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GOP primary debate

Republican presidential candidates spar on Trump, abortion, Ukraine in first debate. Here’s how it unfolded.

Highlights from the first Republican presidential debate
Highlights from the first Republican presidential debate (Fox News).

Eight Republican presidential candidates took the stage stage in Milwaukee for the first debate of the primary race to be the party’s nominee, sparring over abortion, the economy, and support for Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion.

Donald Trump skipped the event in favor of an interview with Tucker Carlson that posted minutes before the debate began. Nearly all of the candidates said they would support him if he is the party’s nominee even if he is convicted in a court of law.

Here’s a look at how the two-hour event unfolded.

Read more:


August 24, 2023


One day after debate, Trump will surrender in Georgia — 12:57 a.m.

By the Associated Press

Trump is set to surrender Thursday to authorities in Georgia on charges that he schemed to overturn the 2020 election in that state, a booking process expected to yield a historic first: a mug shot of a former American president.

Trump’s arrival follows a presidential debate featuring his leading rivals for the 2024 Republican nomination, a contest in which he remains the leading candidate despite accelerating legal troubles. His presence in the state, though likely brief, is expected to swipe the spotlight at least temporarily from his opponents in the aftermath of a debate in which other candidates sought to seize on Trump’s absence to elevate their own presidential prospects.

Read the full story.

Grading how each candidate did — 12:22 a.m.

By James Pindell, Globe Staff

While the debate contained some fiery moments, it was really a race for third place.

The stage featured governors, a US senator, and a former vice president, but Florida Governor Ron DeSantis may not have been wrong when he quipped beforehand that he was the only one, “not running to be vice president, I’m not running to be in the Cabinet, and I’m not running to be a contributor on cable news.”

Here are James Pindell’s grades for each candidate.

Still unclear if candidates made compelling argument to lead GOP beyond Trump — 12:19 a.m.

By Jess Bidgood, Globe Staff

The eight candidates, most of whom are polling in the single digits, tangled over abortion, Ukraine, and other issues, and lobbed cutting insults at each other while former president Donald Trump — the front-runner with a formidable polling lead — hovered above the fray but far from the stage at his golf course in the decidedly northern state of New Jersey, emerging largely unscathed.

Read the full story.


August 23, 2023


Pence pitches himself as most experienced candidate, only briefly mentions Trump — 11:56 p.m.

By Tal Kopan, Globe Staff

In a post-debate interview with Sean Hannity, Pence said he decided to enter the presidential fray because he had the best resume for the job. He cited his time in Congress, leading the fiscal conservative movement before it became the prominent wing it is today, his governorship and said he was proud of the record of the Trump administration when he was vice president.

”This is no time for on-the-job training,” he said, repeating his criticism of Ramaswamy onstage. “When I look at the challenges facing America and I look at the experiences we’ve had, I’m simply the most experienced, proven, tested conservative in this field.”

Pence did not acknowledge that there’s a candidate in the race who has been president before, Trump, although he has been critical of Trump over his efforts to overturn Biden’s election.

He did take one swipe at Trump in the interview, though, over the growing national debt and his unwillingness to touch entitlement programs.

”Joe Biden’s policy is insolvency,” Pence said, “and candidly, my former running mate’s policy is identical to Joe Biden’s.”

Ramaswamy says he’s ‘thrilled’ with his debate performance — 11:51 p.m.

By Jim Puzzanghera, Globe Staff

Despite taking a lot of criticism from other candidates, Ramaswamy said he was “thrilled” with his performance in his first-ever political debate.

”The reality is everyone on stage had been on a debate stage before. This is my first time in a political debate and I am thrilled with how it came out,” he told Sean Hannity of Fox News in a post-debate interview. “We over-exceeded my expectation.”

Ramaswamy continued to stress his outsider status.

”I’m not a politician and honestly it was fun,” he told Hannity. But after participating in a presidential debate, Hannity declared Ramaswamy was now a politician.

Ramaswamy insisted he still was different than the other candidates because he did not “come from the Super PAC class” or the “historical Republican Party.”

”I’m in this race to build a multi-ethnic, working-class majority like Reagan did,” Ramaswamy said.

“This was the first chance that I’ve really had to introduce myself directly to the people and I believe I will be the next nominee. I believe I will win the general election in a landslide that reunites this country.”

Who is Vivek Ramaswamy? — 11:44 p.m.

By Steven Porter and Lissandra Villa de Petrzelka, Globe Staff

Unlike the other Republican presidential candidates on the debate stage in Milwaukee Wednesday night, biotechnology entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy hasn’t been a senator, governor, or vice president. Going into the debate, he and his team knew this nationally televised event was a big chance to fuel his name recognition.

And the 38-year-old businessman worked hard to make the most of the opportunity during the two-hour-debate, frequently maneuvering himself into the middle of the fray.

Read the full story.

Biden campaign responds to Republican debate with Kamala Harris: ‘No one’ won — 11:41 p.m.

By Tal Kopan, Globe Staff

Though President Biden told reporters earlier today that he would watch the debate, his campaign put out a statement responding to it from Vice President Kamala Harris, instead.

