Receive free US presidential election 2024 updates
We’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest US presidential election 2024 news every morning.
Donald Trump has announced that he will skip the Republican presidential debates as he holds a commanding lead in the party’s polls days before other candidates are scheduled to square off on the dais for the first time.
The move by Trump breaks with the tradition of leading presidential candidates participating in debates. The first Republican debate of the 2024 race is set for Wednesday night in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The former president, whose campaign has been overshadowed by criminal charges brought against him at a federal and state level, had in recent weeks increasingly questioned the need to appear.
In a social media post on Sunday he confirmed that he would not participate alongside his Republican rivals for the White House.
“The public knows who I am and what a successful presidency I had, with energy independence, strong borders and military, biggest ever tax and regulation cuts, no inflation, strongest economy in history and much more,” Trump wrote. “I WILL THEREFORE NOT BE DOING THE DEBATES”, he added.
Trump cited a CBS poll released on Sunday showing that 62 per cent of likely Republican primary voters now say they would back the beleaguered former president, giving him his largest lead to date over other contenders in the race to clinch his party’s nomination.
The next most popular candidate, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, trails Trump by a wide margin, garnering the support of only 16 per cent of those surveyed. The seven remaining presidential hopefuls have only single-digit support.
The New York Times reported on Friday that Trump was planning to skip the first debate and instead sit for an interview with Tucker Carlson, the firebrand conservative television host formerly at Fox News. Trump has not confirmed that plan, but such a decision would be particularly painful for Fox because it is hosting the debate on Wednesday.
All of Trump’s main rivals are expected to appear at the first debate including DeSantis; the campaigner against environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing Vivek Ramaswamy; South Carolina senator Tim Scott; Nikki Haley, the former US ambassador to the UN; and Mike Pence, Trump’s former vice-president.
“Who knows what’ll end up happening? We’ll be prepared either way. But I’m excited about doing it because most of what you do in this process is filtered through media,” DeSantis said during an appearance in Atlanta, Georgia, on Friday.
DeSantis also indirectly referred to Trump and his insistence that he was unfairly deprived of re-election in 2020: “I hope that we will be focused on the future of the country, rather than some of the other static that’s out there right now.”
Pence criticised Trump for not appearing. “Every one of us that has qualified for that debate stage ought to be on the stage, be willing to square off, answer the tough questions and also draw a bright-line contrast” on various issues, the former vice-president told ABC News on Sunday.
To qualify for the debate, Republican candidates had to meet certain donor and polling thresholds and pledge to support the party’s eventual nominee in the general election.
Wisconsin has been a crucial swing state in the past two general elections, with Trump winning it by a small margin in 2016 against Hillary Clinton and then losing it to Joe Biden in 2020 — also by a slim margin.
Kevin Munoz, a spokesperson for Biden’s re-election campaign, said Trump did not want to show up in Milwaukee because the state exemplified his “failed leadership”. “He cannot hide from the fact that Wisconsinites rejected him in 2020, and will reject the MAGA agenda again in 2024,” Munoz said in a statement.