Long-shot Republican presidential candidate and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum notoriously ruptured his Achilles tendon playing basketball the night before the first Republican primary debate in August but persevered to manoeuvre the debate stage on crutches. He had since been campaigning with his leg on a knee scooter. Burgum's insistence on reaching the debate stage, despite his injury, highlights the importance of the national profile offered by primary debates for minor candidates.

With Burgum's withdrawal this week from the 2024 race, the average number of non-ruptured Achilles tendons per Republican presidential candidate has increased to two, up from 1.875 this time last month. Since Burgum's injury, the average had been declining until today's announcement, which boosted the average to levels not seen since before the first Republican debate.

While frontrunners such as former President Trump can afford to skip the debates, they are essential to the election strategies of lesser-known presidential hopefuls who hope for a breakout moment that will attract media coverage and donor attention. Indeed, Burgum's own campaign suspension was driven by his failure to qualify for the upcoming fourth debate tomorrow in Alabama.

Just four candidates will now be on the debate stage, each vying to become the leading Republican alternative to overwhelming frontrunner Trump. With six weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses and candidates like Burgum and former Vice President Mike Pence out of the running, it remains to be seen who will still be standing on their own two feet come January.

This article was first published in the weekly 46th newsletter. Subscribe to the 46th here.