Saying there were no winners of the debate, Harris painted the entire field as extreme.

”These extremists focus on unnecessary debates meant to divide our nation in hopes that the American public will not notice they have no affirmative agenda,” Harris said, touting the Biden administration’s record on economic growth and abortion rights.

In post-debate interview, DeSantis talks Trump — 11:37 p.m.

By Amanda Kaufman, Globe Staff

In a post-debate interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, DeSantis said “nobody is entitled” to his endorsement or support when questioned about his relationship with Donald Trump and their support for each other in previous elections.

”I’m loyal to my family, the Constitution, and the lord our god,” DeSantis said, adding that political candidates have to “earn” his support.

DeSantis touted the amount of money he raised in Florida for Trump in 2020 and said he didn’t think Trump’s campaign should make digs at him, but “it is what it is.”

CNN Republican commentator calls debate a ‘complete train wreck’ — 11:31 p.m.

By Jim Puzzanghera, Globe Staff

David Urban, a Republican political commentator on CNN, ripped the debate performance of the candidates, calling the event “a complete train wreck.”

”I think tonight proves that you don’t need Donald Trump to be in a debate to have a ****show there,” said Urban, who was an advisor to Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Urban criticized the candidates for interrupting each other and for the moderators for not doing a better job to control the audience.

”I think a lot of the folks did a great disservice to their own candidacies by just talking too much about things that don’t matter,” Urban said. He declared Ramaswamy the big winner because he appeared to get the most air time.

Ramaswamy looked to make an impression — 11:23 p.m.

By Lissandra Villa de Petrzelka, Globe Staff

Ramaswamy worked hard to make his case as an outsider to politics, the fresh face in a crowd of seasoned politicians. It was clear from his first remarks on stage, in which he introduced himself to the audience, that he was looking to make an impression among an electorate that knows little about him.

For the rest of the candidates onstage, he was a safe punching bag. Christie told him he sounded like ChatGPT, Pence criticized him on his inexperience, and Haley was eager to push back against his opposition to providing more support to Ukraine. Ramaswamy endured it all with a smile.

A choose-your-own adventure debate — 11:14 p.m.

By Tal Kopan, Globe Staff

The debate tonight may have done little to move the needle among Republican primary voters. Plenty of candidates had strong moments who need them, including Pence, Christie, and Haley, but most were designed to appeal to the people already inclined to support them. Ramaswamy came out swinging on just about every question, getting plenty of air time.

There were some clear areas of difference. One of the most memorable exchanges of the night came in the discussion of whether to continue providing aid to Ukraine as it fights off a Russian invasion. Pence, Christie and Haley delivered strong arguments in favor, with Haley especially attacking Ramaswamy for his isolationist foreign policy positions. Ramaswamy and DeSantis defended the idea of pulling back aid and focusing on domestic needs.A similar rift appeared in questions about Trump’s actions trying to overturn Biden’s election and the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

But the question is, did any of these exchanges change any voters’ minds who were already leaning toward a candidate or a policy position? Trump is leading by a wide margin in most polls, and few candidates took new shots at him. It’s hard to see this debate doing much to change the existing dynamics of the race.

First debate is over after two hours and plenty of back and forth — 11:00 p.m.

By Amanda Kaufman, Globe Staff

The first Republican presidential debate of the primary race came to a close after the candidates sparred over a host of key issues: abortion, support for Ukraine, the economy, education, and whether they would support Trump if he is the eventual nominee.

How old are the Republican presidential candidates? — 10:55 p.m.

By Jim Puzzanghera, Globe Staff

A question on Biden’s advanced age and whether presidents should have to pass a mental and physical test in order to serve led Pence to take a thinly veiled shot at Ramaswamy for being too young.

Here are the ages of the candidates on the stage, from oldest to youngest.

  • Hutchinson: 72
  • Burgum: 67
  • Pence: 64
  • Christie: 60
  • Scott: 57
  • Haley: 51
  • DeSantis: 44
  • Ramaswamy: 38

Republicans vs. the Department of Education — 10:46 p.m.

By Tal Kopan, Globe Staff

One area where the Republican candidates are very much in alignment: education. Most said they would eliminate the federal Department of Education, with several saying they would put the money saved by such a move toward school choice — allowing parents to send their children to private schools with public money and breaking up the neighborhood district model for public schools.

Other common areas of agreement: Busting teacher unions, prohibiting the teaching of LGBTQ issues in schools, and ensuring parents having some control over what their children learn.

One outlier was Burgum, who said the idea that most schools were “indoctrinating” kids referenced by DeSantis was false. He said what education in America really needs is “innovation,” not regulations.

”Teachers in this country, the vast majority, care about those kids, they’re working in low-paying jobs, and they’re fighting for those kids,” Burgum said.

‘This guy is a murderer’: Republican field split on support for Ukraine — 10:39 p.m.

By Lissandra Villa de Petrzelka and Jackie Kucinich, Globe Staff

When the candidates were asked whether they would oppose giving more money to Ukraine as it defends itself from the ongoing Russian invasion, DeSantis and Ramaswamy were the two candidates who came out against it. DeSantis said he would have Europe do more to support Ukraine, while Ramaswamy proudly opposed doing more to help Ukraine, arguing that those resources should be spent on the US.

