Network and Univision, is taking place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
However, it could be overshadowed by a separate showdown in Michigan – where President Joe Biden and Trump are both traveling this week.
Trump also skipped the first debate and has suggested he could bypass them all. On Monday, he called the Republican primary debates “stupid.”
“Basically, it’s a job interview. You look at the debates, it’s a job interview, and so far, I’m not too interested,” Trump said during a stop at a campaign field office in Summerville, South Carolina, ahead of a rally in the area.
Biden is set to visit Michigan on Tuesday to join the picket line with striking auto union workers. Trump will travel there the following day for a prime-time Detroit-area speech at which auto workers are expected to be among those in attendance.
The former president’s trip to Michigan comes amid his busiest stretch of campaigning since launching his bid for a second White House term last fall.
But his decision to skip another debate has turned the Simi Valley event into, in many ways, a battle for the second-place spot in a GOP primary in which Trump remains dominant in national and early state polling.
New polls released over the weekend from NBC News and The Washington Post/ABC News found Trump with a clear nationwide lead in the GOP primary. NBC showed the former president with 59% support, ahead of DeSantis at 16%, Haley at 7%, Pence and Christie at 4% each, Scott at 3% and Ramaswamy at 2%. The Post/ABC poll put Trump’s support at 54% support to DeSantis’ 15%, with Haley receiving 7%, Pence 6%, Scott 4%, and Christie and Ramaswamy at 3% each.
To qualify for the second debate, GOP candidates had to register at least 3% in two national polls or one national poll and two polls from separate early voting states – Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada. Those polls had to be released at least 48 hours prior to the debate and meet the RNC’s standards. Candidates were also required to have a minimum of 50,000 unique donors, with at least 200 donors in 20 states or territories. Debate participants will also need to sign a pledge committing to supporting the eventual Republican nominee.
Hutchinson, calling into CNN’s “The Source” on Monday night following the announcement, said, “We’re not gonna let everything be dictated by the standards set by the RNC, and so we’re excited to continue [campaigning] this week.”
“I know that there’s gonna be those that says we ought to step aside. But whenever you look at the role that Iowa and New Hampshire plays, we’re gonna continue to compete there and measure it based upon the response we get in those states,” he told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins.
The smaller stage could mean more opportunities for a breakthrough in the race for the candidates who are set to participate.
Ramaswamy was a dominant figure at the first debate, engaging in memorable clashes with Pence, Christie and Haley. His exchange with Haley over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in which the former US ambassador to the United Nations advocated a strong US role on the international stage, proved to be a key moment that injected new momentum into Haley’s campaign.
Scott, meanwhile, has proved to be formidable fundraiser but struggled to make his mark in the first debate.
His campaign, in an email to supporters this week, compared Scott’s optimistic approach on the presidential trail to Reagan.
“Tim can remember being a freshman in high school when Jimmy Carter was President. Those really were dark days. There was high inflation, crushing interest rates and no economic growth. Doesn’t that sound familiar?” the email said.
Scott and Pence have also sought to highlight differences with other GOP contenders over abortion, with both pointing to their support for a federal abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Pence last week said on Fox Business that Trump was “walking away from our commitment to the sanctity of human life.” His comment followed Trump’s interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” in which the former president criticized states like Florida and Iowa that have enacted six-week abortion bans and sought to position himself as someone who could negotiate a compromise on the issue with “both sides.”
Christie – whose campaign has largely revolved around his opposition to Trump as the GOP’s leader – has ramped up his public criticism of Ramaswamy since the pair engaged in contentious exchanges at the first debate. But he denied that his jabs at Ramaswamy were part of any larger strategy, telling reporters, “It’s just that he’s too easy to go after.”
Christie has slammed Trump’s absence from the stage as “disrespectful” to voters and has vowed to not let him off the hook.
“After the second debate, I have to go out and find him,” the former governor said.
In a pre-debate memo to donors and supporters, DeSantis campaign manager James Uthmeier framed the Florida governor as “the only candidate that can beat both Joe Biden and Donald Trump.”
Uthmeier argued that the DeSantis campaign is the only one “built for the long haul in terms of resources and organization” and that “when pressed, the media and D.C. politicians privately admit to this.”
Ramaswamy said on Fox News over the weekend that his campaign was “entering a new phase” ahead of the upcoming debate, at which he expects to stress the policies and positions he wants to implement as president. Ramaswamy has given two major policy speeches this month, focused on reducing the scope of the federal bureaucracy and combatting China’s influence on the US economy.
Haley said on Fox Business last week that holding more than 85 rallies in Iowa and New Hampshire was how she has prepared for the debate.
“We let them ask any question. We stay there, we shake every hand. I’m the last person to leave,” she said. “That’s the best debate prep you can get because they pepper you with questions all the time and you get to listen to what they care about. And I get to give them the solutions I want to put forward.”
This story has been updated with additional information.