Republicans debate tonight; Trump has other plans

Debate: DeSantis will be there. Trump won't. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

The second Republican presidential debate is set for tonight with a smaller onstage lineup than the first event last month. Former President Donald Trump is skipping the event, but seven other candidates will be there.

The two-hour debate will start at 9 p.m. ET on Wednesday. It’s being moderated by Fox Business Network host Stuart Varney and Fox News Channel host Dana Perino, as well as Univision anchor Ilia Calderón.

The event will air on Fox News Channel and Fox Business, as well as on the network’s website and other streaming and digital platforms. There’s also a Spanish-language feed airing on Univision.

As with last month’s debate, the Republican National Committee has partnered with Rumble — a video-sharing platform popular with some conservatives — to livestream this one, in lieu of the network’s YouTube channel. RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel said earlier this year this was a decision aimed toward “getting away from Big Tech.”

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The setting for the debate is Ronald Reagan’s presidential library in Simi Valley, California. Many of the Republican hopefuls have made recent trips to the library for its “A Time for Choosing” speaking series, named for Reagan’s pivotal 1964 speech on behalf of GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has framed himself as a possible Reagan-esque figure, aiming to oust what he characterized as a weak and unpopular Democratic incumbent in President Joe Biden. Former Vice President Mike Pence often talks of how he “joined the Reagan revolution and never looked back,” and took his oath with his hand on the Reagan family Bible.

In the first debate, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy called himself “the only candidate in this race, young or old, black or white, to bring all of those voters along to deliver a Reagan 1980 Revolution.”

Candidates other than Trump who qualified for the debate are DeSantis, Ramaswamy, Pence, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.

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The party set a number of markers that candidates needed to meet to qualify, including achieving benchmarks in polling and donor numbers, as well as signing a pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who took part in last month’s debate, missed the cut for this one.

Trump will miss his second debate in a row, deciding there is little upside in joining his lower-polling rivals on stage given his commanding early lead in polls. Instead, he will meet with current and former union workers in Michigan, where thousands of autoworkers have been on strike as part of a labor dispute involving Detroit’s Big Three and the United Auto Workers union.