The rest of the candidates were for continuing to financially support the efforts against Russia, including Haley who had a standout moment in pushing back against Ramaswamy while arguing that it’s important to prevent a world war, and that starts with supporting Ukraine.

“Ukraine is the front line of defense,” said Haley, a former ambassador to the United Nations, who noted atrocities committed by Putin. “This guy is a murderer, and you are choosing a murderer over a pro-American country.”

According to a source in the room for the debate, Haley received a standing ovation from the audience.

Republican presidential candidates, Vivek Ramaswamy and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley participated in the first debate of the GOP primary season.Win McNamee/Getty

Trump falsely asserts Pence could send 2020 electoral votes back to the states — 10:30 p.m.

By Jim Puzzanghera, Globe Staff

Trump falsely asserted in his interview with Tucker Carlson that Pence had the right to send 2020 electoral votes back to key states in a move that would have overturned Joe Biden’s victory.

”In my opinion, Mike Pence had the absolute right to send the votes back to the legislatures,” Trump said in the video of the rambling interview posted to X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. Instead, Trump said Pence acted as simply “a conveyor belt” to pass on the electoral votes to be counted by Congress.

”I was very disappointed in him,” Trump said. “I think he got very bad advice.”

Trump’s assertion has been debunked by leading constitutional scholars, and Congress changed the law last year to remove any ambiguity about the vice president’s role in counting electoral votes.

Pence has repeatedly said he did not have the power under the Constitution to reject electoral votes or send them back to the states.

A rowdy crowd, and moderators struggle to control the room — 10:19 p.m.

By Tal Kopan, Globe Staff

The moderators are having a hard time controlling the room. The candidates are talking over the time bell as well as each other. Ramaswamy has been in the middle of most of the exchanges with other candidates, who have shown open contempt for the political novice as he has shown contempt for them.

But it’s not just the candidates — the audience in the room has also been engaged. Cheering and jeering the candidates, at one point they were booing Christie so loud as he criticized Trump and Ramaswamy that the former governor paused. Bret Baier turned to admonish the crowd that the longer they booed, the less time the candidates would have to talk about the issues.

Who would support Trump if he was convicted? — 10:12 p.m.

By Tal Kopan, Globe Staff

The debate moderators asked the candidates to raise their hands for who would support Trump as the nominee even if he were convicted by a court.

All but two raised their hands, including Pence. The two who didn’t: Hutchinson, who argues Trump may be disqualified under the 14th Amendment for engaging in an insurrection, and Christie, who has been harshly critical of Trump’s actions as president.

Did Mike Pence do the right thing on Jan. 6? Here’s what the candidates said. — 10:07 p.m.

By Amanda Kaufman and Tal Kopan, Globe Staff

The candidates were asked whether Mike Pence did the “right thing on Jan. 6,″ 2021, by refusing to bow to pressure from Donald Trump to single-handedly block the certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential victory. Pence did not have the capacity to do what Trump pressured him to.

Pence “absolutely” did the right thing, Tim Scott said, adding that “we should be asking ourselves a bigger question about the weaponization of the Department of Justice,” and saying he’ll fire the current attorney general and FBI director if he’s elected.

DeSantis first dodged the question, agreeing with Scott’s point about the “weaponization of the federal government.” Later, he said Pence did his duty and he has “no beef” with him.

Pence said he upheld his duty to the Constitution.

Christie said Pence “stood for the Constitution,” and deserves our thanks as Americans.

Haley said Pence “did the right thing, and we need to give him credit for that.”

Republican presidential candidates (L-R), former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy.Win McNamee/Getty

Candidates largely stick to anti-abortion lines — 10:01 p.m.

By Lissandra Villa de Petrzelka, Globe Staff

Republican candidates had to grapple with the issue of abortion head on, and the candidates who weighed in largely stuck to the positions they’ve honed on the trail. Haley, who has in the past struggled to answer questions on what she supports in terms of federal abortion limits, argued that it’s disingenuous to make the issue so prominent when Republicans almost certainly would not have enough votes in Congress to pass a national abortion ban.

Pence, a longtime anti-abortion advocate, was eager to jump in to show off his bonafides on the issue: “I’m not new to this cause.” He argued for “unapologetic leadership” and a minimum abortion ban at 15 weeks of pregnancy. Scott was also eager to support a minimum 15-week limit.

DeSantis, meanwhile, demurred when asked whether he would sign a federal six week ban the way he did in his state. “I’m going to stand on the side of life,” he promised.

Though the issue is a difficult one for Republicans when the general public is so supportive of access to abortion, it was clear that the candidates still saw this as a way to appeal to conservative voters. At one point, Hutchinson, who argued that the decision should be left to the states, pulled out a pocket constitution. Several candidates demonized Democrats, who have as a party stood united in support of abortion access and seen that position pay off in elections since the Dobbs decision overturned the federal right to an abortion.

Nearly halfway through, moderators ask about Trump’s indictments. Watch live. — 9:58 p.m.

