A Republican presidential primary debate that CNN plans to host in Des Moines next week appears likely to be a one-on-one showdown between Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley, who are fighting to emerge from the state’s caucuses as the definitive alternative to former President Donald J. Trump.
Both Mr. DeSantis, the governor of Florida, and Ms. Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, are long shots to win the caucuses, given that they are trailing Mr. Trump in polls of Iowans by more than 30 points on average. But if either one is to have even a small chance of claiming the nomination, that person needs to drive the other out of the race, which they could do — or at least take a first step toward doing — by beating them for second place in Iowa.
Mr. Trump did not participate in the official debates sponsored by the Republican National Committee last year, and he is not expected to participate in the CNN debates. (The Iowa event will be followed by a similar one in New Hampshire.) And a fourth candidate, Vivek Ramaswamy, announced on Tuesday that he wouldn’t attend even if he qualified, which he might not in any case.
No other candidate has a chance of qualifying by the deadline on Tuesday. Participants need at least 10 percent support in three national or Iowa polls that meet CNN’s criteria, including at least one poll of likely Iowa caucusgoers. Former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey — who has largely ignored Iowa in favor of campaigning in New Hampshire — is nowhere near that mark, and former Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas is barely registering anywhere.
In a post on X, Mr. Ramaswamy expressed anger at CNN over the network’s fact-checking of the conspiracy theories he advanced during a town-hall event last month and about CNN anchors’ and commentators’ criticism of him. He also faulted the network for rejecting some polls that the Republican National Committee accepted to qualify candidates for its debates.
He said he would instead do a live show with the right-wing commentator Tim Pool on Jan. 10, the night of the debate. Mr. Trump is scheduled to participate in his own counterprogramming: a town-hall event that Fox News announced on Tuesday.