Republican debate in Milwaukee: What to know as GOP presidential contenders clash in 1st debate

Here's what you need to know about the debate in Milwaukee on Aug. 23, 2023 potentially featuring former President Trump and former VP Pence
Poster image (6).jpg
Posted at 3:56 PM, Aug 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-23 11:01:32-04

MILWAUKEE — The first debate for the Republican nomination for president will be held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Aug. 23, 2023. Eight candidates are allowed to attend the debate, including former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence. A host of issues are at stake, including inflation and the economy, manufacturing and globalization, tensions with Russia and China, migration and the border to the south, mass shootings and gun purchasing laws, and more. There is also the issue of the former president, Trump, being under indictment in four cases in connection to his and others' alleged efforts to influence and undermine the presidential election process in 2020/2021.

So, with all that in mind, here are the big points you should know about the first Republican debate in Milwaukee:

Are we missing anything? Let us know by messaging us here.

Election 2024 Debate How to Watch
This combination of photos shows Republican presidential candidates, top row from left, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and Vivek Ramaswamy, bottom row from left, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Vice President Mike Pence, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Governor Asa Hutchinson. (AP Photo)

Who is qualified to attend the first Republican debate in Milwaukee?

Currently, the following candidates are qualified to attend: Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, Doug Burgum, Chris Christie, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Trump previously said he won't attend the Milwaukee debate or sign the required pledge to support the eventual Republican presidential candidate. Trump previously said he doesn't need the debate to win, citing his lead in the polls.


Here's what to know about each of the 8 candidates who are qualified and said they will attend the GOP debate:

Ron DeSantis

The Florida governor has long been seen as Trump's top rival, finishing a distant second to him in a series of polls in early-voting states, as well as national polls, and raising an impressive amount of money.

But DeSantis' campaign has struggled in recent weeks to live up to the sky-high expectations that awaited him when he entered the race. He let go of more than one-third of his staff as federal filings showed his campaign was burning through cash at an unsustainable rate.

If Trump is absent, DeSantis may be the top target on stage at the debate.

Tim Scott

The South Carolina senator has been looking for a breakout moment. The first debate could be his chance.

A prolific fundraiser, Scott enters the summer with $21 million cash on hand.

In one debate-approved poll in Iowa, Scott joined Trump and DeSantis in reaching double digits. The senator has focused much of his campaign resources on the leadoff GOP voting state, which is dominated by white evangelical voters.

Nikki Haley

She has blitzed early-voting states with campaign events, walking crowds through her electoral successes ousting a longtime incumbent South Carolina lawmaker, then becoming the state's first woman and first minority governor. Also serving as Trump's U.N. ambassador for about two years, Haley frequently cites her international experience, arguing about the threat China poses to the United States.

The only woman in the GOP race, Haley has said transgender students competing in sports is “the women’s issue of our time” and has drawn praise from a leading anti-abortion group, which called her “uniquely gifted at communicating from a pro-life woman’s perspective.”

Bringing in $15.6 million since the start of her campaign, Haley's campaign says she has “well over 40,000 unique donors" and has satisfied the debate polling requirements.

Vivek Ramaswamy

The biotech entrepreneur and author of “Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam” is an audience favorite at multicandidate events and has polled well despite not being nationally known when he entered the race.

Ramaswamy's campaign says he met the donor threshold earlier this year. He recently rolled out “Vivek's Kitchen Cabinet" to boost his donor numbers even more, by letting fundraisers keep 10% of what they bring in for his campaign.

Chris Christie

The former New Jersey governor opened his campaign by portraying himself as the only candidate ready to take on Trump. Christie called on the former president to “show up at the debates and defend his record.”

Christie will be on that stage, even if Trump isn't, telling CNN this month that he surpassed “40,000 unique donors in just 35 days.” He also has met the polling requirements.

Doug Burgum

Burgum, a wealthy former software entrepreneur now in his second term as North Dakota’s governor, has been using his fortune to boost his campaign.

