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

Haley calls for abortion ‘consensus’; Pence says that's not leadership

All of the Republican candidates on Wednesday night's debate stage say they oppose abortion, but their differences on where lines should be drawn became evident on stage.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley — the only woman in the GOP race — says there’s a need for “consensus” over abortion, noting that she feels it unlikely that a federal ban would pass until there are 60 senators who would support it. Haley, who often cities her own fertility struggles and the fact that her husband is adopted, says America needs to “humanize the issue and stop demonizing” it.

Former Vice President Mike Pence challenged her position, saying that “consensus is the opposite of leadership” on the issue.

Pence is the only major candidate who has said he supports a federal ban on abortion at six weeks, before many women know they’re pregnant. In an interview with The Associated Press, Pence went even further, saying abortion should be banned even when a pregnancy isn’t viable

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed a six-week abortion ban into law, said “you’ve got to do what you think is right” when asked what he felt about potential criticism that such a narrow restriction could possibly harm GOP candidates in a general election.

Christie accuses Ramaswamy of sounding like a chatbot

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie lashed out at biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy during a discussion on climate change, accusing the outsider candidate of sounding like an artificial intelligence chatbot after Ramaswamy called efforts against carbon energy “a wet blanket on our economy.”

“I’ve had enough already tonight of a guy who sounds like ChatGPT standing up here,” Christie said. “The last person at one of these debates who stood in the middle of the stage and said, ‘What’s a skinny guy with an odd last name doing up here?’ was Barack Obama. And I’m afraid we’re dealing with the same type of amateur.”

“Give me a hug just like you did to Obama,” Ramaswamy responded, a nod to the then-president placing his hand on Christie’s shoulder during a visit after Superstorm Sandy. “And you’ll help elect me just like you did to Obama too.”

Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley jumped in after the feisty exchange, distinguishing herself as the only woman onstage.

“I think this is exactly why Margaret Thatcher said, ‘If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman,’” she said, acknowledging that climate change is real and arguing that to address it, the U.S. needs to pressure China and India to lower their emissions.

Haley goes after fellow Republicans on federal spending

Nikki Haley smoothly took the first swipe of the night on a question about excessive federal spending and nodded to her accounting degree from Clemson.

The former South Carolina governor and former United Nations ambassador didn’t blink in turning to her rivals with congressional experience to blame them – not Joe Biden – for the nation’s debt.

“You have Ron DeSantis. You’ve got Tim Scott. You’ve got Mike Pence. They all voted to raise the debt. And Donald Trump added 8 trillion to our debt,” Haley said.

Scott is a South Carolina senator, DeSantis a former Florida representative and Pence a former congressman from Indiana.

Haley said, "So, you tell me. Who are the big spenders? I think it’s time for an accountant in the White House.”

DeSantis borrows Trump's famous line

It was Donald Trump’s famous line on “The Apprentice,” but at the debate, “You’re fired!” was taken over by one of his top GOP challengers.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said that “a major reason” for America’s current struggles is “because how this federal government handled COVID-19 by locking down this economy.”

DeSantis, who has talked often on the campaign trail about how he “kept Florida open” during the pandemic, said at the debate that, “As your president, I will never let the deep state bureaucrats lock you down.”

Of Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert during the pandemic, DeSantis said, “You don’t take somebody like Fauci and coddle him. You bring Fauci and you sit him down and you say, ‘Anthony, you are fired.’”

The GOP front-runner is little mentioned early in debate

Donald Trump may have a dominating early lead in the Republican presidential primary, but he was barely mentioned during the GOP debate’s opening minutes.

The former president is skipping the debate, and his name was little spoken in its opening 25 minutes.

And that’s despite former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has promised to build his presidential run around stopping Trump, giving a lengthy answer defending his own record in his home state.

Former Vice President Mike Pence defended the record of the “Trump-Pence administration” and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took a page from Trump’s political playbook by pledging to fire Dr. Anthony Fauci, drawing applause from the crowd in Milwaukee.

But most of the early debate focused on the candidates on stage ripping President Joe Biden and his administration’s economic policies.

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.

“The last person in one of these debates who stood in the middle of the stage and said, ‘What’s a skinny guy with an odd last name doing up here?’ was Barack Obama, and I’m afraid we’re dealing with the same type of amateur,” Christie said

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; Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami; Meg Kinnard in Columbia, S.C.; Will Weissert in Washington; Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa; Ali Swenson in New York; and Christina A. Cassidy in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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