WASHINGTON ― The Republican National Committee’s presidential primary debates, still being skipped by the party’s coup-attempting front-runner, are now down to just four participants.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Ohio businessman Vivek Ramaswamy will meet Wednesday night in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for the fourth debate.
Former President Donald Trump, who has been demanding that the RNC stop hosting debates and get behind his candidacy, is again skipping, as he has the first three.
Wednesday’s lineup has one fewer than the third debate last month in Miami, which had included Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.
Scott ended his campaign days later after failing to rise in either national or early voting states’ polls.
The GOP debates began in August with eight candidates on the stage in Milwaukee, where the party will hold its nominating convention next summer. Weeks ago, Scott and former Vice President Mike Pence dropped out. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum dropped out Monday. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, while still running, has failed to meet the more stringent polling and fundraising thresholds for the second, third and fourth debates.
For Wednesday’s debate, candidates had to be at or above 6% in national or early state polls and have at least 80,000 unique donors. The debate will be moderated by Megyn Kelly of SiriusXM, Elizabeth Vargas of NewsNation and Eliana Johnson of the Washington Free Beacon.
It is unclear whether the RNC will present a fifth debate. One official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the party is having trouble lining up media sponsors willing to spend the several million dollars it takes to host the sort of event the RNC wants.
If the RNC stops hosting them, though, that would open the door for other entities, such as state parties, to hold them instead. The RNC had prohibited candidates from appearing at non-RNC debates or even debate-like events or face being banned from the RNC stage.
In the 2016 presidential campaign, the RNC hosted 12 debates. By this point, it had already staged four. It held one in mid-December, two more in January, three in February and two in March.
Both Trump and his staff have said he has no need to debate his rivals because he is so far ahead of them in the polls.
Trump faces four criminal indictments ― two based on his Jan. 6, 2021, coup attempt ― and 91 total felony charges. If convicted of the most serious ones, he could be sentenced to decades in prison. He nevertheless has been the consistent front-runner for the 2024 GOP nomination all year.