A once-crowded Republican presidential debate stage will have just four candidates on Wednesday night in Tuscaloosa, Ala. That will put a renewed onus on the moderators to bring order and relevancy to the broadcast amid rising tensions among the candidates and the continuing absence of former President Donald J. Trump.
The task will be partly shouldered by a onetime Trump combatant: Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News star who famously tangled with Mr. Trump eight years ago, in a debate that helped propel him to the Republican nomination.
Joining her will be Elizabeth Vargas of NewsNation, the upstart cable network hosting the debate, and Eliana Johnson, the editor in chief of The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news site.
Ms. Kelly will reprise her role as a moderator, but without Mr. Trump, the Republican front-runner, who has skipped all four of the party’s primary debates.
In 2015, during a Fox News primary debate, she confronted Mr. Trump about his past comments demeaning women, and he responded by attacking her. “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever,” he said the day after the debate.
Mr. Trump has since reconciled with Ms. Kelly, whom NBC hired away from Fox News in 2017. Two years later, she and NBC parted ways.
Ms. Kelly currently hosts a radio show on SiriusXM, interviewing Mr. Trump on the platform in September.
At a July gathering of Turning Point Action, a pro-Trump grass-roots group, several thousand activists booed when Ms. Kelly suggested that the Republican nominating contest was probably a two-candidate race between Mr. Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. She quickly relented, saying that Mr. Trump’s indictments had only burnished his stock with G.O.P. voters.
“The vast majority of the Republican Party wants Trump,” she said. “We all know who the best middle-finger candidate is.”
Ms. Vargas is best known for her tenure at ABC News, where she hosted the newsmagazine show “20/20” for 15 years and was a co-anchor of “World News Tonight.” She also frequently appeared on “Good Morning America.”
This will be her first time moderating a presidential primary debate, something that Ms. Vargas told the Alabama news website AL.com had been on her “bucket list.”
Since April, Ms. Vargas has hosted an hourlong news program on NewsNation, a 24-hour cable news station owned by Nexstar Media Group. She is part of a lineup that includes Chris Cuomo, the former CNN host, who was fired in 2021 amid ethics concerns.
Ms. Johnson is joining a cadre of conservative media figures for whom moderating primary debates organized by the Republican National Committee presents a profile-raising opportunity.
In a somewhat surprising move in 2019, she became the editor in chief of The Free Beacon, a conservative website funded by a major Republican donor, the hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer. She had been a White House correspondent and national political reporter for Politico.
In 2019, when Mr. Trump was president, Ms. Johnson wrote an article for Politico about his “truly bizarre” visit, with President Emmanuel Macron of France, to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home. (She reported that Mr. Trump could not understand why Washington had not named the home after himself.)
She was previously a Washington editor for National Review, a conservative magazine, and a producer for Fox News, including for Sean Hannity.