December 5, 2023

… no candidates exit? Tonight we cover the third RNC presidential debate of the cycle, and the third without polling leader Donald Trump in attendance, starting at 8 pm ET tonight. NBC News partners up with Salem Media Group, our parent company, and included Salem Radio host Hugh Hewitt as a moderator, along with Lester Holt and Kristen Welker. It’s the first non-Fox debate of the cycle, and the most recent since the embarrassing  ‘Survivor’ stunt in September’s debate.


The Washington Post is horrified, of course. How can conservatives get a fair shake from Kristen Welker? Just kidding!

It was the Republican National Committee that assigned Salem to partner with NBC — and although Salem radio host Hugh Hewitt will serve as one of the moderators, NBC News will retain full editorial control over the questions asked, a network spokesperson said.

Still, Salem’s overtly political and rightward shift has raised questions about the undertaking. “This is a major mistake for NBC,” said Brian Rosenwald, who wrote a 2019 book about the history of political talk radio. “I think it really undermines their journalistic credibility.”

Yeah, sure. My friend Hugh has had a long association with NBC News, and is one of the most educated people on conservative policies and concerns. I’m looking forward to seeing Hugh drill down to those tonight with the five candidates that qualified:

Only five candidates qualified for this debate, down from seven who qualified for the previous debate in September. They are:

  • Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey.

  • Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida.

  • Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and former United Nations ambassador.

  • Vivek Ramaswamy, an entrepreneur.

  • Tim Scott, a senator from South Carolina.

Under criteria set by the Republican National Committee, candidates needed to have at least 70,000 unique donors (up from 50,000 for the second debate) and to record at least 4 percent support (up from 3 percent) in either two national polls or one national poll in addition to two polls from early-voting states.


Hopefully the smaller group on stage will allow for fuller exploration of topics. And I certainly expect to see a closer focus on topics that matter to Republican primary voters with Hugh on stage. Worth watching: whether the candidates start taking Trump on directly, and how. (Christie’s the lone exception here, as he’s been targeting Trump all along.) The field is running out of room for gaining converts, as the primaries are now only a couple of months away. That matters more than debating each other, but we shall soon see how many of these five realize that.

I will be live-blogging the debate from home tonight, and our other writers will be following along on Twitter. I’ll post updates at the top in reverse-chronological order as soon as the debate begins, so be sure to stay with us all the way through to the spin-room coverage!