Key takeaways: Trump stays away from the debate — and comes out unscathed

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Eight underdog Republican presidential candidates debated Wednesday on a stage overshadowed by Donald Trump, who snubbed his rivals in an attempt to show his dominance — and consign them to irrelevancy.

While some took aim at Trump, his nearest rivals either defended him or trod cautiously around the former president as he faces four criminal indictments involving his alleged attempt to overturn the 2020 election, misuse of classified documents and falsification of business records to make hush money payments to a porn star.

There was little reason to believe the debate would shake up the fundamental dynamic of the Republican primary campaign: Trump’s dominance. Heading into the evening, he was winning 52% of GOP voters in national polls, according to the FiveThirtyEight average. His top-polling rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, was far behind, with 15%. Nobody else reached double digits.

Here are some key takeaways from the evening.