By Amanda Kaufman, Globe Staff

Nearly halfway through the debate, the moderators asked the candidates on stage about the “elephant not in the room”: Donald Trump, and the four indictments he’s facing.

Watch the debate live.

After brief mention of Trump, he’s receded from the conversation — 9:52 p.m.

By Tal Kopan, Globe Staff

It didn’t take long for a candidate to invoke the primary frontrunner: former president Donald Trump.

Haley name checked Trump in her first answer for running up the national debt. Though Trump’s former vice president, Pence, has been one of the few Trump critics in the race over the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, he jumped in to defend Trump, saying he was “incredibly proud of the record of the Trump-Pence administration,” including their Supreme Court choices.

Since then, however, there has been little mention of the former president, as the candidates have moved to attack each other, sometimes vociferously.

Meanwhile, Trump remains miles ahead of all of them in the polls.

But just before the commercial break, moderators teed up a round of questions on the former president’s looming legal challenges.

DeSantis might not be attacking Ramaswamy, but his PAC is — 9:46 p.m.

By Tal Kopan, Globe Staff

In a leaked debate strategy document, the super PAC that is DeSantis’ shadow campaign urged the Florida governor to take a “sledgehammer” to businessman Vivek Ramaswamy. So far, that hasn’t happened (though Ramaswamy referenced the leak and the influence of the super PAC).

But that super PAC, Never Back Down, is following the plan on Twitter. They attacked Ramaswamy along the same lines that Christie did onstage, saying he copied from Barack Obama with his “skinny guy with a funny last name” line.

Moderators ask about climate change — and unleash differences, zingers — 9:38 p.m.

By Tal Kopan, Globe Staff

The second question in the Republican debate was perhaps a surprising topic. The moderators asked everyone to raise their hands if they thought human behavior caused climate change. None raised their hands, but DeSantis also immediately interjected at the moderators to not ask such questions, instead launching into the topic by accusing the “corporate media” for being biased against Republicans and slamming President Biden for a perceived slow response to speak about the Hawaii wildfires.

Ramaswamy went further, declaring “the climate agenda is a hoax” and claiming people were dying of climate change policies, not a changing climate.

The debate quickly spun out, as Christie leapt on Ramaswamy, accusing him of being “a guy who sounds like Chat GPT” and noting his “skinny guy with a strange last name” line is reminiscent of Barack Obama. “I think we’re dealing with the same type of amateur,” Christie said.

Ramaswamy called back, “Then give me a hug like you did Obama.”

The question did offer one policy contrast, however, Haley interjected (with, as the only woman onstage, a Margaret Thatcher quote about women getting things done) that climate change is real — a shift for Republican politics. But, she said, Democrats’ climate policies enrich her favorite target, China, instead of having that country crack down on its own emissions.

At Manchester, N.H., debate watch party, most voters say they’re undecided on who to support — 9:32 p.m.

By Steven Porter, Globe Staff

In a room filled with 75 debate watch party attendees in Manchester, N.H., only about five raised their hands when a host asked shortly before the event who had made up their minds about which candidate they will back in the GOP presidential primary.

The number of undecided voters is a testament to the fact that Granite Staters are “world-class tire-kickers” when it comes to their tradition of hosting the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, said Greg Moore, state director for Americans for Prosperity, which hosted the party.

The organization is affiliated with AFP Action, which has announced plans to endorse a Republican candidate other than Trump.

”So much of this campaign so far has been personality-driven, particularly one personality,” Moore said. “Frankly, we’ve missed the opportunity to talk about a number of key issues, and I think this is really an opportunity for some folks to shine in that space.”

Fox News moderator tried to ask who believes in human contribution to climate change. DeSantis cut her off. — 9:27 p.m.

By Amanda Kaufman, Globe Staff

Fox News host Martha MacCallum, one of the moderators of tonight’s debate, attempted to ask the candidates on stage to raise their hands if they believe that human behavior contributes to climate change.

DeSantis interrupted before the candidates could answer, pressing for debate rather than being treated like “schoolchildren.”

In the first 20 minutes, not much substantive debate — 9:22 p.m.

By Lissandra Villa de Petrzelka, Globe Staff

The first 20 minutes of the debate yielded little in terms of substantive debate.

Candidates were eager to jump in and prove themselves, with DeSantis dropping a Hunter Biden reference, Haley taking a shot by name at Trump, and Ramaswamy introducing himself as a newcomer.

”Now is not the time for on the job training,” Pence responded at one point to Ramaswamy, who had been railing on career politicians. (Pence served as vice president to Trump, who had never before held public office.)

DeSantis fires his first shot at Bidenomics — 9:16 p.m.

By Jim Puzzanghera, Globe Staff

DeSantis took the opportunity of the first question in the debate to criticize President Biden on the economy.

”We must reverse Bidenomics so that middle class families have a chance to succeed again,” he said. “We cannot succeed as a country if you are working hard and you can’t afford groceries, a car or a new home while Hunter Biden can make hundreds of thousands of dollars on lousy paintings.”

He called for cutting federal spending and for opening “all energy production” to lower gas prices. But it’s unclear how much more energy production can be brought online. US oil production is up this year and expected to set a record, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Other candidates jumped in to hit the themes of reducing government spending and increasing energy production.

