WASHIGTON — The lineup is finally set. Now we have to wait and see what the candidates actually say.
The Republican National Committee formally announced that eight GOP candidates will take the debate stage Wednesday, though the list did not include the current GOP frontrunner: Donald Trump.
Trump’s refusal to debate leaves the others to argue among themselves: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and former New Jersey Gov Chris Christie.
The debate takes place in Milwaukee at 9 p.m. eastern time Wednesday.
Aaron Kall, a debate coach at the University of Michigan who has attended many primary debates, said the first thing he’s looking for in Milwaukee is how Trump’s absence affects everyone else.
“I refer to it as the elephant-not-in-the-room,” he said.
But that’s not the only question surrounding the first debate of the 2024 presidential election cycle.
Who gets attacked more: Trump or DeSantis?
Most of the candidates, including DeSantis, Haley and Scott have avoided talking about Trump and his indictments, or argued without evidence that prosecutors are politically motivated.
Some of those same candidates have not hesitated to criticize DeSantis, the candidate closest to Trump in the polls, on issues ranging from his ongoing battle with Disney in Florida to his campaign struggles.
Can Christie and Hutchinson make the case against Trump?
Christie and Hutchinson have been the most vocal critics of Trump, saying multiple criminal indictments, false allegations of voter fraud after the 2020 election and other legal issues disqualify him from reclaiming the White House.
It’s not clear how much time will they have during the debate to make their cases, with a crowded field of candidates on stage. And with Trump’s significant lead in the GOP field, and a number of Republicans sympathetic to the ex-president’s plight, a challenge may be getting voters to listen.
How will Ramaswamy deal with criticism?
The businessman and first-time candidate has moved up in several polls, to the point that candidates are preparing to attack him over his lack of experience.
Haley served notice Monday, criticizing Ramaswamy for questioning the U.S. relationship with Israel. “Between abandoning Israel, abolishing the FBI, and giving Taiwan to China, his foreign policy proposals have a common theme,” she said. “They make America less safe.”
How will Haley and Scott interact?
One of the unique aspects of the 2024 race for the White House is that it features two candidates from South Carolina, a pivotal state that holds an early primary in the nomination process.
On the campaign trail, Haley and Scott have tended to say nice things about each other; will that change on the debate stage as they look to appeal to voters from their home state who have a large say in who their party nominates?
What will Trump say?
The president and aides are talking about counterprogramming the debate with an interview by former Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
But the conversation is likely to be pre-taped, which would leave Trump free to watch the debate live and use social media to share criticism of his Republican rivals with his supporters.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: No Donald Trump, but Republican Party announces debate lineup