ABC News cancels New Hampshire Republican primary debate

ByAbby Cruz and Sarah Beth Hensley ABCNews logo
Tuesday, January 16, 2024
Haley, DeSantis look to upset Trump in New Hampshire following Iowa
Following Monday's Iowa caucuses, which Donald Trump was projected to win, all eyes are now on the upcoming New Hampshire primary where Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis hope to deliver an upset to the former president.

Nikki Haley said she wouldn't attend without Trump, who said he saw no point. -- ABC News and WMUR are canceling their planned Republican primary debate in New Hampshire on Thursday, citing a lack of candidate participation.

"Our intent was to host a debate coming out of the Iowa caucuses, but we always knew that would be contingent on the candidates and the outcome of the race," an ABC News spokesperson said in a statement. "As a result, while our robust election coverage will continue, ABC News and WMUR-TV will not be moving forward with Thursday's Republican presidential primary debate in New Hampshire."

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The decision comes shortly after a deadline set by ABC News and New Hampshire TV station WMUR for both former President Donald Trump and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley to respond to their invitations to the debate by Tuesday afternoon.

Neither campaign confirmed they would attend.

Four Republicans had qualified for the debate under previously announced criteria. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie previously confirmed participation -- then Christie left the race last week.

Earlier on Tuesday, in the wake of Trump dominating the Iowa caucuses, Haley said in a statement that she would debate only Trump or President Joe Biden -- suggesting she would skip a showdown with rival DeSantis in New Hampshire ahead of its Jan. 23 primary.

"We've had five great debates in this campaign," the former South Carolina governor said. "Unfortunately, Donald Trump has ducked all of them. He has nowhere left to hide. The next debate I do will either be with Donald Trump or with Joe Biden. I look forward to it."

Haley's statement came after a third-place showing in Iowa's caucuses where she got 19% of the vote -- behind DeSantis with 21% and Trump with 51%.

After Haley's statement, DeSantis fired back, posting on X that Haley "is afraid to debate because she doesn't want to answer the tough questions."

"The reality is that she is not running for the nomination, she's running to be Trump's VP," DeSantis wrote.

Appearing on CNN later on Tuesday, Haley echoed her statement. "If he's [Trump] on that stage, I'm there."

Trump has not participated in any of the GOP debates so far, saying he saw no point given his large polling lead.

"President Trump's statement was that he would not attend the debates," adviser Chris LaCivita said after the second GOP debate. "Plural ... And that's his position until it's not."

Instead, Trump has favored counterprogramming events such as rallies or televised interviews.

The South Carolina Republican has seen a consistent bump in polling since September, including recent polls that showed her narrowly ahead of DeSantis in Iowa and one that had her closing the gap with Trump in New Hampshire.

The narrow divide in Monday's caucus results between her and DeSantis means that no candidate can claim the clear mantle of Trump alternative.

Haley has turned her focus to New Hampshire, where the GOP primary is set for Jan. 23. Haley's campaign is betting big on a performance next Tuesday that could propel her campaign forward.

Both Haley and DeSantis vowed to carry on after losing to Trump in the Iowa caucuses.

"We're gonna make you proud, and we're off to New Hampshire," Haley told supporters Monday night.

On Monday night, Haley's campaign released a memo that said she would take on Trump and Biden and "go the distance in a long campaign."

"The Iowa results and the New Hampshire polls show Donald Trump is more vulnerable than commonly believed. He is the polarizing figure he has long been," campaign manager Betsy Ankeny wrote in the memo. "Trump and Biden are the two most disliked politicians in America."

ABC News' Nicholas Kerr contributed to this report.