The third 2024 US presidential Republican debate: Here’s what to expect

The third debate could be one of the last opportunities for Trump’s opponents to make a dent in his popularity.

After the first presidential debate in Wisconsin, Nikki Haley received a measurable polling boost but still did not put a dent in former US President Donald Trump's enormous lead [File: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

Heated clashes over immigration, Ukraine aid, and abortion rights marked the first and second rounds of Republican debates ahead of the 2024 United States presidential race.

Here is what to expect from the third Republican debate:

Where and what time is the debate?

The third Republican debate will take place on Wednesday at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida.


It will start at 8pm local time (01:00 GMT, Thursday) and will run for two hours.

Where to watch the debate?

The debate can be watched live on NBC and the NBC News Now streaming service.

Who are the Republican candidates participating?

  • Chris Christie: The former New Jersey governor and federal prosecutor is a vocal critic of former President Donald Trump. Christie, 61, is against abortion rights and has supported US aid to Ukraine and Israel. He advised Trump’s White House campaign but became a vocal critic of the former president after the January 6, 2021, US Capitol rioting. He stepped up his verbal attacks as Trump faced a growing number of criminal charges. Christie has received about 2 percent support among Republicans in a Reuters/Ipsos conducted from September 8 to 14.
  • Ron DeSantis: The Florida governor has positioned himself to the right of Trump on many key social issues such as abortion. But his well-funded campaign has struggled to gain traction, and his top donor has said he won’t give DeSantis more money unless he adopts a more moderate approach. The 45-year-old is Trump’s top rival but remains nearly 40 percentage points behind in opinion polls. He has fired staff and rebooted his campaign several times since his glitch-filled campaign launch in May, but those steps have done little to boost his candidacy. His campaign says it is focused on stopping Trump in Iowa, where the party will hold its first nominating contest in January. He got a much-needed boost on Monday when the Midwestern state’s Republican Governor Kim Reynolds endorsed him. As governor, DeSantis has enacted several right-wing policies on social issues, signing bills to limit discussions of gender and sexuality in schools, and to ban abortions. He has called the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory of West Bank “disputed territory”, a view that contradicts United Nations resolutions.
  • Nikki Haley: The 51-year-old has gained a reputation in the Republican Party as a solid conservative who has the ability to address issues of gender and race more credibly than many of her peers. She has also pitched herself as a stalwart defender of US interests abroad. She has low single-digit support among Republicans, according to opinion polls. A former South Carolina governor and Trump’s ambassador to the UN, Haley has emphasised her relative youth compared with Biden and Trump, as well as her background as the daughter of Indian immigrants. She has historically praised and defended Israel.
  • Vivek Ramaswamy: A former biotechnology investor and executive, Ramaswamy, 38, started a company in 2022 to pressure firms to abandon environmental, social, and corporate governance initiatives. Running on a pro-fossil fuel platform, Ramaswamy says he wants to eliminate the Department of Education and the Internal Revenue Service, the US tax agency, and shut down the FBI. After receiving criticism for saying the US should not provide military aid to Israel, Ramaswamy clarified that he would provide “the most pro-Israel vision”. The political outsider has stoked grassroots chatter as a potential alternative to Trump. He is a fervent supporter of the former president and says if he won the White House, he would pardon Trump.
  • Tim Scott: The 58-year-old has been a US senator for South Carolina since 2013. The only Black Republican senator has low name recognition outside his home state, but his optimism and focus on unifying his divided party have helped him draw a contrast with a more aggressive approach from Trump and DeSantis. Scott’s supporters, however, acknowledge that while his sunny demeanour is a selling point, it may not be enough to win. He attracted 2 percent support among Republicans, according to Reuters/Ipsos September polling. Scott has criticised Biden’s policies on immigration, student loan forgiveness, and US competition with China. He is pro-Israel and recently posted on X that Hamas aims to eliminate Jews everywhere, including the US.

Participating candidates must secure 4 percent of the vote in either two national polls, or 4 percent of the vote in one national poll alongside 4 percent of the vote in polls in two different early-primary states to earn a spot on the stage. Additionally, they require 70,000 unique donors to qualify, the Republican National Committee has said.

The qualification period runs until Wednesday.

What about the remaining candidates?

  • Mike Pence: On October 28, the former vice president announced that he was dropping out of the Republican presidential nomination race.
  • Doug Burgum: The 67-year-old, who sold his software business to Microsoft in 2001, is serving his second four-year term as North Dakota’s governor. A proponent of low taxes and fewer regulations, he has sought to portray himself as a traditional conservative with a focus on the economy and national security. One of the least-known contenders, he received 0 percent in the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll. While qualifying for the first two debates, he failed to meet the criteria required for the third one.
  • Asa Hutchinson: The former Arkansas governor launched his bid for the White House in April with a call for Trump to step aside to deal with the former president’s first indictment. Hutchinson, 72, has touted his experience leading his deeply conservative state as proof he can deliver on policies Republican voters care about, citing tax cuts and job creation initiatives. Still, his name recognition remains limited outside Arkansas, and he received 0 percent support in the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll. He qualified for the first Republican debate, but not the second or third one.

Will Trump be there?

Trump has declined his invitation to the third Republican date. To counterprogram the debate, he has scheduled a rally in Florida. He also skipped the first two Republican debates.


What is the significance of this debate?

The third debate might be one of the last opportunities for Trump’s opponents to make a dent in his popularity among primary voters. The first two debates did not make a big difference to Trump’s lead, who continues to lead national polls by a large margin of approximately 40 percent.

DeSantis and Haley are locked in a fierce competition for second place. While DeSantis leads Haley nationally, the latter is ahead in New Hampshire and South Carolina, two crucial states in the Republican nominating process.

The third debate marks the first time a Jewish group is cosponsoring a national debate in the US. The Republican Jewish Coalition’s decision to sponsor the debate was due to the importance of US foreign policy amid the Israel-Gaza conflict.


What to know about the moderators?

Lester Holt is a broadcast journalist and the anchor for NBC Nightly News. He co-moderated the first Democratic presidential primary debate in 2020.

Kristen Welker hosts NBC’s Meet the Press. Welker was lauded for how she navigated moderating the presidential debate between the incumbent, Joe Biden, and his predecessor, Trump.

Hugh Hewitt is a conservative radio show and podcast host, as well as a columnist for The Washington Post.

Republican politicians and voters have been critical of this cohort of moderators, deeming them too anti-Republican.

What happened during the last debate?

  • During the second Republican debate, DeSantis criticised Trump for his absence, and Christie chimed in by accusing the former president of being afraid. Pence criticised Trump for wanting to centralise power in the federal government and Haley said the former president was focusing on trade rather than security in his approach to China.
  • The candidates made their conservative stances on immigration clear during the last debate. Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, called to end foreign aid to Latin America until the border was secured and Ramaswamy, also the son of Indian immigrants, proposed to revoke US citizenship for children born in the country to parents in the US illegally.
  • Ramaswamy defended joining the TikTok app, which he said he uses to connect with young voters. “Every time I hear you, I feel a little dumber,” Haley responded to this.
  • “Joe Biden doesn’t belong on the picket line,” Pence joked. “He belongs on the unemployment line.”
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies