GOP debate stage shrinks to four candidates

This week’s GOP presidential primary debate will have the smallest stage yet, with just four candidates facing off Wednesday night, the Republican National Committee announced Monday.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have qualified for Wednesday’s debate in Alabama, which will be hosted by NewsNation, “The Megyn Kelly Show” on SiriusXM and The Washington Free Beacon.

Christie appeared to qualify only a short time before Monday night’s deadline, reaching at least 6% in the necessary national and early-state polls to meet the RNC’s requirements. Christie’s campaign announced last month that he had reached the 80,000 unique donors also required to qualify.

The candidates stand on stage before the start of the debate.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy at the Republican Presidential Debate in Miami on Nov. 8, 2023. Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

Former President Donald Trump is once again skipping the debate, instead appearing at a Fox News town hall Tuesday and holding a private fundraiser Wednesday.

A majority of likely Iowa Republican caucusgoers say Trump’s decision to skip the debates does not matter to them, though 42% believe he should participate in at least one debate before the caucuses, according to the most recent NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll, which was conducted in late October.

Trump has continued to dominate the GOP primary campaign even as he has avoided facing off against his rivals. And if past debates are prologue, the event Wednesday could feature the candidates’ going after one another rather than Trump, the front-runner in the polls.

The debate, scheduled for 8 p.m. ET, could be another opportunity for Haley to raise her profile. She has had a bump in public polls and increasing support from major GOP donors, including the Koch network’s well-funded Americans for Prosperity, following standout debate performances.

RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement announcing Wednesday’s participants, “The fourth debate is another fantastic opportunity for our Republican candidates to share our winning agenda with the American people.”

“President Reagan was the first sitting president to visit the University of Alabama nearly 40 years ago, just before cruising to a landslide victory in 1984, and I’m thrilled to return our conservative message to Tuscaloosa on Wednesday night,” she added.

It’s not yet clear whether there will be another Republican debate before the Jan. 15 Iowa caucuses, but Haley’s and Trump’s other rivals are zeroing in on Iowa with just over a month to go.

DeSantis said in an interview that aired Sunday on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” that he expects to win the Iowa caucuses and that any suggestion that he would drop out of the race before the caucuses was “absurd.”

Ramaswamy told reporters in Iowa on Saturday that he intends to bring the same “candor” to the fourth debate as he has to past debates.

“I was brutally frank in the last debate,” he said. “I think that this country needs more of that, not less.”

Christie has kept his focus on New Hampshire, and he has pledged to stay in the race.

“I’m not considering dropping out,” he said at a town hall in New Hampshire last week.

It is the fourth time this group of candidates has appeared together on a debate stage, and it’s also the latest one in which other GOP candidates have failed to meet the qualifying thresholds. They include former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has not appeared in a debate since the first one in August. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina ended his campaign after the third debate last month.

Hours before the RNC’s announcement Monday, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum suspended his presidential bid as he appeared poised to miss another debate. And he slammed the RNC’s debate thresholds in his exit.

“None of their debate criteria relate to the qualifications related to actually doing the job of the president,” Burgum said in a statement. “This effort to nationalize the primary system is unhealthy for the future of the party, especially for a party that proclaims to value leadership from outside of Washington.”

Katherine Koretski and Emma Barnett contributed to this report.