At GOP debate, Ramaswamy joins DeSantis center stage, and more campaign trail takeaways

2024 GOP hopefuls prepare for 1st primary debate, without Trump.

August 22, 2023, 5:25 PM

With former President Donald Trump out of the picture, Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy will be center stage for the first Republican primary debate.

The two candidates will share the prime position based on their poll numbers, according to an official lineup shared by Fox News on Tuesday.

This combination of photos shows Republican presidential candidates Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Vivek Ramaswamy

A super PAC supporting Trump, meanwhile, is trolling his GOP rivals with a new website depicting them as vice presidential contenders.

And what's next for the candidates, like Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who failed to qualify for the debate?

Here's what to know from the campaign trail on Tuesday.

Debate lineup revealed

The Republican National Committee said earlier this year the stage lineup would be determined by polling data.

With eight candidates overall qualifying for the debate, DeSantis and Ramaswamy will each be flanked by three rivals.

Former Vice President Mike Pence will stand next to DeSantis, while former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will stand next to Ramaswamy.

In the fifth and sixth positions are former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and North Dakota Gov. Dug Burgum are in the seventh and eighth positions, respectively.

1st Republican Debate Stage Positions
ABC News Photo Illustration

DeSantis looks to fundraise off debate

DeSantis' campaign will host an all-day fundraiser with donors in Milwaukee the day after the debate, sources confirmed to ABC News. The event is described similarly to the fundraising event held in Miami when DeSantis first launched his campaign back in May.

Sources also said the DeSantis team will host an after-party following the debate, which will be attended by members of his campaign, donors and surrogates.

DeSantis plans to return to the campaign trail on Thursday, traveling to Iowa.

- Hannah Demissie, Will McDuffie and Will Steakin

What's next for Suarez, other long-shot candidates?

Four candidates failed to make the debate stage: Suarez, former Rep. Will Hurd, businessman Perry Johnson and former California gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder.

Hurd, Johnson and Elder all criticized the Republican National Committee -- with Elder and Johnson vowing to take legal action.

Suarez, who previously told ABC News' Rachel Scott he'd consider dropping out of the race if he didn't make it, took a different tone.

"I am sorry that this debate will not include my perspectives from the largest growing voting block in our country - young, conservative Hispanics," Suarez wrote in statement posted to X, formerly known as Twitter. "Additionally, Republicans will not be able to hear my story of how conservative principles of keeping taxes low, keeping people safe and focusing on creating prosperity for all created the most successful big city in America."

Republican presidential candidate Miami Mayor Francis Suarez speaks at the Republican Party of Iowa's 2023 Lincoln Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, Friday, July 28, 2023.
Charlie Neibergall/AP, FILE

"I respect the rules and process set forth by the RNC, and I look forward to working with my party to ensure we win back the White House and restore the path to a brighter future for our country," Suarez said.

In the statement, Suarez didn't make it explicitly clear his campaign will continue. Responding to ABC News' request for comment, a spokesperson for Suarez's campaign still did not clarify if he'll stay in the presidential race, replying "this is the only statement for the time being."

-Hannah Demissie and Will McDuffie

Pro-Trump PAC trolls rivals as veep contenders

Make America Great Again Inc. is trolling the other presidential candidates ahead of Wednesday's Republican debate, dubbing it the "Vice Presidential Debate 2024," and creating a website.

The website asks people to "Vote Below for your favorite VP," featuring bobbleheads of each candidate that made the debate stage. If you click on a candidate's bobblehead, a quote they've previously said praising Trump pops up along with attacks on the candidate.

The site depicts a fly on Pence's head, a reference to his vice presidential debate against Kamala Harris in 2020 when a fly landed on him for several minutes.

The Pence quote reads: "[President Trump] restored American credibility on the world stage. We're standing with our allies, we're standing up to our enemies."

-Soorin Kim and Lalee Ibssa

How some candidates are preparing

Ramaswamy has followed up on a video of him playing tennis with more "debate prep" -- this time posting a clip of himself in the gym.

Tim Scott's campaign manager told CNN the senator "just needs to have fun" and that their preparation strategy included getting experts to "poke and jab at him."

According to a source familiar, Scott is already in Milwaukee with his family, most notably his mother, Miss Frances. Tuesday and Wednesday, Scott will spend time in prayer and will also be in the gym as well, the source said.

Haley has said the more than 80 town halls and rallies she's held so far has made for "the best debate prep."

Christie said his plan is straightforward: 'Listen, this is really simple: If I get asked a question, I answer it. I know that makes me different than everyone else running for President. I don’t read off scripts, I speak my mind."

Scott jabs at DeSantis on debate eve

Scott called one of his fellow candidates' insinuations "hogwash" when responding on Tuesday to Florida Gov. Ron Desantis saying that he himself is the only candidate debating whose sole purpose for running is to be president. DeSantis suggested on Fox News on Monday that some people were aiming to be chosen as vice president or to receive a Cabinet position.

Senator and Republican presidential candidate Tim Scott speaks in Atlanta, Aug. 18, 2023.
Cheney Orr/Reuters, FILE

"It's called hogwash... [any candidate] that goes through the process of preparing to be president of the United States, who wants to be anything other than the President of the United States; they, A, should not be in the race; B, should not be on the stage; and C, it's just completely ridiculous," Scott told Fox News Radio.

"Every single person on that stage, I hope and pray, wants to be the leader of the free world. If you do not, don't show up for the debate," Scott fired back.

-Oren Oppenheim