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As the anticipation builds for the first Republican presidential primary debate, a mix of intrigue and uncertainty surrounds the event. With former President Donald Trump opting to counterprogram the debate with a pre-taped interview, the focus will be on how the other eight candidates handle his absence and what strategies they employ to stand out in a crowded field.

One of the central storylines to monitor will be the candidates’ approach towards the missing Trump. While some contenders, like former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, have openly criticized Trump, most have shown reluctance to directly confront the former president. However, with Trump not on stage, the debate offers a chance for candidates to differentiate themselves from his shadow and express their stances more boldly.

The absence of Trump also thrusts Florida Governor Ron DeSantis into the spotlight. Positioned at the center of the stage, DeSantis faces the challenge of defending himself against expected attacks from rivals attempting to surpass him. His performance will be closely scrutinized to gauge his ability to withstand these onslaughts and present himself as a viable alternative to Trump.

Another interesting candidate to watch is businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, who has unexpectedly risen in the polls. Facing scrutiny for his positions, Ramaswamy’s performance in his first national debate will be a test of his ability to hold his ground and maintain his momentum.

Two candidates from South Carolina, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and Senator Tim Scott, will also face attention. Their performances could potentially reshape the race as they vie for recognition in a state critical to the primary process.

Beyond these key dynamics, several long-shot candidates, including North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, will strive to make an impression that could boost their chances of making it to the second debate. With strict polling and donor requirements, the pressure is on these candidates to deliver standout moments that can revitalize their campaigns.

Overall, the first Republican presidential primary debate promises to be a pivotal event in the 2024 nomination race. How candidates handle Trump’s absence, navigate attacks, and showcase their distinctive qualities will significantly impact their fortunes moving forward. As the nation watches, the debate stage becomes a platform for shaping the trajectory of the Republican primaries.

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