Trump a no show at first GOP primary debate, but his presence was still strong

Election 2024 Republicans Second Debate
FILE - The Republican National Committee logo is shown on the stage as crew members work at the North Charleston Coliseum, Jan. 13, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. Some Republican presidential candidates haven’t yet met polling and fundraising thresholds for the first 2024 debate, and now the stakes for making it to the second debate will be even higher. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt, File)

By WVUA 23 News Reporter Peyton Newman

Eight of the nine top Republican presidential candidates met in Milwaukee Wednesday evening for the first presidential primary debate of the season.

Donald Trump chose not to participate in the debate, despite being the frontrunner for the Republican Party. Regardless of his absence, the New York Times reports that Trump will remain a popular topic of discussion throughout the debate.

Alabama GOP Chairman John Wahl explains why he believes Trump made this decision.

“It’s pretty normal for candidates who are far in the lead to not, and a lot of times that’s the recommendation from their consultants,” Wahl said. “So, if they’re so far in the lead that they feel it does not matter to them and it only gives their opponents, kind of, a way to attack them on stage, that, most of the time, is the reason for a front runner not coming to a debate with lower tier candidates.”

Wahl explained that this is a normal campaign strategy in down-ballot races, but has not been seen in awhile. According to, a down-ballot race refers to candidates who are not well known by the electorate compared to their counterparts.

Wahl said that Trump still has a large media presence, referring to the recent interview with Tucker Carlson. He ultimately believes the race will come down to who the electorate finds the most fit to fulfill its needs.

“So much of that is left up to the voters,” Wahl said. “I like to see candidates come out and have a bigger stage, and I think the Trump campaign also has the desire…So it’s gonna be very different, very interesting to see how the public responds. And, how the Republican primary voters react to the decision from the Trump campaign and from the candidates on the debate stage.”

Wahl believes most people already know Trump’s views on various policies, so his absence shouldn’t make much of a difference with voters.


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