He announced a program this month to give away $20 gift cards — “Biden Relief Cards,” as a critique of President Joe Biden’s handling of the economy — to as many as 50,000 people in exchange for $1 donations. Critics have questioned whether the offer violated campaign finance law.

Within about a week of launching that effort, Burgum announced he had surpassed the donor threshold. Ad blitzes in the early-voting states also helped him meet the polling requirements.

Mike Pence

Trump’s vice president had met the polling threshold but struggled to amass a sufficient number of donors, raising the possibility he might not qualify for the first debate.

But on Aug. 8, Pence's campaign announced that it had crossed the 40,000 donor threshold, and also that he had become the first candidate to formally submit his donor count to the RNC for verification.

Pence and his advisers had long expressed confidence he would make it. His campaign said he had met the donor mark without “schemes, giveaways, or gimmicks used by other campaigns.”

Asa Hutchinson

Asa Hutchinson served as the 46th governor of Arkansas from 2015 to 2023. He previously served as a U.S. Congressman and in two roles for the George W. Bush administration. He was the nation's youngest U.S. Attorney at the age of 31.

On Sunday, Hutchinson said he qualified for the debate.

“I’m pleased to announce that we have met all the criteria that the RNC set to be on the debate stage. We’ve met the polling criteria and now we’ve met the 40,000 individual donor criteria,” Hutchinson told CNN.

He said he submitted 42,000 individual donors to the Republican National Committee.

Who is moderating the debate and what questions will they ask?

Fox News anchors Martha MacCallum and Bret Baier are co-moderating the debate. The news outlet Semafor reported some previously unconfirmed details about this first GOP debate. That includes giving candidates one minute to answer a question and another 30 seconds for any follow-up questions.

According to Semafor, some questions “involve sound or video, including pre-taped questions submitted by students” through the Young America’s Foundation. The president of the Young America’s Foundation is former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and the group is helping host the debate in Milwaukee.

Where and when is the debate being held in Milwaukee?

The first GOP debate is being held on Aug. 23, 2023 at Fiserv Forum at 1111 Vel Phillips Ave. Fiserv Forum is also the location of the Republican National Convention scheduled July 15-18, 2024.

Poster image (5).jpg
Road closures around Fiserv Forum on Wednesday.

How long is the debate?

The debate is set to be about 2 hours long, starting at 8 p.m. central time (9 p.m. eastern) on Aug. 23, 2023.

How long will candidates have to speak?

Candidates will not have the chance to give an opening statement, according to Semafor, but they will have 45 seconds to give closing remarks at the end of the debate.

Candidates will have one minute to answer a question and another 30 seconds for any follow-up questions.

Do the candidates have to sign a pledge promising to support the final GOP candidate?

Candidates who attend the GOP debate in Milwaukee must sign a pledge, which includes promising to support the final Republican candidate for president. In a recent interview, Donald Trump said he would not sign the pledge. Others, including Chris Christie, have criticized the pledge.

Are there any protests scheduled against the GOP debate?

There are currently no applications filed through the city of Milwaukee for protests of the GOP debate. TMJ4 News is in communication with city officials and will update this report if any protest applications are filed.

Signs across the city and a Facebook page are meanwhile promoting a protest against the GOP and their debate at Red Arrow Park in Milwaukee on Aug. 23, 2023.

Where can I watch the GOP debate in Milwaukee?

You can watch the debate on Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network and their associated streaming services. TMJ4 News will have team coverage of the debate, which you can watch on TV, on streaming apps or at

How can I attend the GOP debate in Milwaukee in-person?

The Republican National Committee, as well as its debate partners, including moderator Fox News and Young America's Foundation (YAF), are in control of tickets, according to the Republican Party of Wisconsin. The event on August 23 is not open to the general public.

This month, YAF offered students, young adults, alumni, supporters, and their families the chance to sign up for a free block party and tickets to the debate. It quickly filled up, according to YAF's website, although you can request to be put on a waiting list.

Are there more Republican presidential debates?

