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The participants — and dynamics — to watch in the first GOP debate

First Read is your briefing from “Meet the Press” and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
The Republican debate sign outside Fiserv Forum in preparation for the Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee
The Republican debate sign outside Fiserv Forum in preparation for the Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee, on Aug. 22, 2023.Mike De Sisti / USA Today Network

If it’s TUESDAY… RNC announces the eight Republicans who will participate in tomorrow night’s presidential debate… Donald Trump, who won’t attend, says he’ll turn himself in Thursday at Atlanta jail… Majority of likely Iowa GOP caucusgoers believe Trump’s unfounded claims he won the 2020 election, per NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll… And Florida Dems get a challenger against GOP Sen. Rick Scott, NBC’s Matt Dixon reports.

But FIRST… The Republican debate stage is now set for Wednesday night. 

The eight participants include two current governors (Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and North Dakota’s Doug Burgum). 

One current senator (Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.).

Four ex-governors (Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Mike Pence of Indiana and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas).

Two members of the Trump administration (Haley and Pence).

Two pointed critics of Trump and his recent indictments (Christie and Hutchinson)

One man at the center of the indictments regarding Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election results (Pence). 

One woman (Haley — as NBC’s Ali Vitali chronicles). 

One political novice and outsider (entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy). 

Oh, and there’s that one significant no-show who will be surrendering to Atlanta authorities on Thursday: Former President Donald Trump. 

There are several fascinating dynamics at play among these eight participants. 

You’ve got the anti-Trump folks versus the Trump defenders (like Ramaswamy). 

You have the candidates who mostly don’t like talking about Trump (Scott and Burgum).

You have the two men who are in second and third place, respectively, in Iowa, per our NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll (DeSantis and Scott). 

And you have a field that’s increasingly ganging up on Ramaswamy.

Headline of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 51%

That’s the portion of likely Republican caucusgoers in Iowa who believe former President Donald Trump’s claims that he won the 2020 presidential election, per a new NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll.

There’s no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election, but among the groups most likely to believe Trump’s claim that he won are self-identified Republicans (60%), those making less than $70,000 a year (69%), evangelicals (62%) and those without college degrees (59%).

Forty-two percent of those polled said that they plan to vote for Trump in Iowa’s January caucus. Of that group, 83% said they believe Trump won the 2020 election.

For more on our latest Iowa poll, head to NBCNews.com.

 Other numbers to know:

$200,000: The value of a bond set for Trump in his election interference case in Fulton County, Ga.

$100,000: The size of attorney John Eastman’s bond in the Georgia election interference case, where Eastman faces charges for his role in the plan to submit fake electors.

41%: The portion of likely Iowa caucusgoers who say Trump should remain the party’s leader, per a new NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll.

2: The number of people who have died in wildfires raging across Washington State.

3: The inches of rain Palm Springs. Calif., got over the weekend from Tropical Storm Hilary, setting a record for the most precipitation in one day there.

1.34: The amount of million metric tons of treated contaminated cooling water Japan will start releasing into the Pacific Ocean this week from the nuclear plant that was hit hard by a 2011 earthquake.

Eyes on 2024: Dems hoping for sunshine in Florida

Senate Democrats might just have their candidate in an uphill battle against Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott — former Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who announced her bid this morning. 

As NBC News’ Matt Dixon reports: “Mucarsel-Powell, who came to the U.S. at age 14 from Ecuador, has long been on a short list of potential Democratic candidates. In recent weeks, a number of state and national Democratic leaders have coalesced around her.”

In her interview with Dixon, Mucarsel-Powell dinged Scott for his controversial plan to sunset all federal legislation (he subsequently exempted Medicare, Social Security and a handful of other benefits from the plan), and made clear she would lean on her biography in her bid. 

Scott will be a formidable opponent for Democrats — he’s never shied away from spending millions of his own wealth on his political races, and Democrats in the state are reeling from a string of tough losses in the state. But Democrats had, up until this point, no major candidate slated to oppose Scott, making Mucarsel-Powell’s decision a key one for a party that has to mostly play defense in 2024.  

In other campaign news …

Counterprogramming: Former President Donald Trump may not be attending the debate, but he has a busy week — NBC News’ Garrett Haake reports he already recorded an interview with ex-Fox News host Tucker Carlson to air around the debate Wednesday, and Trump said he will surrender to authorities in Fulton County, Ga. on Thursday. 

Breaking the glass ceiling: NBC News’ Ali Vitali reports on former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and the dynamics around her being the only woman set to debate in the GOP presidential debate Wednesday night. 

Taking on Vivek: Just ahead of the debate, Haley has been criticizing businessman Vivek Ramaswamy’s stance on aid for Israel

Dean’s list (of reasons not to run): Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., is encouraging other Democrats to run against President Joe Biden, but he doesn’t sound likely to jump into the race himself, telling the Star Tribune that a presidential bid “is not something as of today that I see happening for a number of reasons.”

Sununu’s warning: New Hampshire GOP Gov. Chris Sununu wrote in a New York Times op-ed that Republicans must winnow the presidential field in order to defeat Trump, echoing recent comments he’s made on the campaign trail, per NBC News’ Jonathan Allen and Emma Barnett. 

Shapiro heads to the Granite State: Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro will head to New Hampshire next month to headline the state Democratic Party’s convention, NBC News’ Allan Smith reports.

Dems in dismay: Virginia Democrats are raising concerns about GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin and the possibility that he could launch a run for president if Republicans are successful in the state’s legislative races this fall, NBC News’ Ryan Nobles and Gary Grumbach report.

Rosen’s gamble: Nevada Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., told the Messenger that she would campaign with Biden as she runs for re-election next year. 

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world:  

In a new filing, Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith pushed back on a request by Trump’s legal team to delay his federal trial to 2026 for his efforts to stop the peaceful transfer of power.

The House Freedom Caucus is demanding conservative policy changes in exchange for their support on a short-term funding deal meant to avert a government shutdown, NBC News’ Sahil Kapur and Rebecca Kaplan report.