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Former President Donald Trump has asserted that the upcoming Republican party’s presidential debates are essentially a race for second place in the primary, with the winner potentially being considered as his running mate for the 2024 election. Trump, who is leading in the RealClearPolitics Republican presidential primary polling average, has expressed little interest in debating other candidates in the field. Although he hasn’t confirmed attending the first debate in Milwaukee, he encouraged the other candidates to participate in the contest.

While Trump remains far ahead in the polls with 54 percent of Republican primary voters, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis follows in second place, still trailing by a significant margin. Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy has secured the third position. Trump’s former running mate, former Vice President Mike Pence, is now behind Ramaswamy in the polls.

During a campaign rally, Trump criticized the debates, expressing concerns about facing hostile questions from both other candidates and certain media outlets, such as Fox News, which he perceives as antagonistic towards him. He questioned the benefits of participating, suggesting he would likely face unnecessary scrutiny.

Regarding criminal charges he faces, including mishandling classified documents, Trump has labeled them as election interference by President Joe Biden and his Department of Justice. Despite these legal challenges, his trial is set for May next year, well into the primary election process.

In order to qualify for the first debate, candidates must meet specific criteria set by the Republican National Committee, including polling at least 1 percent in national and early voting state polls, obtaining a certain number of unique donors, and pledging support to the eventual Republican nominee if they don’t win the primary.

While Trump jokingly hinted at selecting a running mate from the debate contenders, both DeSantis and Ramaswamy have indicated they are not interested in the vice president position. DeSantis emphasized that he sees himself as a leader and governor of Florida, with no intention of becoming a No. 2 figure. Trump has previously criticized DeSantis but has also praised Senator Tim Scott, indicating he could be considered for a role in a future administration.

Overall, the debates and the Republican primary continue to be a crucial stage for candidates vying for the party’s nomination, but Trump’s commanding lead in the polls and his potential legal challenges pose significant factors in the upcoming election.