The GOP debate in Milwaukee is the first of several, like any presidential election year. Fox Business will host a second debate on Sept. 27, 2023 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. Assume more are being planned.

Why is Milwaukee, Wisconsin host of the first GOP debate in 2023 and the Republican National Convention in 2024?

President Joe Biden just barely won Wisconsin in the 2020 presidential election. Wisconsin played host to important debates for both Republican and Democratic candidates during the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.

Wisconsin is known for having tight elections. According to the UW-Madison's Elections Research Center, the margin between two front-runners in Wisconsin is often less than 1 percent in four of the last six elections between 2000 and 2020. Only two wins, from former President Barack Obama, stood out as sizable wins for a candidate, according to the director of the research center, Barry Burden, per USA Today.

Gov. Tony Evers also had a close election win, beating Scott Walker by 1.1 percent in 2018. Meanwhile, Sen. Ron Johnson beat Mandela Barnes by 1 percent during the 2022 midterm election.

The Republicans thus hope hosting a debate in battleground Wisconsin will help candidates focus on the issues that matter most to people who live here; as well as find ways to get more Republican-leaning voters to the polls to back GOP candidates.

Just to the south in Chicago is where Democrats are holding their 2024 Democratic National Convention.

Will there be road closures due to the debate?

The Milwaukee Police Department anticipates a higher volume of traffic to the downtown area. Due to this, there will be road closures and no parking - tow away zone that will be in effect starting at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 23 on the following streets:

  • N. 6th Street from W. McKinley Avenue to W. State Street.  
  • W. Juneau Street from N. 6th Street to N. MLK Drive.  
  • N. 5th Street from W. McKinley Avenue to W. Juneau Street.  
  • N. Vel R. Phillips from W. McKinley Avenue to W. Juneau Street.  
  • N. Vel R. Phillips to N. MLK Drive (W. Highland Avenue)  

These restrictions will be for both sides of the roadway.
Those attending the event will be required to go through a screening point to park at the following locations:

  • Parking structure on N. 5th Street / W. McKinley Street.  
  • Parking for business on N. Vel Phillips / W. State Street and N. MLK Drive / W. Highland Avenue. 

Road closures are subject to change depending on unanticipated factors. You should plan for additional travel time on your commute.

View recent coverage of the debate and the 2024 presidential election from The Associated Press below:

Will Donald Trump show up at next week's presidential debate? GOP rivals are preparing for it

By The Associated Press, Aug 15, 2023

He says he won't sign the pledge required to participate, but former President Donald Trump's Republican rivals are actively preparing as if he will be onstage for the GOP's first 2024 presidential debate next week.

Former Vice President Mike Pence is hosting mock debate sessions with someone playing the part of the former president. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been participating in weekly debate prep sessions for several weeks with an eye toward drawing clear contrasts with Trump. And Nikki Haley, the former ambassador to the United Nations, is planning to show she can stand up to bullies.

In all, eight Republican candidates have met the Republican National Committee's fundraising and polling thresholds required to qualify for the debate next Wednesday, Aug. 23, hosted by Fox News in Milwaukee. Trump is among them, although he has said publicly and privately that he's leaning against participating given his big lead in national polls and concerns about the Fox moderators.

Still, the former reality television star, who is a master at shaping media coverage, has yet to rule it out completely.

He is consumed this week with yet another criminal indictment, this one in Georgia, where prosecutors on Monday used a statute normally associated with mobsters to accuse Trump, lawyers and other aides of a “criminal enterprise” to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state. Even before the latest legal drama, he gave himself a way out of the debate last week when he told Fox News he would not sign a pledge, required of all participants, to support the GOP's eventual nominee.

Republican officials in and around rival campaigns believe Trump will end up on the debate stage regardless of the drama in the days leading up to the high-stakes affair.

“You've got to prepare for two contingencies: one where Trump shows up and one where he doesn't. It makes it more complicated,” said Republican strategist Lanhee Chen, who has been in touch with multiple campaigns about their debate preparations. “For many voters, this will be their first introduction to the candidates. ... What they do on this one night may be more substantial than anything else they’ve done.”

