Who will be at first Republican presidential debate – and who won’t?

Al Jazeera looks at the eight candidates who qualified for the first 2024 US election debate and what they stand for.

A collage of photos of the Republican candidates participating in the debate
The eight Republican presidential candidates participating in the debate on August 23, 2023, clockwise, from top left: Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, Doug Burgum, Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Chris Christie, Tim Scott and Asa Hutchinson [Reuters]

Washington, DC – The Republican Party is gearing up for the first debate of the 2024 United States presidential contest, confirming that eight White House hopefuls will participate in this week’s showdown.

But former President Donald Trump will not be on the stage on Wednesday night, as the current GOP frontrunner has decided to skip the event.

“The public knows who I am & what a successful Presidency I had,” Trump said on his Truth Social platform on Sunday, adding in all caps: “I will therefore not be doing the debates!”

Still, there is no doubt that the ex-president, who has a double-digit lead over his closest Republican challengers despite facing several criminal indictments and other legal troubles, will loom large over the event in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The two-hour debate, which will air on Fox News platforms and begins at 8pm local time (01:00 GMT on Thursday), is taking place a day before Trump is expected to turn himself in to authorities on election interference charges in Georgia.

Here, Al Jazeera looks at the eight Republican candidates who will participate in the debate and what campaign promises they have made so far:

Ron DeSantis, Florida governor

Ron DeSantis
DeSantis is seen as Trump’s most serious Republican challenger [File: Brian Snyder/Reuters]

Ron DeSantis is seen as Trump’s most serious Republican primary challenger, but his campaign has been faltering in recent weeks.

As Florida’s governor, DeSantis has championed conservative social causes, including education and reproductive rights. His push to further so-called “culture war” issues spurred widespread criticism – and boosted the 44-year-old’s recognition nationally.

Wednesday’s debate will offer DeSantis a chance to emphasise his right-wing agenda in Florida and present himself as an alternative to Trump.

So far, however, DeSantis has largely avoided criticising Trump directly despite the former president’s incessant attacks against him.

Vivek Ramaswamy, entrepreneur and author

Vivek Ramaswamy
Ramaswamy has been rising in the polls [File: Scott Morgan/Reuters]

In a field in which every Republican candidate has struggled to close Trump’s lead, entrepreneur and author Vivek Ramaswamy has been gaining popularity by branding himself as a Trump-like outsider to politics.

Ramaswamy has pledged to cut down on government bureaucracy if elected, saying he would shut down the “administrative state” and eliminate the FBI by moving the bureau’s law enforcement agents into other government departments.

He has also said that, as president, he would pardon Trump of any federal charges.

Mike Pence, former vice president

Nike Pence
Pence fell out with Trump after the 2020 elections [File: Cheney Orr/Reuters]

Former US Vice President Mike Pence is running against his one-time boss – Trump – for the Republican nomination.

While Pence had been a staunch defender of Trump, the pair fell out after Pence refused to use his ceremonial role as vice president overseeing the electoral college count to overturn the results of the 2020 elections that Trump falsely insisted had been marred by widespread fraud.

A former governor of Indiana and ex-member of Congress, Pence has been leaning on traditional conservative stances to advance his 2024 candidacy, including centring his campaign on his Christian faith and opposing abortion.

He also has been an outspoken supporter of US aid to Ukraine.

Nikki Haley, former UN ambassador

Nikki Haley
Haley says the Republican Party needs a new generation of leaders [File: Cheney Orr/Reuters]

Nikki Haley is another candidate who served in the Trump administration.

The former ambassador to the United Nations has leaned on her past tenure as South Carolina’s governor, as well as her foreign policy credentials – including her staunch support for Israel – to promote her candidacy.

While Haley has been reluctant to criticise Trump directly, she has said that it is “time for a new generation” of Republican leaders.

She will be the only woman on the stage during Wednesday’s debate.

Tim Scott, senator

Tim Scott
Scott says his own rise in politics proves the US is not racist [File: Cheney Orr/Reuters]

Senator Tim Scott, also of South Carolina, has been campaigning on a message of “victory over victimhood”, promising to improve the country’s education system.

Scott, who is the only Black Republican in the US Senate, often stresses that the United States is not a racist nation.

He has portrayed his own rise in politics from humble beginnings as evidence that the country is “the land of opportunity, and not a land of oppression”.

Chris Christie, former New Jersey governor

Chris Christie
Christie has emerged as an outspoken Trump critic [File: Cheney Orr/Reuters]

Chris Christie is a familiar face in US politics: He unsuccessfully ran for president in 2016, and he consistently made headlines as the governor of New Jersey from 2010 to 2018 – first as a pragmatic leader and later as a scandal-plagued politician.

Christie, a former Trump ally, has made attacking the ex-president a focal point of his 2024 presidential campaign, but he has been struggling to take his poll numbers above 3 percent.

He has voiced strong support for Ukraine and recently visited the country, criticising Republicans who are sceptical of Washington’s aid to Kyiv.

Asa Hutchinson, former Arkansas governor

Asa Hutchinson
Hutchinson has accused Trump of undermining the US Constitution [File: Scott Morgan/Reuters]

Asa Hutchinson is an outspoken Trump critic with a long-shot campaign.

The former governor of Arkansas, Hutchinson has accused Trump of undermining the US Constitution.

Last week, he also said the former president’s most recent indictment in the state of Georgia on election interference allegations should disqualify him from ever serving as president again.

His comments have drawn dismissive responses from Trump on social media, but despite making headlines, Hutchinson has struggled to increase his support among Republican voters.

Doug Burgum, governor of North Dakota

Doug Burgum
Burgum says the country needs fresh ideas [File: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters]

North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum offered $20 gift cards to people who donated at least $1 to his campaign, helping him qualify for the debate despite a lack of name recognition nationally.

He previously supported Trump, but now says the Republican Party and the country need new ideas.

Who else is not participating?

Trump will be the most notable absence on the stage on Wednesday.

However, a few other candidates seeking the Republican nomination also will not be there because they did not meet the minimum threshold requirements to participate in the debate.

They include Miami Mayor Francis Suarez; Michigan businessman Perry Johnson, who has been garnering attention with his rambunctious speeches, and conservative radio host Larry Elder.

Source: Al Jazeera