Where to watch GOP debate tonight — and why it isn't just a harmless clown show

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Update: Chris Christie and Vivek Ramaswamy have since qualified for the debate.

It’s tempting to write off the fourth Republican presidential debate as just another clown show.

That is, ultimately, what the first three GOP debates have amounted to — candidates talking all over each other, the occasional personal insult, a lot of pie-in-the-sky bloviating and the unspoken reminder that as long as Donald Trump is out there threatening democracy the chances of any of these people becoming president is statistically insignificant. They don’t have a hope of winning the nomination.

I’ve continually made fun of Fox News kicking the first debate off by playing a clip from “Rich Men North of Richmond” and constructing the first question around it, because how could you not ridicule something so deliriously unserious, so utterly designed to appeal to the low-information viewer? As time goes on, however, it seems like it set the perfect tone.

What time is the 4th presidential debate?

The fourth GOP debate is scheduled for 6 p.m. Arizona time on Wednesday, Dec. 6 at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. NewsNation will show the debate on its TV channel (it offers a handy channel finder, on the not-inconsiderable chance that you have never heard of NewsNation) and live-stream it on its website. The CW network will simulcast the debate on local affiliates in eastern and central time zones.

Tempting as it is, there are a couple of reasons this debate may not qualify as an out-and-out clown show. For one thing, Vivek Ramaswamy has yet to qualify. Through great effort he has wrested the mantle of buffooniest buffoon in Buffoon Town from Kari Lake (Arizonans thank you, sir).

More seriously, Trump — who skips out on the debates because of his commanding lead in polls and, well, because he’s Trump — has made it clear that if he wins another term he means to take actions that pose a genuine threat to democracy. He recently threatened MSNBC over its coverage of him, threats you would like to believe are unconstitutional until you remember what’s going on over at the Supreme Court. He brags about weaponizing the Justice Department to go after his political enemies. He talks about turning the military on protestors. (Listen to “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, dude.) Cries for the media to cover the election like something other than a horse race, as the saying goes, grow louder.

And then another poll comes out.

So despite the efforts of the candidates and sometimes the moderators, this is serious business. Possibly deadly serious. And with the participants at the time of publication consisting only of Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley, the chances of holding their feet to the fire in terms of defending the Constitution and democracy would seem better with the right moderators.

Which brings us to Megyn Kelly.

Megyn Kelly will co-moderate the 4th Republican Debate

Kelly’s got a lot of debate experience, you have to give her that. Attacked by Trump after an infamous 2015 debate for holding her own against him (“She has blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her whatever”), Kelly signed a huge contract with NBC (a reported $69 million over three years) and, after wondering on-air why it was inappropriate for white people to dress in blackface, she found herself without a TV job.

Kelly has since reinvented herself as a conservative-leaning radio and podcast host, places where you can find her trashing the U.S. women’s soccer team after their loss in the World Cup (“I’m thrilled they lost”), explaining why she is “done with using preferred pronouns” after initially using them, that kind of thing.

Maybe she and DeSantis can compete to see who can use the word “woke” the most.

Co-moderator Elizabeth Vargas was a reporter in Phoenix

She will be joined by NewsNation’s Elizabeth Vargas, a former local reporter in Phoenix, as well as a onetime co-anchor of “World News Tonight” on ABC. Vargas is a serious journalist and a welcome presence on the panel.

The third moderator is Eliana Johnson, the editor-in-chief of the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news site whose slogan is “Covering the enemies of freedom the way the mainstream media won’t.” If you’re wondering who those enemies are, the site tells you, right there on the home page. They include Barack Obama, of course, as well as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and, reliably, Hillary Clinton.

Good times.

It also has a “Biden’s Age Tracker” featured prominently on its home page, and offers headlines like “Sleepy Joe Turns 81: America’s Oldest President Just Got Even Older,” “Elon Musk Is One of Us” and “The Left Embraces ‘Separate but Equal.’” Just in case you wondered where Johnson was coming from.

Can we really expect questions from the perspective that democracy is in dire danger here? Is there any hope of that? It’s the most urgent issue journalists are covering, and one of the moderators edits a site with a Biden age tracker?

I am willing to be surprised. But not particularly hopeful.

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What channel is the presidential debate on tonight?

6 p.m. Arizona time Wednesday, Dec. 6 on NewsNation, NewsNation's website and the CW.

Reach Goodykoontz at bill.goodykoontz@arizonarepublic.com. Facebook: facebook.com/GoodyOnFilm. X, formerly known as Twitter: @goodyk.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: What time is the Republican debate tonight? How to watch and more