Republicans schedule first presidential debate, but there’s no guarantee Trump will attend
The first 2024 Republican presidential debate will be held Aug. 23, the Republican National Committee announced Friday, with a second debate the following night should it be needed.
The RNC also detailed the criteria that will be used for candidates to qualify for the debate stage, including a pledge to support the eventual Republican presidential nominee. That requirement could keep some candidates off the stage, including former President Trump, who hasn’t committed to supporting the nominee if he doesn’t emerge from the primary. Trump also has questioned why he would participate since he holds a commanding lead in GOP primary polls.
The debate will be held in Milwaukee, which also will be the site of the party’s nominating convention next year. It’s a nod to the importance of the battleground state of Wisconsin, which is likely to be key to a presidential victory again in 2024.
“The RNC is committed to putting on a fair, neutral, and transparent primary process and the qualifying criteria set forth will put our party and eventual nominee in the best position to take back the White House come November 2024,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said.
The list of candidates vying to face President Biden next year has been growing. In addition to Trump, the field includes Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy. Other candidates expected to get into the contest soon include former Vice President Mike Pence, ex-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.
The debate stage can provide the largest audience yet for many presidential hopefuls, but it also can trip up candidates. Already, there have been questions about which candidates will take part and what rules the RNC would impose in order to participate.
Trump has said so far that he wouldn’t promise to support the nominee if someone else wins the nomination, telling radio host Hugh Hewitt, “It would have to depend on who the nominee was.”
Ronna McDaniel has become the longest-serving leader of the Republican National Committee since the Civil War.
Christie, who plans to launch his campaign in New Hampshire next week, has said he would never support Trump as the party’s 2024 nominee, as he did in 2016. “No way,” he told Axios in March. Advisers did not immediately respond to questions about how Christie would handle the pledge, given his opposition to Trump.
Hutchinson, also a Trump critic, said Friday he plans to be on the debate stage. But he criticized the RNC for requiring the “loyalty oath,” saying the pledge should be only that a participant won’t run as a third-party candidate.
“The RNC should have minimal criteria for the debates in the early stages of this campaign,” Hutchinson said. “More choices are better.”
To participate in the Aug. 23 debate in Milwaukee, candidates must have received campaign contributions from 40,000 unique donors — a relatively high number aimed at winnowing the field. Hutchinson was critical, saying it “benefits candidates who generate online donations through extreme rhetoric and scare tactics.”
Among other criteria, they also must receive at least 1% support in three national polls or 1% in two national polls and 1% in early state polls from two separate states. Those states are Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. The polls must meet certain requirements to be recognized by the RNC.
Candidates also must sign a pledge agreeing not to participate in any non-RNC-sanctioned debate during the election cycle.
The RNC said criteria for future debates may include higher thresholds for polling and fundraising. Future dates have not been set.
Associated Press reporter Jill Colvin contributed to this report.
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