Pence has participated in roughly a half-dozen formal debate prep sessions to date, including at least one planned for this week in which a campaign aide previously close to Trump is playing the part of the former president, according to a Pence adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy.

Campaigning in Iowa over the weekend, Pence indicated he was prepared to confront Trump — and the rest of the large GOP field — on several issues, including abortion. Trump and DeSantis in particular have refused to say whether they would support a federal abortion ban, which Pence has promised to sign if given the chance.

The adviser said Pence is also prepared to stand up to Trump for his role on Jan. 6, 2021 — Pence has accused Trump of endangering his family in the attack on the U.S. Capitol — although Pence's team doesn't expect the Fox moderators to press debate participants on the issue.

“I’ve debated Donald Trump a thousand times. Just never with the cameras on,” Pence said as he campaigned at the Iowa State Fair over the weekend.

And while Trump will be a major debate focus — whether he's there or not — several campaigns believe DeSantis may have the most to lose given his apparent status as Trump's strongest rival. DeSantis' team has done little to lower expectations, despite his struggle on the debate stage in Florida before last fall's reelection.

The DeSantis campaign is preparing him for nonstop attacks from Trump and the rest of the candidates, according to people familiar with DeSantis’ planning who were granted anonymity to discuss strategy. The Florida governor is ready to highlight contrasts with Trump as well.

DeSantis has been participating in debate-related question and answer sessions at least once a week, having brought in experienced debate strategist Brett O'Donnell to assist.

While preparing for Trump to be on stage, the DeSantis campaign sees it as a win-win situation either way. If Trump shows up, DeSantis' team believes the Florida governor will have a significant opportunity to show contrasts with Trump that's better than anything he's tried using campaign ads or social media posts. And if Trump declines to participate, the campaign feels he'll look weak.

Trump's critics are quick to note that the former president lost support in 2016 after skipping the final presidential debate before voting began and ultimately finished second in the Iowa caucuses.

“Regardless of whether or not Donald Trump is afraid to debate, Ron DeSantis is looking forward to being onstage in Milwaukee talking about his plans to beat Joe Biden, reverse the decline in our nation and revive America’s future,” said DeSantis spokesman Andrew Romeo.

While much of the attention in the Republican Party's crowded presidential primary has gone to Trump and DeSantis, others are eyeing the nationally televised event as a prime opportunity to break out.

Haley's team acknowledges she isn't universally known, despite a resume that features two terms as South Carolina governor and a role in Trump's cabinet. An adviser, granted anonymity to discuss strategy, said the primary goal in her debate preparation has been to project that “Nikki is tough, she's going to stand up for America and she's going to stand up to bullies.”

Haley made no mention of plans to go on the attack while speaking to reporters in Iowa over the weekend, but she did explain why she showed up to the state fair in a shirt that read, “Underestimate me, that’ll be fun.”

“This has been a part of who I am for as long as I can remember,” Haley said. “I’ve been underestimated in everything I’ve ever done, but it’s a blessing because it makes me scrappy. No one’s going to outwork me in this race. No one’s going to outsmart me in this race. We have a country to save, and I’m determined to do it.”

Conservative entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, a 38-year-old political newcomer, is doing virtually no formal debate prep as he pursues a whirlwind campaign schedule, according to a senior adviser granted anonymity to discuss campaign strategy. The adviser said he'll spend the day before the debate playing tennis and spending time with family.

Ramaswamy's team says his "anti-woke" message won't change whether Trump is onstage or not.

“I will be unafraid to draw policy contrasts,” Ramaswamy said in Iowa. “But I’m not personally attacking anybody in this race. Now, believe me, I’m somebody who holds my ground. ... So if somebody’s going to come for me, come at your own peril. But I’m not in this race to take somebody else down. I’m in this race to lead us to our vision of what it means to be American.”

To appear onstage, Trump must commit at least 48 hours before the Wednesday evening debate, according to criteria outlined by the Republican National Committee. The criteria also requires participants to sign a pledge promising to support the party's ultimate nominee.

