Donald Trump may not be on the stage for tonight’s Republican primary debate, but at least eight other candidates will still have to contend with his presence — and his lead in the polls.

The Opinion columnist Michelle Goldberg argues that tonight is an opportunity for Trump’s opponents to convince Republican voters that they can be as dominant as the former president, but without the legal baggage. The question remains, though: Will the Republican base buy it?

(A full transcript of this audio essay will be available midday on the Times website.)

Illustration by The New York Times; Photographs by Joe Buglewicz for The New York Times; Scott Morgan, Jim Young, Dan Koeck, Cheney Orr/Reuters; Ben Gray, Alex Brandon/Associated Press; Megan Varner/Getty Images

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This Opinion Short was produced by Sophia Alvarez Boyd. It was edited by Stephanie Joyce and Kaari Pitkin. Mixing by Carole Sabouraud. Original music by Pat McCusker and Carole Sabouraud. Fact-checking by Mary Marge Locker. Special thanks to Shannon Busta, Kristina Samulewski and Annie-Rose Strasser.

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