After months of jockeying, the Republican National Committee revealed the lineup for the first primary debate in Milwaukee, site of the GOP convention in 11 months, and organized by Fox News. The front-runners in both parties, Trump and Biden, will not bother to debate their respective opponents in the early phase of the primaries as they are so far ahead in the polls. They might decide not to engage in debates later either for that matter. Things might change for them though as Trump will battle indictments in court and Biden might get deeper into ongoing bribe and corruption charges. For the republican debate, with Trump absent, Fox News has barred his surrogates and aides from accessing the post-show spin room unless they are guests of media organizations. After years of support, Fox News is opposing Trump in the 2024 presidential election cycle.
Either way, the republican line-up for the debate is a group of 8 candidates: Florida governor Ron DeSantis, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, South Carolina senator Tim Scott, former vice president Mike Pence, former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson and North Dakota governor Doug Burgum. At the latest poll Trump is getting 56% of the votes followed by DeSantis at 15%, Ramaswamy 7%, Pence 4%, Scott, Haley and Christie 3%, Hutchinson and Burgum 1%.
This means that for the first debate, DeSantis is the front-runner, followed by a string of single digit candidates. Some of the candidates are irrelevant, Hutchinson and Burgum. Among the six other candidates, Mike Pence has evolved to an anti-Trump archconservative with little or no appeal for most of the republican voter base. Nikki Haley appears mostly to be angry and bitter for some reason and does not come across as a voter friendly candidate.
Tim Scott is an up-and-coming southern politician, but at this point the republican party is not ready for a black candidate. The entrepreneur Ramaswamy has gained some notoriety from controversial remarks such as wanting to abolish the IRS and his strong support for Taiwan. An Indian-looking man with the name Ramaswamy cannot win a republican nomination though. At this point, the party is too white. Chris Christie has become a Trump hater and always seems angry and miserable. He is frankly too angry and too fat for the republican party. If you can’t take care of your own body, how can you take care of a country? Hard core Trump supports just hate Christie and there is no way he will even win another election anywhere.
This leaves Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor. Many observers saw him as a legitimate threat to Trump. All the indictments have clearly consolidated Trump’s lead, but apart from that, DeSantis have disappointed voters by being surprisingly boring. It is difficult to endure a speech by DeSantis and that makes it difficult to envision him being president. His messages are still respected and valid and he is after all the most natural choice after Trump. Few voters are likely looking forward to the debate without Trump, but Fox News is trying their best to hype the event and it does have some relevance for the rest of the republican primaries.
Bottom line is that the republican party is in a phase of crisis, and it will not end until Trump retires from politics. Eventually the circus must end. Trump will most likely be the republican candidate for the 2024 presidential election, but should that not be the case, DeSantis seems to be the only logical alternative.