Absent Trump prepares to upstage Republican primary debate


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The US Republican party’s sharp divides will be laid bare on split-screen on Wednesday night, when eight candidates for president take the debate stage in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, while frontrunner Donald Trump tries to steal the spotlight with an interview with ousted Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

Trump, who has fallen out with Rupert Murdoch’s cable channel, said on Wednesday morning that his interview with Carlson would air at 9pm Eastern Standard Time — the same time that his eight rivals are due on stage in Milwaukee.

“Sparks will fly,” Trump said in a post on his Truth Social platform. The pre-recorded interview with Carlson is expected to be posted to X, formerly known as Twitter.

The debate and Trump’s interview with Carlson come just a day before the former president plans to surrender to authorities in Georgia, where he faces more than a dozen criminal charges relating to his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Trump’s mounting legal problems — including 91 felony counts in four separate cases — have done nothing to hurt his position in the Republican primary race, with the latest FiveThirtyEight average of national polls showing he enjoys the support of just over half of Republican voters.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis trails Trump in a distant second place, on 14 per cent, and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy is in third, on 9 points. Former vice-president Mike Pence, South Carolina senator Tim Scott, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, former Louisiana governor Asa Hutchinson and North Dakota’s governor Doug Burgum — each due on stage in Wisconsin — all trail in the single digits.

Their goal in Wednesday’s debate will be a scene-stealing performance to jump-start their campaigns. But they will also need to contend with the absent Trump — and inevitable questions about his criminal charges relating to false claims about the 2020 election.

DeSantis will seek to revive his flailing bid after public mis-steps and a reshuffle of his top advisers. But the Florida governor is also bracing for an onslaught of attacks from his rivals in Trump’s absence.

“If Trump doesn’t show then Governor DeSantis is the frontrunner on that stage,” said Dan Eberhart, a DeSantis donor and oilfield services executive. “He’s going to have to be prepared to fend off attacks from the rest of the field.”

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Ramaswamy is likely to face heightened scrutiny after comments this week suggesting that the US government could have been involved in the 9/11 terror attacks.

“I think it is legitimate to say how many police, how many federal agents, were on the planes that hit the Twin Towers,” the biotech entrepreneur told the Atlantic magazine. “Maybe the answer is zero. It probably is zero for all I know, right?” Ramaswamy also told CNN that the US government’s 9/11 Commission had “lied”.

But Trump’s spectre will loom over the contenders in Milwaukee. Most of them, including Pence — who broke with the former president on January 6 2021 — have been reluctant to criticise Trump directly. Christie, a formidable debater, is expected to attack the indicted former president.

Members of Trump’s team on Wednesday had already begun to boast about their strategy to upstage the Republican party event.

“President Trump has already won this evening’s debate because everything is going to be about him,” said a statement from campaign adviser Chris LaCivita. The former president’s team would be “tallying the number of times president Trump’s name is brought up, and his total ‘speaking time,’ even though he is not in attendance”, he added.

“When the other candidates do get a chance to speak, they will be a faint echo, or maybe even a copycat, of president Trump’s Make America Great Again agenda,” LaCivita said.

Additional reporting by Oliver Roeder

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Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden is a news writer for LinkDaddy News. She writes health, sport, tech, and more. Some of her favorite topics include the latest trends in fitness and wellness, the best ways to use technology to improve your life, and the latest developments in medical research.

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