The Biggest Questions Tonight's Debate Will Answer

Like who gets more eyeballs: the 8 on stage or Trump and Carlson?
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 23, 2023 12:56 PM CDT
What to Know About Tonight's GOP Debate
Eight qualifying Republican candidates plan to attend Wednesday's GOP debate, with former President Donald Trump sitting out the event.   (AP Graphic)

Eight Republican candidates will take to the stage on Wednesday night in the first debate of the primary season—and former President Trump won't be among them. He's skipping the Fox News-hosted debate in Milwaukee as well as the next, which is slated for Sept. 27. Here's what you should know about the stakes for the eight who appear: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, 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 (who went to the ER last night), and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

  • The AP flags what it sees as the biggest questions going into the night. Among them: Can DeSantis turn the ship around and live up to his initial billing as Trump's biggest rival? Will Christie, who "almost single-handedly ended Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's campaign during a 2016 presidential debate with a devastating takedown," keep going after Trump or set his sights on an on-stage candidate? And will the candidates who are scraping the bottom when it comes to fundraising and polling numbers—Pence, Hutchinson, and Burgum—have a memorable moment that will raise their standing?

  • NPR has some questions of its own. Among them: Will more eyes (and headlines) focus on the debate or on Trump, whose taped interview with Tucker Carlson will post on X, formerly known as Twitter, at the very same time? NPR also delves into which issues the candidates might zero in on: Will anyone put forward "serious proposals" about inflation and the economy? NPR does "expect a healthy dose of culture-war issues, because that's what fires up and unifies the GOP base."
  • Writing for Time, Philip Elliott trots out a fascinating stat from a 2013 study. It found that only 14% of people said they changed their minds after watching a presidential debate, but a huge 60% changed their minds after watching primary debates. Elliott's takeaway: "No one is more of a threat to every single person on that stage than themselves." He points to the cautionary tale of Beto O'Rourke, who "stabbed the balloon of sky-high expectations of his candidacy with a broadsword of a meltdown" in Miami in 2019.
  • There are also plenty of question marks around Ramaswamy and just how he'll fare tonight. As Politico writes, he "has the chance to prove he's as legitimate as (some) recent polls have made him out to be. Once dismissed by many as the ultimate longshot and a vanity campaigner, Ramaswamy is now under intense scrutiny as his star rises." (More on that here.)

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