GOP presidential hopefuls have a lot riding on the second debate of the 2024 nominating cycle — but some have more to prove than others.
Thanks to her well-regarded performance at the first Republican presidential nomination debate, expect plenty of attention on Nikki Haley at this week's second GOP primary showdown.
"I’ll continue to be myself. I’ll continue to say what I think," the former South Carolina governor, who later served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a recent Fox News Digital interview.
For Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who was far from the loudest voice at last month's debate, Wednesday's showdown at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, could be an opportunity to paint contrasts with his rivals for the nomination.
"Having an opportunity to talk about where we're different, I think it's important for the audience, frankly, at home to understand that there are real differences between the candidates on the stage, and we should have an opportunity to discuss those differences," Scott told Fox News Digital last week.
The debate will be televised on the FOX Business Network (FBN) and Univision from 9 to 11 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
Longtime Republican consultant David Kochel said the debate gives the candidates a second chance.
"You’ve got to fix what was wrong in the first debate, or you’ve got to maintain the momentum that built from it," noted Kochel, a veteran of numerous GOP presidential campaigns.
So far, according to a Fox News count, seven of the eight candidates who took part in last month's first GOP presidential nomination debate have already reached the Republican National Committee's polling and donor criteria to make the stage.
They are, in alphabetical order, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, biotech entrepreneur and political commentator Vivek Ramaswamy, and Tim Scott
Former President Donald Trump, who has reached the donor and polling thresholds, did not sign the RNC's pledge in which they agree to support the eventual Republican presidential nominee. Pointing to his commanding lead over his rivals for the nomination, Trump did not attend the first debate and is not showing up for the second showdown.
Dave Carney, a longtime Republican strategist with decades of presidential campaign experience, said that candidates who "have a breakout night" at the second debate "can put some of their rivals to sleep and can start formulating themselves as the alternative to Trump."
But he warned that "If it doesn’t go well, you can pack up your bags and go home and spend more time with your family."
Here's a look at what's on the line for the candidates on the stage Wednesday night.
Carney, pointing to the Florida governor's slide in the recent polls in the early voting states, said that "this is his opportunity to save his campaign or end his campaign."
"He has the most riding on this," Carney said.
Kochel suggested that DeSantis "needs to broaden the appeal." And he argued that "you’ve already got a Trump imitator on the stage – Vivek Ramaswamy."
Pointing to the governor’s landslide gubernatorial reelection victory last November, Kochel said, "DeSantis needs to draw a distinction between himself and Trump."
Pointing to Haley's upward movement in the polls since the first debate, Carney said that "she has a lot riding on this."
Kochel said "the question now is what do you do with that momentum? Is it a flash in the pan or can you repeat that performance and have an upward trajectory in the race?"
"People got to see that she’s a pretty talented and effective communicator, and I would just double down," he said. "My guess is she’s going to get a little more attention [on] this one. Some of the candidates may want to go at her in this debate."
Carney said "this debate’s important for him. He was sort of quiet and disappeared during the first debate. … He needs to be a little bit more aggressive."
Kochel suggested that "there’s going to be a lot of pressure on someone like Tim Scott, who disappeared a bit in the first debate, to step up and do better."
Carney pointed out that the former vice president "was very aggressive — probably the most out-of-character aggressive — at the first debate. I think you’ll see more of that at the Reagan Library."
Pence, who gave a high-profile speech this month in which he criticized Trump and some of his other rivals for the nomination for walking away from core conservative values as he took aim at the wave of populism in the GOP, may reiterate his theme at Wednesday's debate.
"Being at the Reagan Library really gives him an opportunity to pivot off ‘Lets get back to Reagan-like ideas,'" Carney said.
And Kochel noted that "if I were him, I would be touting myself as the Reagan conservative in the traditional sense and take off after populism."
"He’s making a bet here. It doesn’t appear to be paying off, but at this point, you’ve got to be who you are. That speech he gave will find a way into a lot of his responses," Kochel said.
The multimillionaire biotech entrepreneur, political commentator and culture wars crusader is probably the biggest surprise to date in the GOP nomination race as his poll numbers continue to rise.
Ramaswamy faced plenty of incoming fire at the first debate, and since his support continues to grow, expect more attacks coming his way at the second showdown.
Carney said the first-time candidate has "got to prove that he can be presidential and serve as president of the United States."
"His biggest role right now is to make sure that no one becomes the massive heir apparent to Trump. It’s an interesting role he’s playing," Carney added.
The former two-term New Jersey governor and vocal GOP Trump critic is making is second run for the Republican nomination.
Carney predicted that Christie will "once again use Trump as his foil … you can tell, he loves the fight. He loves the engagement with voters. He relishes the interactions with the media. He has a lot of compelling parts for being a president, but his limited focus I think hurts him."
Kochel said Christie's "an effective communicator, but I don’t think there’s a market for what he’s selling right now."
Pointing to Trump's absence from the debate stage, Kochel said Christie "wanted to be in these debates so [that] he could get a shot at Trump, and he’s not going to get it."
"My guess is he’ll probably throw more haymakers at Ramaswamy because he’s [the] most Trump-like person on the stage," Kochel added. "He wants to throw these punches, and there’s nobody to hit."
Burgum, the least well-known of the contenders on the stage, will likely once again be standing on the wings of the debate stage.
"It's hard when you're going to get the least amount of questions and the least amount of time," Carney said.
He emphasized that the North Dakota governor needs to find a way to stand out: "That's his mission. He needs to get people to get interested in him."