Debate or no debate, Trump still commands the 2024 Republican race

The third Republican debate of the 2024 United States presidential race came and went this week with a whimper.

The New York Times dismissed the event as “the undercard that underwhelmed”. The Washington Post cast it as “a lower-tier competition”. And The New Yorker brushed it aside as “an incredible waste of time for any but the most masochistic of Republican viewers”.

What prompted the withering criticism was the seeming insignificance of a debate without the Republican Party’s heaviest hitter, former President Donald Trump.

Now one year into his 2024 reelection campaign, Trump remains far and away the party frontrunner, trouncing his Republican rivals in seemingly every poll. Confident in his lead, he has skipped every Republican debate so far this election season.

Experts say this creates a novel dynamic: one where Trump is acting more like an incumbent than a candidate trying to unseat a sitting president.

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