Eight Republican presidential candidates sparred Wednesday over immigration, the economy and abortion in the first debate of the 2024 U.S. election cycle — but the spotlight was still stolen by Donald Trump even as he boycotted the showdown.

Trump's snubbing of the two-hour event in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, deprived a chasing pack of rivals, whom he leads by massive margins in polls, of the opportunity to direct shots at him live on stage. Instead, he gave an interview to former Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson and the recording was posted online minutes before the debate got underway.

But the former president still loomed over the debate, with Fox News hosts moderating the event asking questions about his multiple indictments. Candidates were asked to signal if they would support Trump as the party's nominee even if he is convicted in the criminal cases he is facing.