”Unlock American energy. Drill, frack, burn coal, embrace nuclear,” said Vivek Ramaswamy.

Trump says he skipped debate because opponents aren’t qualified — 9:09 p.m.

By Jim Puzzanghera, Globe Staff

Trump told Tucker Carlson in a video interview that he decided to skip the Republican debate because he didn’t want to be a punching bag for people who aren’t qualified to be president.

”I’m saying, do I sit there for an hour or two hours or whatever it’s going to be and get harassed by people who shouldn’t be running for president,” Trump told Carlson at the start of a 46-minute video posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

Trump also took a shot at Fox News, which is airing the debate as “not being particularly friendly to me.”

”I think it was a terrible move getting rid of you,” Trump told Carlson, who was fired by Fox News in April.

Trump said he didn’t want to name which candidates he thought were unqualified but then proceeded to mention Hutchinson and Christie. Both have been sharp critics of Trump.

Candidates take the podiums as the debate begins — 9:02 p.m.

By Amanda Kaufman, Globe Staff

Republican presidential candidates are on stage for the first debate, and the presidential hopefuls are standing according to where they stand in the polls, with the highest-polling candidates in the middle.

The order goes as follows: DeSantis, Ramaswamy, Pence, Haley, Christie, Scott, Hutchinson, and Burgum.

Here’s what our political reporters are watching tonight — 8:53 p.m.

Tal Kopan: I’m watching who goes on attack — and against whom. Odds are that many will avoid criticizing Trump, even though he is the runaway leader in the primary race.

Lissandra Villa de Petrzelka: An issue the eventual Republican presidential nominee will have to reckon with is abortion; it’s now a dominating topic in national politics since the Supreme Court overturned the federal right to an abortion in 2022. It will be interesting to see how Republican candidates navigate that if it comes up in this debate, since all the GOP primary candidates are under pressure from the right to commit to a national abortion ban.

Jim Puzzanghera: The economy tops polls of Americans’ biggest issues in the election and I’ll be watching to see if any of the candidates provide detailed policies or just criticize Biden.

Who will have a ‘moment’? — 8:46 p.m.

By Tal Kopan, Globe Staff

The live event, set to run two hours starting at 9 p.m. Eastern Time, will only form part of the legacy of this debate. While the event will have a sizable live viewership, many more Americans will catch clips or read recaps the following day, as the highlights of the evening are chewed over by the press and armchair pundits around the internet.

That is why the debate “moment” is so essential — having a memorable line or exchange can propel a candidate into the post-debate news cycle and gain them lasting traction. Those who don’t succeed in being quotable will likely see their stars fade.

Candidates might have a strong blow prepared in advance. Kamala Harris had a signature moment in an early Democratic debate in 2019 when she criticized then-candidate Joe Biden for his previous stance against desegregation busing, culminating in a now-famous line, “that little girl was me.” The campaign had merchandise highlighting the phrase ready for purchase within hours of the debate, and it led to a bump in the polls for her candidacy — albeit a fleeting one.

Other candidates seize an opportunity as it presents itself. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had a classic debate moment in 2016 when he hammered his opponent, Senator Marco Rubio, for repeating himself. Although the exchange did not propel Christie’s candidacy in the GOP primary, it did hasten the end of Rubio’s.

The candidates tonight surely will be clamoring to roll their prepped moments out at the right time. The ones that stick the landing could see a big payoff.

Scenes from the debate venue in Milwaukee — 8:40 p.m.

By Amanda Kaufman, Globe Staff

People arrived before a Republican presidential primary debate sponsored by FOX News Channel.Morry Gash/Associated Press
Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump carried signs around the Fiserv Forum.Win McNamee/Getty
Former Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, second from left, talked as Donald Trump Jr., right, stood at Fiserv Forum.Mike De Sisti/Associated Press

What Democrats will be doing tonight: Staying (mostly) out of the way — 8:37 p.m.

By Tal Kopan, Globe Staff

With President Biden facing no serious primary challenger and already backed by the Democratic National Committee, Democrats tonight will be happy to sit back and let the Republican field attack each other. They’re likely hoping the candidates will race each other to the right, setting up Democratic attacks down the road.

But they’re not staying entirely silent. The Biden campaign has bought a prominent ad on the Fox News website all night that will greet those looking for debate content. It features a meme known as “Dark Brandon” — Biden in aggressive mode, essentially — that says “Get real Jack, I’m bringing Roe Back.”

A screenshot of Fox News' homepage shows a Biden campaign ad of a meme known as "Dark Brandon."Screenshot

The Biden campaign also released a statement Wednesday spokesperson Kevin Munoz hitting the Republican field for being MAGA and “doing their best impressions of Donald Trump” while Trump holds a “softball interview” with Tucker Carlson.

”Instead of explaining his broken promises to Wisconsin and the 13,000 Foxconn manufacturing jobs that never were, we’ll likely hear him double down on his most out-of-touch positions, including his support for wild, debunked conspiracy theories and a national abortion ban,” Munoz predicted, foreshadowing Democrats’ lines of attack.

