Will Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson's debate night counterprogramming plan pay off?

The former president and former Fox News have conducted an interview to directly conflict with the first 2024 GOP debate

Illustration of Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson
For Trump, the Carlson interview is an opportunity to "steal the spotlight away from lower-polling rivals"
(Image credit: Getty Images)

There will be a conspicuously Trump-shaped hole onstage at Milwaukee's Fiserv Forum when the bulk of the Republican primary field gathers for the first debate of the 2024 presidential race, moderated by Fox News anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum. With a commanding double-digit lead over every other GOP candidate, former President Donald Trump announced this week on his Truth Social platform that he would not participate in this, or any of the other upcoming debates, since the public already "knows who I am & what a successful Presidency I had." Nevertheless, even in absence, Trump is guaranteed to be a major topic of the evening thanks to his unavoidably massive hold on the Republican electorate. For those interested in hearing from Trump himself, the former president has teamed up with onetime Fox News superstar Tucker Carlson for a one-on-one interview scheduled to stream directly opposite the debates on X, formerly known as Twitter.

While no stranger to the art of effective counterprogramming, Trump's debate-night gambit is a uniquely fraught proposition from the former president, fueled not only by political machinations but a nexus of personal and professional considerations from multiple stakeholders. With a Truth Social promise that "SPARKS WILL FLY," Trump is betting big that his brand of political bombast and entertainment will be enough of a draw to keep the spotlight on him, despite the combined efforts of Fox News and the Republican National Committee. But will it work?

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Rafi Schwartz, The Week US

Rafi Schwartz has worked as a politics writer at The Week since 2022, where he covers elections, Congress and the White House. He was previously a contributing writer with Mic focusing largely on politics, a senior writer with Splinter News, a staff writer for Fusion's news lab, and the managing editor of Heeb Magazine, a Jewish life and culture publication. Rafi's work has appeared in Rolling Stone, GOOD and The Forward, among others.