Former President Donald Trump chose to skip the first GOP debate and instead participated in an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson as a form of counterprogramming. The pre-taped interview was made available on X (formerly known as Twitter) just minutes before the debate started. Trump explained his absence from the debate by stating that he was leading by large margins in the polls and didn’t want to waste his time being harassed by candidates who shouldn’t even be running. He also criticized the conservative news network, Fox News, for its lack of friendliness towards him.
During the debate, the eight candidates were asked whether they would support Trump as the GOP nominee if he is convicted in any of the four cases against him. Six of the candidates, including former Vice President Mike Pence, raised their hands, showing their support for Trump. However, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did not raise their hands. This interview with Carlson not only served as a slight to Fox News, the host of the debate, but also allowed Trump to express his opinions on various topics, including the 2024 field and his criticism of Pence.
The interview took place a day before Trump is expected to turn himself in at a Georgia jail due to charges related to his alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. Despite his legal troubles, recent polls indicate that Trump’s lead among likely Republican primary voters is growing. In a CBS News/YouGov poll, 62% of likely Republican primary voters said they would choose Trump if they voted today. His closest competitor, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, only garnered 16% support. Trump’s decision to skip the debate and focus on alternative media platforms highlights his confidence in his popularity and his disregard for certain Republican candidates.