Foreign policy questions will highlight differences between candidates — 8:31 p.m.

By the Associated Press

The conservatives on stage agree on most policies. But in the age of Trump, foreign policy has emerged as a serious point of contention.

A growing group of Republicans, including the likes of DeSantis and Ramaswamy, have embraced Trump’s “America First” populism that calls for a reduced U.S. footprint in global affairs. DeSantis earlier in the year described Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as “a territorial dispute” before being forced to backtrack. Others have offered similar assessments. And the conflicts extend well beyond Ukraine.

Ramaswamy last week said he hoped to reduce expanded aid to Israel by 2028. On the other side of the issue, Pence and Haley have called for a more muscular foreign policy against Russia and other geopolitical foes as is the GOP tradition.

Foreign policy rarely sways presidential primaries, but few issues will demonstrate the differences between the candidates’ policies on Wednesday night more than this one.

Only two candidates on stage tonight have debate experience. Does it matter? — 8:25 p.m.

By Tal Kopan, Globe Staff

Out of tonight’s eight candidates, only two have experience on a stage similar to this one. Pence faced off in a vice presidential debate against Kamala Harris in 2020, and Christie participated in GOP debates as a presidential candidate in 2016. Both delivered strong performances. While others on stage have had some debate experience, like gubernatorial races, none of those forums came with pressure or audiences as big as they will face tonight.

It’s unclear how much the experience will matter. Many of the candidates have been doing traditional prep, although some have tried to portray the opposite image. Entrepreneur and political novice Vivek Ramaswamy claimed to be eschewing formal debate prep, only to have a picture of him engaged in a mock debate leak. Nikki Haley’s team said she was spending the day listening to pump-up music, another example of a campaign telegraphing that their candidate is prepared.

Still, having familiarity and comfort with the format, as well as an understanding of how to prepare, can be useful. The Daily Beast looked into Ron DeSantis’ debate record and found his gubernatorial opponents who researched him well were able to rattle him onstage. That’s exactly what candidates will be hoping to do to each other tonight.

Don’t expect many detailed economic policies — 8:20 p.m.

By Jim Puzzanghera, Globe Staff

There probably will be plenty of criticism of President Biden’s handling of the economy, but don’t look for a lot of details from the Republican candidates about exactly what they’d do differently.

So far in the campaign, only two of them — DeSantis and Pence — have unveiled detailed economic plans. They both rolled out their proposals late last month on an issue that has lost some political potency as inflation decreases and optimism rises that the US can avoid a long-feared recession.

Pence zeroed in on inflation, which remains elevated although down significantly from a four decade high a year ago. DeSantis unveiled a broader 10-point in New Hampshire that mixed traditional Republican policies — low taxes, less government regulation, reduced federal spending, and increased energy production — with some “anti-woke” initiatives, such as ending the use of “environmental, social, and governance standards” in corporate investing.

Read more.

One topic to watch: Candidates’ answers on abortion — 8:14 p.m.

By the Associated Press

For much of the year, many Republican candidates have sidestepped specific questions about abortion and whether they would support a federal law outlawing the procedure nationwide. Whatever they say or don’t say Wednesday night could have serious short- and long-term political consequences. And there are no easy answers.

Religious conservatives who wield tremendous influence in GOP primary elections — especially in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses — strongly support a nationwide abortion ban. But the broader swath of voters who will ultimately decide the general election next fall overwhelmingly support abortion rights.

Look no further than DeSantis for evidence of the delicate dance on abortion. Just four months ago, the Florida governor signed into Florida law a ban on abortions at six weeks of pregnancy — before most women know they’re pregnant. But he has largely avoided the issue on the campaign trail. Scott and Pence stand on the other side. Both have said they would sign a national abortion ban if elected. And Pence is planning to press the issue on the debate stage whether his rivals want him to or not. Democrats hope he does.

How much will tonight be about Trump? — 8:08 p.m.

By Tal Kopan, Globe Staff

Trump’s absence from the debate stage tonight will leave an opening for attacks against the frontrunner, which are sure to come from his staunch critics like Chris Christie. But the GOP primary has been shaped by an odd dynamic in which most of Trump’s rivals, competing to dislodge him, are nevertheless loathe to criticize him.

With a huge portion of the Republican base still loyal to the former president, the candidates often praise his record and downplay the four criminal indictments he is facing, opting instead to lambast the justice system on his behalf.

The Fox News moderators tonight will have some control over how much the former president’s name is invoked, and could ask pointed questions about his actions around the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection and efforts to overturn Biden’s election victory. But we could see candidates continue to skate away from answering those questions.

Trump’s absence (he’s opted instead to do an interview with Tucker Carlson on the platform formally known as Twitter,) may be an opportunity for lesser-known candidates to soak up the extra oxygen the former president is so skilled at monopolizing. But experts tell my colleague Jess Bidgood that the main task tonight for the non-Trump candidates is just to survive, not dethrone the former president.

Read more.

Tim Scott will head to N.H. after debate — 8:03 p.m.

By Jim Puzzanghera, Globe Staff

Tim Scott will follow up his debate appearance with a campaign swing through New Hampshire on Friday.

