The participants in the first debate in the Republican primary for president are set.
And you won’t find any President Trump.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, former Vice President Mike Pence, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson were among the eight candidates invited to participate in the first GOP presidential primary debate.
On the weekend, Trump stated that he will not participate in the first debate, citing a recent national poll that showed him “leading the field by ‘legendary’ numbers.”
On Sunday he declared, “I WILL THEREFORE NOT BE DOING THE DEBATES!”
Trump’s absence means that fewer people will tune in to watch the fight in Milwaukee on Wednesday night (which will air on Fox News Channel at 9 p.m. Eastern Time).
However, for the applicants who attend, its significance will remain high. While Ramaswamy continues to rise in the polls, Ron DeSantis is trying to regain his footing as the leading challenger to the outgoing president.
There are just eight contestants in this debate, compared to the sixteen that participated in the first debate eight years ago, which also aired on Fox News Channel. Seven additional candidates also participated in a “kiddie-table” debate earlier in the day.
Nonetheless, it’s more extensive than the five contenders who met for a Fox News debate in May 2011 before some of them, like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and then-Texas Governor Rick Perry, had even declared. In 2011, Mitt Romney, who was ahead in the polls and ultimately became the nominee, also skipped the first debate.
A few less qualified hopefuls were left out of the announcement. According to HEADLINESFOREVER’s monitoring of the process, self-proclaimed “quality guru” Perry Johnson had looked to meet the RNC’s requirements after a flurry of releases of surveys from lesser-known (or less-reputable) pollsters in the last days of the qualification period. However, the committee didn’t share my opinion.
When asked about the criteria for the discussion, Johnson said they were “corrupted.”
“The debate process has been corrupted, plain and simple,” Johnson tweeted on X (previously Twitter) on Monday night. Our campaign exceeded the RNC’s benchmarks in every category, ensuring our spot in the debate. On Wednesday, we’ll be in Milwaukee, and tomorrow we’ll have more to share about our trip.
Similarly, Mayor Francis Suarez of Miami was not invited to the event. On Friday, his campaign said he was qualified, but our investigation showed otherwise. Later polls, including one funded by the political action committee of a state legislator from the Miami area, were cited by his supporters as evidence that he deserved a speaking slot, and he eventually made it. However, the RNC clearly disagreed.
Ryan Binkley, a businessman from Texas, and conservative media figure Will Hurd, both of whom claimed to have qualified based on a poll that clearly did not match the qualifications, were also excluded.
There was a deluge of polls issued in the last days of the qualification process because of the RNC’s hazy qualifying requirements for polls, making it difficult to tell who would actually be on stage at the convention. Since last Thursday, at least a dozen state and national surveys with at least 800 likely GOP primary voters in their sample have been released, a key benchmark for apparent qualification polls laid out by the RNC, and several other notable polls that do not meet the qualification rules on their face have also been released.
Candidates like Johnson and Suarez have rushed in to assert their own standing despite the RNC ignoring questions from HEADLINESFOREVER over the last month on which of these surveys may qualify candidates.
Republican campaign operatives have been privately discussing the uncertainty over the last week. While it’s been a fun parlour game for those already on stage, those whose campaigns rely on the national exposure garnered by a debate appearance have been understandably frustrated.