With the first votes in the Republican presidential nomination calendar less than four months away, Fox News’ Dana Perino predicts that Wednesday’s second GOP primary debate “is where the rubber meets the road.”
Perino, along with Fox Business’ Stuart Varney and UNIVISION’s Ilia Calderón will co-moderate the debate, which will take place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
Pointing back to last month’s first debate, a Fox News hosted showdown in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, longtime Republican consultant David Kochel said “everybody gets an introduction. Do a little bit of biography. Make your full opening statement.”
“The second debate is about trajectory and who’s capable of really sustaining some momentum,” Kochel, a veteran of numerous GOP presidential campaigns, emphasized.
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Dave Carney, another longtime Republican strategist and presidential campaign veteran, noted that “the first debate for most of the candidates was their first time.”
“I think this debate becomes almost a cage fight because the candidates need to differentiate themselves,” Carney predicted. “The seven or eight guys can’t keep dancing like this all the way through the primaries. So somebody’s got to break out. It’s high risk, high reward.”
The debate will be televised on the FOX Business Network (FBN) and UNIVISION from 9-11pm ET on Wednesday.
To participate in the second debate, each candidate must have a minimum of 50,000 unique donors to their campaign or exploratory committee, including 200 donors in 20 or more states. The candidates must also reach 3% support in two national polls or reach 3% in one national poll and 3% in two polls conducted in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina, the four states that lead off the Republican presidential nominating calendar.
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Additionally, candidates are also required to sign a pledge in which they agree to support the eventual Republican presidential nominee. They must agree not to participate in any non-RNC sanctioned debates for the rest of the 2024 election cycle and agree to data-sharing with the national party committee.
So far, according to a Fox News count, six of the eight candidates who took part in last month’s first GOP presidential nomination debate have already reached the RNC’s criteria.
They are, in alphabetical order, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former ambassador and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, biotech entrepreneur and political commentator Vivek Ramaswamy, and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.
Former President Donald Trump, who has reached the donor and polling thresholds, did not sign the RNC’s pledge. Pointing to his commanding lead over his rivals for the nomination, he did not attend the first debate and is not showing up for the second showdown.
Perino, who served as White House Press under then-President George W. Bush, emphasized that the candidates on the stage “have to have something” that illustrates they can be the “main rival” to Trump. “Their donors and supporters need them to have that kind of moment.”
Carney said that the candidates “have a breakout night and do well, you can put some of your rivals to sleep, and you can start formulating yourself as the alternative to Trump.”
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With the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary – the first two contests in the GOP nominating calendar – fast approaching, Republican communicator Ryan Williams, another presidential campaign veteran, spotlighted a sense of urgency.
“The clock is ticking for you to have your breakout moment and establish yourself in the top three – Trump and his two closest rivals. I think that’s how this race will be look at after Iowa and New Hampshire – it will be Trump and two others potentially. But at this point Trump is so far and away in the lead that there really has to be consolidation of the field in anybody is going to have a feasible chance of knocking him off.”
Carney offered that debate viewers “are focusing on what’s the alternative to Trump. And if none of them are the alternative to Trump, he’s going to walk away with the nomination without breaking a sweat.”
The Reagan Library is a much smaller venue that the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, site of the first debate, and a much smaller audience of around 700 is expected, giving Wednesday’s showdown a more intimate setting.
Kochel predicted that “this will be a less raucous debate because it will be a much smaller crowd.”
With Fox Business hosting the debate, the economy will likely take center stage.
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“Certainly, the economy is a front and center issue for all Americans. You see that in every poll. And the economy effects every other thing,” Perino said. “There’s a high amount of anxiety [among Americans] across all sorts of issues and the economy is certainly front and center and is sort of the river that runs through it all.”
But Varney noted that “nobody wants to hear about the Federal Reserve, earnings per share, and all that kind of jargon stuff that you get out of Wall Street and financial and business news. That’s not going to be there. The economy will there, along with all the other subjects that Americans are concerned with.”
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