Absent Donald Trump will once again loom over US Republican debate

Third debate, third snub: Republican candidates will gather in Miami on Wednesday as they vie to become their party’s nominee for the 2024 presidential election – once again without front-runner Donald Trump.

The ex-president, who leads the race by leaps and bounds, will skip the affair entirely and instead hold a rally nearby for supporters.

As with the last two debates, the real estate mogul says he has no need for the publicity given his large lead among his fellow Republicans.

Polling suggests he would receive a whopping 58 per cent of the Republican primary vote, crushing opponents thanks to a large and loyal base which has stuck by his side through two impeachments, multiple indictments and a variety of other scandals.

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Primary races begin on January 15, with the eventual winner to face off against the Democratic candidate – almost certainly President Joe Biden – in next November’s presidential election.

The 77-year-old Trump’s alternate event, a major campaign rally, will be held just outside Miami, 11 miles (18 kilometres) from the NBC set where the debate will be broadcast.

The five debating Republicans have been forced to grapple with a now all-too-familiar question: how to make a splash while Trump sucks up all the oxygen – and media attention – out of the room?

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was once seen as the next generation of the Republican Party, but his ratings have plummeted.

Republican presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign event in Iowa. Photo: AFP

The 45-year-old, whose positions on abortion, LGBTQ rights and immigration catapulted him into the spotlight, now lags behind Trump by nearly 45 percentage points, according to polling aggregator RealClearPolitics.

Former UN ambassador Nikki Haley stands in third place at the moment, hovering at around nine per cent in polls. The 51-year-old’s diplomatic experience and more centrist stance on abortion garnered attention in previous debates.

Those broadcasts, which included up to eight people on stage, at times became cacophonous and rancorous.

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With fewer candidates debating this time, Vivek Ramaswamy, polling in fourth place, said he was “hopeful the debate will be more productive.”

Senator Tim Scott and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, notable as one of the few candidates to have openly criticised Trump, fill out the evening’s line-up.

The Republican Party organised the debate in partnership with the Republican Jewish Coalition, an influential conservative group.

It is a way, Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said, for the party to show its “unwavering support of Israel and the Jewish community” amid the ongoing Israel-Gaza war.

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