It appears that we’re going to have an honest to goodness Republican presidential primary debate. All the stars will be there on the red carpet, adorned in sartorial splendor and ready to trot out their plans for a better future for America. Or will they?

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) won’t participate in a GOP presidential candidate debate set for Thursday, the first of the 2012 cycle.

Romney, a putative front-runner for the party’s nomination, won’t participate in the debate in South Carolina because of its early position in the cycle, according to top aide Matt Rhoades.

“Gov. Romney will not be participating in this week’s South Carolina debate because it’s still early, the field is too unsettled and he’s not yet an announced candidate,” said Rhoades. “Fox News and the South Carolina Republican Party have both been notified of this decision.”

Well, OK. We may not have Mitt, but the rest of the field will be on display so we can begin evaluating our choices for the next cycle. Oh… wait…

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) has declined to participate, and other figures — including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — are ineligible to participate because of the forum’s rules.

Wait a minute here… is this a GOP debate or The Daily Show? Is anyone coming?

By contrast, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) has joined several other Republicans — Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer and pizza magnate Herman Cain — in committing to the debate.

T-Paw has been putting the pressure on the other candidates to show up, but the field will still be fairly sparse. Still, for those fans of the Dark Horse Primary race poll earlier this week, it may be an opportunity for some of the candidates with name recognition issues to shine and build up some buzz.

Anyone going to be live tweeting it for us?