“I wouldn’t sign the pledge,” Trump said on Fox News last week. “They want you to sign a pledge, but I can name three or four people that I wouldn’t support for president. So right there, there’s a problem.”

Meanwhile, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former Trump ally turned fierce Trump critic, has said Trump is “a coward” if he skips the debate.

Christie's allies are hoping Trump does attend, acknowledging that Christie's anti-Trump message would be much more powerful if he can look his opponent in the eyes.

“Obviously, one would prefer that Trump was on the stage. But if not, Trump’s going to have to listen to two hours of people criticizing and critiquing, not only the fact that he didn’t show up, but his failures while in office,” said longtime Christie ally Bill Palatucci. “Chris has always said Trump will be there."

President Biden focuses on factory jobs in Wisconsin, ignoring latest Trump indictment

By The Associated Press, Aug 15, 2023

MILWAUKEE (AP) — On the heels of a fourth indictment for Donald Trump, President Joe Biden focused on manufacturing jobs in a speech at a Wisconsin factory — putting his ideas for growth up against his Republican rivals in a bid to win over voters in a key state in next year's presidential election.

“It's really kind of basic: we just decided to invest in America again,” Biden said Tuesday. “That's what it's all about.”

His arrival in Milwaukee came on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act, a major piece of economic legislation he signed into law with great ceremony but polls show that most people know little about it or what it does. It also occurred a week before Republicans descend on Milwaukee for the party’s first presidential debate. But as Biden spoke, much of the political world was focused on his predecessor, Trump, who was charged late Monday in Georgia on an alleged scheme to illegally overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Wisconsin is among the handful of critical states where Biden needs to persuade voters that his policies are having a positive impact on their lives by generating roughly $500 billion in corporate investments in factories and other facilities. The president ignored Trump in his speech, but he made the economic case personal by directly challenging the state's Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who was just reelected in 2022 and not up again until 2028.

Biden said that his ideas are in opposition to “the conservative Republican view, the so-called MAGA view, which is focused on corporate profits.”

“But you know who believes that?” the president said. “Your significant Senator Ron Johnson. He believes outsourcing manufacturing jobs is a great thing.”

Other Democrats on Tuesday openly compared Biden's trip to discuss policy with the legal challenges of Trump, the Republican frontrunner trying to oust him in 2024.

“The contrast between Republicans and us is incredible,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters Tuesday on a conference call.

Republican lawmakers are focused on criticizing Biden's economic leadership over inflation hitting a four-decade peak last summer, saying that many U.S. families are still struggling as a result of higher prices.

“Real wages are down and gas prices are up,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said on X, the social media platform formerly known at Twitter. “You are paying the price for failed leadership.”

Biden toured Ingeteam, a clean energy manufacturer of onshore wind turbine generators in Milwaukee, and talked up provisions of the law to boost domestic manufacturing and clean energy, lower health care costs and crack down on billionaires who paying their avoid taxes.

Ingeteam plans to hire 100 workers using Bipartisan Infrastructure Law money to start producing electric vehicle charging stations domestically, according to the White House.

Also timed to Biden’s trip, multinational tech firm Siemens is set to announce that it will start manufacturing solar inverters in Wisconsin's Kenosha County, a move prompted by increased demand brought by the tax incentives from the IRA law.

Administration officials say the trip is aimed at recognizing the effects of the law, which passed Congress on party-line votes. According to the White House, in Wisconsin, private firms have committed more than $3 billion in manufacturing and clean energy investments since Biden was sworn into office.

Some critics of the legislation say provisions of the law could ultimately end up increasing inflation, even though the annual rate of inflation has fallen from 9% last summer to 3.2% in its most recent 12-month reading. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers said during a virtual Peterson Institute for International Economics event in July that while he supported the IRA, the Biden administration’s overall economic agenda is “increasingly dangerous.”

“I am profoundly concerned by the doctrine of manufacturing-centered economic nationalism that is increasingly being put forth as a general principle to guide policy,” Summers said.

