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The candidates are going after one another at the leadoff 2024 GOP debate. Follow live updates

Aug 23, 2023, 11:58 AM | Updated: 6:34 pm

The stage is set at Fiserv Forum before the first 2023 Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee ...

The stage is set at Fiserv Forum before the first 2023 Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023. (Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP)

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Follow along for live updates on the first 2024 Republican presidential debate. The field’s early front-runner, Donald Trump, skipped the event and conducted an interview with Tucker Carlson instead.

What to know

— Trump won’t be at the GOP’s first presidential debate. But his presence will be felt — Who’s in, who’s out, who’s boycotting: The 8 candidates appearing on stage — Want to tune in for the debate? Here’s how to watch — Trump’s decision to back out tests Fox News’ ability to pivot again — The GOP presidential debate puts the spotlight on swing-state Wisconsin

Ramaswamy is a top early target on stage in Trump’s absence

Vivek Ramaswamy emerged as a popular target early in the debate, drawing cheers from the audience when he introduced himself.

“Let me just address a question that is on everybody’s mind at home tonight,” the biotech entrepreneur said. “Who the heck is this skinny guy with a funny last name?”

Former Vice President Mike Pence called him a “rookie,” saying people should not elect people without experience.

Christie accused Ramaswamy of trying to imitate Barack Obama and said the country had already tried that.

Economics of ‘Rich Men North of Richmond’

To start off the debate, candidates were asked to lay out their economic arguments by way of explaining why a viral song decrying high taxes and the wealth of the elite had caught fire.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis used his response to the popularity of Oliver Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond” to blame President Joe Biden for what he characterized as “American decline.” DeSantis also took an opportunity to go after Biden’s son Hunter, saying he made “hundreds of thousands of dollars on lousy paintings” while Americans “are working hard, and you can’t afford groceries a car or a new home.”

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he agreed “predominantly” with DeSantis’ response but argued he can be a consensus builder since he was “elected as a conservative Republican in a blue state.”

Two most prominent anti-Trump candidates get booed

Former President Donald Trump isn’t on the debate stage, but the audience seems firmly in his corner.

The crowd booed former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson as they were introduced at Wednesday night’s debate on Fox News. The two are among the most prominent anti-Trump candidates in the GOP field.

Trump skipped the event for an interview with Tucker Carlson instead. He told Carlson: “Do I sit there for an hour or two hours, whatever it’s going to be and get harassed by people that shouldn’t even be running for president? Should I be doing that at a network that isn’t particularly friendly to me?”

Candidates take podium as leadoff GOP debate begins

The first Republican presidential debate of the 2024 election cycle has begun.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, anti-woke activist Vivek Ramaswamy, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum took the stage Wednesday night for the Fox News event.

Fox News anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum are moderating.

Former President Donald Trump appeared poised to post on his Truth Social platform during the debate. He skipped the debate and instead conducted a prerecorded interview with Tucker Carlson that was airing at the same time.

They’re not on the stage – and not staying quiet

A couple of the Republican candidates who didn’t make the cut for the first 2024 GOP presidential debate are not being quiet about being left out.

Michigan businessman Perry Johnson on Wednesday released a copy of a complaint his campaign said he had filed with the Federal Election Commission against debate host Fox News and the Republican National Committee. Johnson claimed in a news release that he was left off the debate stage not because he hadn’t met the polling and donor qualifications but because he was “a political outsider.”

Conservative radio host Larry Elder also said he had filed a complaint with the FEC, alleging that rules about debate participation weren’t equally applied to all candidates.

Eight candidates are set to appear on the debate stage in Milwaukee on Wednesday night. The race’s front-runner, Donald Trump, is skipping the event for an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

‘I’m in,’ Burgum says after injuring Achilles

Doug Burgum is a go.

The North Dakota governor will participate in Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate after injuring his Achilles tendon during a basketball game, he confirmed on social media.

“I’m in,” he wrote in a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. He included a photo of himself walking with crutches on to the debate stage. He wore a boot on his left foot.

Burgum did a walk-through of the stage on his injured leg earlier Wednesday to test whether he would be able to attend. He hurt his Achilles the day before.

Biden says he plans to try to watch the debate

President Joe Biden says he plans to take a break from vacation to watch the first Republican presidential debate, contradicting previous White House comment hoping he might avoid it.

On Wednesday, the president and first lady traveled to Pelo Dog Pilates, an indoor cycling boutique in South Lake Tahoe, California. Speaking to reporters as he left the boutique, the president was asked about watching the GOP debate taking place hours later in Milwaukee. “I’m going to try to see — get as much as I can, yes,” he said.

Asked about his expectations, he responded, “I have none.”

Biden has nothing on his public schedule for the rest of the week after traveling to Hawaii on Monday to survey wildfire damage. While flying there aboard Air Force One, deputy White House press secretary Olivia Dalton was asked if Biden planned to watch the debate and responded, “I don’t know. I sure hope not.”

“I hope for his sake,” Dalton added. “So, but I don’t know, actually.”

Carlson interview with Trump to begin airing shortly before debate

Former Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s interview with Donald Trump will air at 8:55 p.m. Eastern time, just minutes before the first Republican presidential debate begins.

Carlson says his interview with Trump will be posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. The interview with the early 2024 Republican presidential front-runner was prerecorded.

Trump indicated for months that he would likely skip the first GOP debate, questioning why he should appear in the same forum as candidates trailing far behind him in polls.

His move also serves the purpose of jabbing at debate host Fox News, which he has criticized as being disloyal to him. Trump’s absence from the debate is widely expected to bring down audience numbers.

Burgum debate attendance in doubt after injury

The first Republican presidential debate was expected to be North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s introduction to the national stage, but his attendance is now in doubt after an injury.

Burgum hurt his Achilles tendon playing basketball with members of his campaign staff on Tuesday and was taken to the emergency room.

He plans to do a walk-through of the stage on his injured leg Wednesday and then assess with his campaign if he can do the debate.

___

Associated Press writers Sara Burnett in Milwaukee; Jill Colvin in New York; Meg Kinnard in Columbia, S.C.; and Will Weissert in Washington contributed to this report.

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The candidates are going after one another at the leadoff 2024 GOP debate. Follow live updates