Trump vs. Fox: First GOP Primary Debate Faces Stiff Ratings Competition from Frontrunner's Tucker Carlson Appearance

The first Republican primary debate takes place Wednesday evening and will provide ample opportunity for Republican candidates to move the needle in their current standing, as none have been able to gain on former President Donald Trump in any specific way over the past several months.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and anti-woke businessman Vivek Ramaswamy will take center stage in Wednesday night’s debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The debate, moderated by Fox News’s Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, will kick off at 9 p.m. Eastern and feature six other candidates in addition to DeSantis and Ramaswamy: former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.

Trump, the dominant Republican frontrunner, will be noticeably absent, opting to skip the debate after months of speculation. Instead, there will be what amounts to counter-programming, as his interview with Tucker Carlson will drop at 8:55 p.m. The former president already teased the interview on Truth Social, predicting that “sparks will fly.”

Carlson confirmed the interview as well, describing Trump as the “indisputable” frontrunner at this point.

“Whatever you think of Trump, he is as of tonight, the indisputable, far and away frontrunner in the Republican race. We think voters have an interest in hearing what he thinks,” Carlson said in a video posted hours ahead of the debate.

Nevertheless, the debate will provide a prime opportunity for Trump’s challengers — many of whom are waning in the polls — to have a breakout moment to ultimately improve their standing among Republican primary voters. Eyes will be on DeSantis and Ramaswamy, particularly, as DeSantis has failed to improve his standing despite a series of campaign adjustments — laying off dozens of staffers and replacing his campaign manager — while Ramaswamy has improved his position over the course of his campaign, even overtaking DeSantis in several polls as of late.

Perhaps one of the most devastating polls for DeSantis comes out of New Hampshire — one of the states that his campaign is devoting significant resources to. The Echelon Insights survey released days ahead of the debate showed DeSantis plunging to fourth place in the GOP lineup, behind Trump, Ramaswamy, and Christie, in that order in the Granite State.

This week’s Rasmussen Reports survey delivered more devastating news for DeSantis, as Ramaswamy edged him out for second place nationally.

Pence could also come under scrutiny during the debate following his remarks on Trump, asserting that the former president asked him to disregard the Constitution in the wake of the 2020 election chaos.

RELATED VIDEO — Mike Pence: Trump Asked Me to Overturn the Election, “Reject the Vote Outright”:

“WOW, it’s finally happened! Liddle’ Mike Pence, a man who was about to be ousted as Governor Indiana until I came along and made him V.P., has gone to the Dark Side,” Trump exclaimed weeks ago in reaction to Pence’s criticisms.

“I never told a newly emboldened (not based on his 2% poll numbers!) Pence to put me above the Constitution, or that Mike was “too honest.” He’s delusional, and now he wants to show he’s a tough guy. I once read a major magazine article on Mike. It said he was not a very good person. I was surprised, but the article was right. Sad!” he added.

It remains unclear at this point how central the topic of Trump and his recent indictments will be at the debate, but it is likely that he will continue to remain on the receiving end of criticism from the likes of Christie and Hutchinson, the latter of whom has called on Trump to drop out of the race on more than one occasion.

RELATED — Hutchinson: Because of Trump ‘Serious’ Legal Problems GOP Can’t Win with Him Leading the Ticket

Both Scott and Haley have failed to break out into the top tier of candidates in the majority of polls, lingering with three percent support each in this week’s Morning Consult poll. However, a recent Trafalgar Group survey showed positive movement for Scott — and Haley to a degree — in early state of South Carolina. In that survey, Scott is essentially battling it out with DeSantis for second place.

Burgum, who has consistently remained at the bottom tier in most polls, may not even be able to participate in Wednesday’s debate due to an injury he received while playing basketball. According to reports, he tore his Achilles tendon and is bound to crutches. Campaign spokesman Lance Trover on Wednesday said it was “unclear if he will be able to stand at the debate.”

The Trump campaign, however, clearly anticipates s stream of criticism during the debate, as Trump campaign senior advisor Chris LaCivita released a statement prior to the debate, asserting that Trump “already won this evening’s debate because everything is going to be about him.”

“Only President Trump has the policy ideas, the fortitude, and the polling to go head-to-head with Crooked Joe Biden in the general election. Republican voters recognize this, hence President Trump’s 62-16 lead in the GOP primary,” LaCivita added.

Time will tell if that prediction will come to fruition.

Several Trump surrogates will be deployed to the debate — Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Byron Donalds (R-FL), former gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, Donald Trump Jr., and Kimberly Guilfoyle. However, Fox News reportedly told surrogates that they are not allowed in the post-debate spin room, as he is not participating in the debate itself.


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