RNC announces criteria, date of first presidential debate – is Trump a lock?

Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel announced on Friday that the first 2024 GOP presidential primary debate will occur this upcoming Aug. 23rd.

“I am excited to announce the criteria for our first presidential primary debate in Milwaukee on August 23,” she said in a press release shared to the RNC’s website.

“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,” she added.

According to the press release, a second round of the debate will be held on Aug. 24th in case there turn out to be too many candidates for just one debate.

As of the first week of June, eight candidates had declared their candidacy: Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, Vivek Ramaswamy, Larry Elder, Asa Hutchinson, and Corey Stapleton.

Meanwhile, three additional candidates were expected to declare their candidacy during the second week of June: Chris Christie, Mike Pence, and Doug Burgum.

What remains unclear is which candidates will make it to the debate, as the prerequisites to attend are pretty exhaustive.

For example, candidates will need to be polling at least “1% in three national polls OR 1% in two national polls and 1% in one early state poll from two separate ‘carve out’ states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina) recognized by the RNC.”

Moreover, for the polls to be valid, they must:

  • “Survey at least 800 registered likely Republican voters through a mix of live calls, integrated voice response, online panels, and/or text message.”
  • “Not overly weight responses of any individual cohort beyond the margin of the error of the poll.”
  • “Ask the question on presidential preference prior to any question which may allow potential bias.”
  • “Not be conducted by a polling company affiliated with a candidate or candidate committee.”
  • “Meet this polling requirement no later than 48 hours prior to the first scheduled debate and must be conducted on or after July 1, 2023.”

In addition, the polls must be completed “no later than 48 hours prior to the first scheduled debate and must be conducted on or after July 1, 2023.”

These are just the polling requirements. There are also fundraising requirements.

Candidates must “[h]ave a minimum of 40,000 unique donors to candidate’s principal presidential campaign committee (or exploratory committee), with at least 200 unique donors per state or territory in 20+ states and/or territories.”

Candidates must also “[p]resent this evidence to the RNC no later than 48 hours prior to the first scheduled debate.”

Politico notes that the RNC’s requirements this year are “stricter than they’ve been in the past, making it equally possible just a few candidates make the stage,” and that “[c]andidates who have long, impressive political resumes but are struggling to gain any traction in the polls may be left out in the cold.”

The most controversial requirements are the pledges.

Candidates must:

  • “Have signed pledge agreeing not to participate in any non-RNC sanctioned debate for the remainder of the election cycle.”
  • “Have signed pledge agreeing to support the eventual party nominee.”
  • “Have signed RNC data-sharing agreement.”
  • “Present signed pledges and agreement to the RNC no later than 48 hours prior to the first scheduled debate.”

The requirement that candidates sign a “pledge agreeing to support the eventual party nominee” is expected to cause former President Trump a problem.

While Trump did sign the pledge during the early part of the 2016 presidential election, he later reneged on it (see below) and then re-signed it in May of 2016.

So far Trump has indicated on at least two occasions that he won’t sign any pledge this time around.

“Former President Donald Trump appeared to wink and nod at a third-party run in 2024 by sharing on his Truth Social an article arguing for the GOP to split in half,” Mediaite reported on Thursday, Dec 29th.

“Trump shared the article titled ‘The Coming Split’ without comment on Wednesday night, but many pundits and observers were quick to take notice as Trump remains the ostensible leader of the Republican Party.

That was the first time.

“In a radio interview on Thursday, the conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt asked Mr. Trump if he would support ‘whoever’ wins the party’s nomination next year. Mr. Trump announced his third presidential campaign in November and faces a number of potential Republican challengers,” The New York Times reported on Thursday, Feb. 2nd.

“It would depend. It would have to depend on who the nominee was,” the former president replied.


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Vivek Saxena


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