US Presidential Elections 2024: Former US President Donald Trump absent but dominates first primary debate

Trump absent but dominates first Republican primary debate; other candidates unable to confront him directly.

Edited By Fareha Naaz
First Published24 Aug 2023, 09:13 AM IST
Trump absent but dominates first Republican primary debate.
Trump absent but dominates first Republican primary debate.(Getty Images via AFP)

In the first primary debate of the 2024 election cycle, eight Republican presidential candidates took the stage, with the frontrunner, Donald Trump, absent but still dominating the discussion on August 23.

Despite Trump's decision to skip the two-hour Milwaukee event, his significant lead in the polls left the other candidates without the opportunity to confront him directly on stage. Instead, Trump gave an interview with former Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson, which was posted online just before the debate.

Even in his absence, Trump's presence loomed large over the debate, with Fox News moderators expected to ask questions about his ongoing legal issues, including multiple prosecutions and an impending surrender to authorities in Atlanta over allegations of a criminal conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election.

In a campaign email before the debate, Trump expressed his reasons for not participating, stating, “I have bigger things to focus on than debating candidates who are polling at one percent on the night before my wrongful arrest.” He added, ""We cannot waste energy and resources, arguing with members of our own party at a time when we should be united against Crooked Joe who is burning down America."

For Trump's closest rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the debate was an opportunity to revive his declining poll numbers and establish himself as a credible alternative to the frontrunner. Candidates were likely to discuss issues such as competition with China and America's foreign policy, particularly concerning Ukraine and Russia.

With several months remaining until the first nomination votes in Iowa and New Hampshire, some analysts believe it is premature to predict the outcome of the race. While Trump was absent, the debate served as a platform for candidates hoping to secure a role as his running mate or gain visibility among the public.

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Candidates like businessman Vivek Ramaswamy used the event to introduce themselves to a broader audience and make their case for potential positions in a future Trump administration. 

Trump's absence from debates had precedent, as he similarly skipped one in Iowa in 2016, allowing his closest rival at the time, Ted Cruz, to face the heat alone. The DeSantis team expected a similar scenario in this debate.

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Despite Trump's absence, some underdog candidates, including Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson, aimed to have a breakout moment by challenging the former president, while Trump's former vice president, Mike Pence, also anticipated to make his presence felt.

The Biden campaign purchased ad slots on Fox News and its website ahead of the debate, and President Biden himself expressed an intention to watch as much of the event as possible.

Rudy Giuliani, Trump's former attorney and one of 18 co-defendants charged with racketeering, surrendered in Atlanta before the debate.

(With inputs from AFP)

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First Published:24 Aug 2023, 09:13 AM IST
HomeNewsUS Presidential Elections 2024: Former US President Donald Trump absent but dominates first primary debate

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