Scott will headline a Concord City Republican Committee’s “Politics & Pies” forum from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Phenix Hall, according to an invitation from the group. Before that, Scott will meet with voters in Concord starting at 1 p.m. according to a media advisory from his campaign. The location was not released.

He’ll start the day meeting with voters at 10:30 a.m. in Hooksett, also at a location to be determined.

DeSantis faces extra challenge after debate strategy leak — 7:55 p.m.

By Tal Kopan, Globe Staff

DeSantis was always going to have a hard night tonight. He has long been the second-place candidate seen as most likely to capture the voting bloc seeking a viable Trump alternative, which puts a target on him for all the other candidates looking for that lane. He has also been beset by a series of stumbles that show vulnerability, including his much-discussed awkwardness with voters and exceedingly high rate of burning through campaign money. The attacks were always going to fly his way this debate.

And that was before hundreds of pages of debate strategy advice for DeSantis were posted online by the super PAC that has become his shadow campaign. As a way to get around laws that are supposed to limit coordination between PACs and campaigns, operations will often post content for each other to find in surreptitious corners of the internet. But sometimes those get discovered, and in this case the strategy documents were found and described by The New York Times.

The memos included advice to defend Trump and “hammer” entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, as well as to attack President Biden and the media. While DeSantis has distanced himself from the advice and his allies have shrugged it off as not particularly insightful, DeSantis will now have to be careful to not only execute his debate plan, but to avoid obviously following the advice in the memo.

Were he to appear to stick to the leaked script, other candidates — especially Chris Christie, who has hammered an opponent on the debate stage before for repetition — will be surely poised to pounce.

‘We’ll have as many restarts as they have indictments,’ DeSantis advisor says of Trump — 7:44 p.m.

By Amanda Kaufman, Globe Staff

Jeff Roe, an advisor for a Ron DeSantis super PAC, was asked ahead of the debate about Donald Trump’s campaign’s mockery of DeSantis’s campaign shakeups, which in recent weeks have included a new campaign manager, laying off a third of his staff, and opting to focus on more intimate events.

“I guess we’ll have as many restarts as they have indictments, I guess is how it’ll go,” Roe hit back in an interview with CBS News. Trump is facing four separate indictments.

Who’s moderating? — 7:31 p.m.

By Amanda Kaufman, Globe Staff

Fox News hosts Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum will moderate Wednesday night’s debate.

Bret Baier, right, and Martha MacCallum, left, during a Fox News town-hall style event with Senator Bernie Sanders in April 2019. Matt Rourke/Associated Press

A reminder on who won’t be there tonight — 7:17 p.m.

By Tal Kopan, Globe Staff

It’s not just Trump who won’t be on the debate stage tonight, and unlike Trump, they didn’t have a choice in the matter. There are several candidates who believed they would make the stage under the Republican National Committee’s criteria, only to find at the last minute they just missed the cut. Radio personality Larry Elder, former Texas Congressman Will Hurd, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, and businessman Perry Johnson all met the required 40,000 donors threshold and believed they had reached enough polls of at least 1 percent to make the stage.

But the RNC, which along the way did not comment on which polls would or would not be counted under their detailed quality criteria, ultimately ruled this week that the four candidates would not be allowed to debate. It’s caused friction ahead of the event, with some of the spurned candidates threatening legal action.

The chair of the RNC, Ronna McDaniel, dismissed their criticisms in an interview with Politico.

“Maybe instead of blaming the RNC, they should look at their internal campaigns,” she said. “I don’t think many people woke up today surprised that these four candidates didn’t make the stage.”

Debate puts spotlight on Wisconsin — 7:08 p.m.

By the Associated Press

Republicans chose Milwaukee not just for the first debate but the national convention in just 11 months largely because of Wisconsin’s well-earned status as a swing state. Four of the past six presidential elections have been decided by less than a percentage point here, with Donald Trump winning narrowly in 2016 before losing by a similar margin in 2020.

Read the full story.

Over half of Republicans will likely watch debate, according to poll — 6:54 p.m.

By Shannon Larson, Globe Staff

More than half of all Republicans said they are likely to watch the first Republican presidential primary debate Wednesday night in Milwaukee, according to a new poll.

The Economist/YouGov poll found that 58 percent of Republicans said they “definitely will” or “probably will” watch the debate compared to 38 percent of Democrats who said the same.

In total, 42 percent of Americans said they will at least likely tune in while at least 43 percent will likely not.

The poll was taken between Aug. 12 and 15, prior to Trump confirming Sunday that he will be skipping the first debate.

Vivek Ramaswamy’s big debut — 6:28 p.m.

By Steven Porter, Globe Staff

Biotechnology entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy posted a video online Monday of himself playing tennis, shirtless. “Three hours of solid debate prep this morning,” he wrote.

The 38-year-old prioritized his travel-packed campaign schedule over “traditional” debate prep, then in the homestretch before Wednesday’s event, he played tennis and spent time with his kids, according to campaign spokesperson Tricia McLaughlin. Their goal? To avoid over-preparing. That way, Ramaswamy can introduce himself to the American public in a way that conveys a sense of authenticity. “I really do think you’ll see Vivek being Vivek, which I think will be refreshing for people,” McLaughlin said.

