The 2024 Republican candidates who are not named Donald Trump had an opportunity last month to reshape the dynamics of the race. Yet the stage in Milwaukee during the first Republican primary debate, hosted by Fox News, was more than ever a gathering of the junior varsity, who, in their attempts to throw punches and differentiate themselves in Trump’s absence, only appeared to affirm his power. “They had a chance to make a first impression, and likely didn’t make too much of a dent,” Fox News host Dana Perino tells me. “And that’s reflected in the polling.” Trump continues to dominate by a wide margin, hitting a record high of 58.8% in national support this week, with his lead over candidates like Ron DeSantis only growing. “Where do they go from here, in terms of having a breakout moment?” Perino asks of the non-Trump hopefuls. “Remains to be seen.”
Perino, the former White House press secretary who joined Fox News in 2009, is co-moderating the next Republican debate, which will take place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on September 27 and air on both Fox Business and Univision. She’ll share hosting duties with Fox News host Stuart Varney and Univision’s Ilia Calderón. “Ilia Calderón will be a part of our team, and we will be getting together in person this weekend as we prepare,” says Perino. “And I think that will be a value-add to our offering in that space.”
Other than teaming up with Univision, though, Fox’s second debate is shaping up to be more of the same, with a similar cast of characters likely qualifying and Trump once again reportedly snubbing the event in favor of his own counterprogramming. The political dynamics surrounding the debate haven’t changed either. Trump continues to hog the news cycle—the latest case being his Meet the Press sit-down that he used to reiterate his election lies—and his popularity has only grown despite being indicted in two different states and twice by the federal government. If his competitors—DeSantis, Chris Christie, Tim Scott, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, Doug Burgum, Asa Hutchinson, and Mike Pence—didn’t break through last time, and little else has changed in the contest, what is the point of the debate?
“It’s a democratic process, and we should fulfill that,” says Perino. “No doubt, President Trump has a commanding and seemingly enduring lead. And yet you still have many Republicans who say they want a different choice, or they’re open to a second choice.”
In lieu of the primary debate, Trump is planning a trip to Detroit, where he will address some 13,000 union autoworkers who began striking last week, according to The New York Times. “The UAW strike is a very interesting, vulnerable issue for Joe Biden, and there’s even talk of him going to see the strikers,” says Perino. “You have a primary campaign that’s going on, and then a former president and current president who are just trying to move beyond that, into a general election.”