The upcoming GOP presidential primary debate is set to host merely four candidates, marking the smallest stage yet for this election cycle, as announced by the Republican National Committee. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have qualified for this high-stakes event in Alabama, which will be broadcasted by NewsNation, The Megyn Kelly Show on SiriusXM, and The Washington Free Beacon.
Chris Christie narrowly secured his place in the debate, meeting the RNC’s requirements by reaching at least 6% in the necessary national and early-state polls, coupled with garnering 80,000 unique donors for his campaign. However, notably absent from this debate is former President Donald Trump, who opted for a Fox News town hall and a private fundraiser instead, a decision that seems not to faze a majority of likely Iowa Republican caucusgoers.
Trump’s dominance in the GOP primary remains steadfast, even as he skirts direct engagement with his rivals in these debates. With Trump absent, the debate might witness the remaining candidates engaging in a clash amongst themselves rather than directing their focus toward the front-runner in the polls.
Amid the anticipation surrounding this debate, it presents another opportunity for Nikki Haley to elevate her profile. Having gained momentum in public polls and receiving increasing support from significant GOP donors like the Koch network’s Americans for Prosperity, Haley’s standout performances in previous debates have drawn attention and bolstered her standing within the party.
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel expressed enthusiasm about the upcoming debate, emphasizing the platform it offers for Republican candidates to articulate their vision for the nation. As the Iowa caucuses draw near, candidates like DeSantis are reaffirming their commitment to the race, dismissing any suggestions of withdrawal before the caucuses as baseless.
However, some candidates like Vivek Ramaswamy and Chris Christie are unwavering in their determination to continue their campaigns. Ramaswamy emphasized the importance of candor in these debates, underscoring the necessity for unfiltered dialogue in addressing crucial national issues.
The exclusion of certain candidates from this debate, like former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the withdrawal of South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott after the third debate, raises concerns about the viability of the qualifying thresholds set by the RNC, prompting criticism from individuals like North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum. Burgum condemned the debate criteria, denouncing their relevance to the qualifications essential for the presidential role and the trend of nationalizing the primary system, which he deemed unhealthy for the party’s future.