Vice President Kamala Harris and top Cabinet officials will be fanning out across the country this week to talk about the Inflation Reduction Act and its provisions. Biden has scheduled an anniversary event at the White House on Wednesday.

The president’s stop in Wisconsin comes shortly before Republicans hold their first presidential primary debate in Milwaukee on Aug. 23. Former President Donald Trump — the leading Republican candidate in polls — has yet to say whether he will boycott or hold a competing event.

Democratic gains helped decide a critical state Supreme Court race this spring that moved Wisconsin’s highest court under liberal control for the first time in 15 years. Republicans, though, will compete aggressively in the state, selecting Milwaukee as the site of its 2024 national nominating convention.

Charles Franklin, director of Marquette Law School Poll, said the trip could help Biden win support from independents, who make up about 10% of voters in the state.

“What he really needs to do is get independents in the state to like him a bit better,” Franklin said. “Coming and talking about his achievements, about factories that are working with American jobs — all of that is a good reason to come to speak to those folks in the state who are not partisans.”

“Because Democrats are already behind him,” Franklin said, and “Republicans are almost certainly not going to cross over.”

Trump says he won't sign Republican loyalty pledge, flouting debate requirement

By The Associated Press, Aug 11, 2023

Former President Donald Trump said Wednesday he won't sign a pledge to support the Republican nominee if he loses the GOP presidential primary, flouting a requirement for appearing in the first debate later this month.

“Why would I sign it?" Trump said in an interview on the conservative cable network Newsmax. “I can name three or four people that I wouldn’t support for president. So right there, there’s a problem.”

He declined to name the candidates he wouldn't support, saying “there's no reason to insult them.” But he singled out South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy for praise, saying they “have been very nice.”

Trump said he will announce next week whether he'll participate in the debate, scheduled for Aug. 23 in Milwaukee, but his refusal to sign the pledge suggests he plans to make good on his threat to skip it. Trump has repeatedly questioned why he should debate his rivals given his substantial polling lead and has suggested he might hold a competing event instead.

On Wednesday, he pushed back against former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's taunts, telling Newsmax’s Eric Bolling that there’s no upside to participating in a debate when he’s already leading by a wide margin.

“Its not a question of guts. It’s a question of intelligence,” Trump said.

Eight candidates say they have met qualifications to be on stage in Milwaukee, with former Vice President Mike Pence announcing this week he had secured enough donors. Candidates need to satisfy polling and donor requirements set by the Republican National Committee: at least 1% in three high-quality national polls or a mix of national and early-state polls, between July 1 and Aug. 21, and a minimum of 40,000 donors, with 200 in 20 or more states.

They also must sign a statement pledging not to participate in any debates not sanctioned by the party, including the general election debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, and to support the winner of the Republican primary.

“I affirm that if I do not win the 2024 Republican nomination of President of the United States, I will honor the will of the primary voters and support the nominee in order to save our country and beat Joe Biden,” the pledge says, according to a copy posted by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter. Candidates also must pledge not to run as an independent, write-in candidate or third-party nominee.

The pledge has been criticized by some candidates including Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has been fiercely critical of Trump.

Despite his critique of the GOP’s pledge verbiage, Trump did apparently recently sign a document with a similar attestation that he would generally back the party’s nominees next year.

On Aug. 5, just after headlining the South Carolina Republican Party’s Silver Elephant fundraising dinner, Trump paid the $50,000 filing fee and signed paperwork for South Carolina’s Feb. 24 Republican primary, according to state party officials.

The filing form includes an affirmation by the candidate noting, “I generally believe in and intend to support the nominees of the Republican Party” in the 2024 general election.

A Trump campaign spokesman did not immediately return a message on Friday seeking comment on the paperwork filing.

Only former Texas Rep. Will Hurd has said definitively that he will not sign the 2024 pledge, though he has not met the polling and fundraising thresholds required to attend. He said he won’t support Trump, who has been indicted three times, if he becomes the eventual nominee.