Former President Trump, currently leading the Republican presidential contenders, will not attend the party’s upcoming second debate, leaving the other candidates to vie for attention in his absence.
While GOP participants have limited time to distinguish themselves on the debate stage, Trump’s interaction with on-strike autoworkers ensures he remains in the spotlight, addressing a national concern.
Although his presence in the automotive-rich Great Lakes region might not divert many viewers from the debate happening in Simi Valley, California, the juxtaposition of the events underscores the complex nature of the Republican race: the top contender forgoing a key party event while his competitors jostle for runner-up positions.
Michigan GOP analyst, Jason Cabel Roe, mentioned that the morning after, news channels would likely lead with one of the two events. Which event headlines would determine its impact.
On the same day as the debate, Trump is slated to give a major speech in Detroit, the heart of the auto industry, amid a significant United Automobile Workers (UAW) strike.
Roe believes this move will not only cement Trump’s position in Michigan but also appeal to working-class Republicans elsewhere.
Trump previously opted out of the Republican National Committee’s inaugural debate in Milwaukee, instead unveiling an interview with pundit Tucker Carlson. He also hinted at missing the third debate scheduled for November 8 in Miami.
Roe suggested that Trump’s tactics ensure he remains central to the narrative, even in his absence, and that his moves resonate beyond just the primary Republican voters.
However, without Trump on the Simi Valley stage, other contenders might have a better chance to gather momentum and appeal to GOP voters without the inevitable Trump comparisons.
Six GOP members, excluding Trump, have so far qualified for the upcoming debate: Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former VP Mike Pence, ex-UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Recent Morning Consult polls show Trump leading at 59%, DeSantis at 13%, Ramaswamy at 10%, and both Pence and Haley at 5%.
Post the first debate, polls indicated DeSantis and Ramaswamy as top performers, with Haley gaining the most traction.
DeSantis, despite leading in earlier polls, seemed to waver in some, even trailing Ramaswamy in a New Hampshire survey. This raises queries about potential shifts in rankings.
The next debate could either boost or hinder candidates’ standings, pushing them nearer to, or farther from, the leading position.
Analysts speculate that while some candidates might avoid mentioning Trump in the forthcoming debate, he might still feature prominently in discussions. In the Milwaukee debate, candidates were queried about their potential support for Trump given his legal challenges.
For RNC qualification, candidates have pledged support for the eventual nominee. Notably, Trump hasn’t signed this pledge.
Veteran GOP strategist Mark Weaver believes Trump’s presence will inevitably permeate the debate discussions, reflecting his ubiquitous influence on American politics.
Republican consultant Justin Sayfie thinks the debate would remain the focal point for GOP primary voters, urging candidates to differentiate themselves to grab attention.
Ernest McGowen, a political science professor, believes Trump risks less by skipping the debate, as attending could mean confronting controversial past remarks.
Amidst intra-party disputes, GOP strategist Brady Smith believes Trump’s engagement with autoworkers displays a more presidential image, overshadowing both the debate and President Biden’s intended visit to support the UAW.
The second Republican debate is scheduled for Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Southern California. With Fox Business’ Stuart Varney and Dana Perino, and Univision’s Ilia Calderón as moderators, it will broadcast at 9 p.m. Eastern.