Does their messaging match reality? Not entirely. The Washington Post obtained a photo that reportedly shows Ramaswamy participating in a traditional mock debate with staffers. McLaughlin told the Post that Ramaswamy “experimented” with the old-school approach but viewed his activity on the campaign trail as his “real prep.”

Ramaswamy is the candidate who Republican voters view as benefiting the most from Trump’s absence, according to a recent Morning Consult poll. He and Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida ranked as the two candidates expected to perform best. DeSantis has been advised to “take a sledgehammer” to Ramaswamy. McLaughlin said he’s anticipating broadsides from others as well. “He is ready,” she said.

Tucker Carlson’s Trump interview will air minutes before debate starts — 6:05 p.m.

By Jim Puzzanghera, Globe Staff

Donald Trump won’t be at the Republican debate and he’ll attempt to pre-empt it with an interview with Tucker Carlson that will be posted on the X social media platform five minutes before the Fox News broadcast begins.

Carlson, the former Fox News host who was fired in April, said in a short video on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the video of the interview will go up at 8:55 p.m.

”Whatever you think of Trump, he is as of tonight the indisputable, far and away frontrunner in the Republican race,” Carlson said on the short video. “We think voters have an interest in hearing what he thinks. So when Trump approached us about having a conversation for a far larger audience than he’d receive on cable news, we happily accepted.”

After a basketball injury put his appearance in doubt, Doug Burgum says he’s ‘in’ — 5:33 p.m.

By Tal Kopan, Globe Staff

Burgum confirmed Wednesday evening he’ll participate in the debate, after an injury during a pick-up basketball game put his attendance in doubt.

The software magnate-turned-politician, who made the debate stage after a crafty gift card-for-donation scheme, tore his achilles tendon playing basketball in a pick-up game Tuesday and earlier Wednesday was not certain whether he could be in the debate after all. He told NBC at a walk-through this afternoon he would do everything he could to be there.

”If I have to stand on one leg for two hours to fulfill this mission of improving every American life, I am happy to do it,” he said.

He later posted a photo to the social media platform X of him walking in crutches with the caption, “I’m in,” confirming he’ll participate.

These are the eight candidates you’ll see on stage — 5:17 p.m.

By Amanda Kaufman, Globe Staff

  • Florida Governor Ron DeSantis
  • Former vice president Mike Pence
  • South Carolina Senator Tim Scott
  • Former governor of South Carolina and United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley
  • Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie
  • North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum
  • Former two-term Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson
  • Ohio businessman Vivek Ramaswamy

President Biden says he’ll try to watch — 5:04 p.m.

By the Associated Press

President Biden says he’s plans to take a break from vacation to watch the first Republican presidential debate, contradicting previous White House comment hoping he might avoid it.

On Wednesday, the president and first lady traveled to Pelo Dog Pilates and Indoor Cycling Boutique in South Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Speaking to reporters as he left the boutique, the president was asked about watching the GOP debate taking place hours later in Milwaukee. “I’m going to try to see — get as much as I can, yes,” he said.

Asked about his expectations, he responded, “I have none.”

President Biden walked over to speak with reporters after taking a pilates and spin class at PeloDog on Wednesday in South Lake Tahoe, Calif.Evan Vucci/Associated Press

Biden has nothing on his public schedule for the rest of the week after traveling to Hawaii on Monday to survey wildfire damage. While flying there aboard Air Force One, deputy White House press secretary Olivia Dalton was asked if Biden planned to watch the debate and responded, “I don’t know. I sure hope not.”

“I hope for his sake,” Dalton added. “So, but I don’t know, actually.”

Here is what each of the candidates must do | Analysis — 4:59 p.m.

By James Pindell, Globe Staff

The debate will serve as an introduction of sorts for many of these candidates in front of a national audience.

The former president’s decision to skip the debate — instead opting for an interview with Tucker Carlson — leaves eight candidates not named Trump to create some viral moment out of the six or seven minutes most will likely receive.

Here’s a look at what each candidate may set out to do.

Trump is skipping the debate — 4:52 p.m.

By the Associated Press

Former president Donald Trump confirmed Sunday that he will be skipping Wednesday’s first Republican presidential primary debate — and others as well.

“The public knows who I am & what a successful Presidency I had,” Trump wrote on his social media site. “I WILL THEREFORE NOT BE DOING THE DEBATES!” His spokesman did not immediately clarify whether he plans to boycott every primary debate or just those that have currently been scheduled.

Read the full story.

Who’s in, who’s out, who’s boycotting: The 8 candidates taking the stage — 4:35 p.m.

By the Associated Press

The stage is set for the first Republican presidential debate of the 2024 campaign, with the Republican National Committee saying late Monday that eight candidates had met the qualifications to be on stage in Milwaukee.

A look at who’s in, who’s out, and who’s decided not to participate.

This combination of photos shows Republican presidential candidates, top row from left, Senator Tim Scott, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former president Donald Trump, and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, and bottom row from left, former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum and Vivek Ramaswamy.Uncredited/Associated Press