Potential Boycott Threatens First GOP Debate as Candidates Jostle for Qualification

by Lucas Garcia
GOP primary debate

The 2024 GOP primary’s inaugural debate, scheduled for seven weeks from now, is stirring concern that the event could result in discord and disorder within the party.

Certain candidates such as former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson are finding it difficult to meet the fundraising and polling requirements necessary to secure a place on the debate stage. Hutchinson and others have resisted a loyalty pledge that the Republican Party demands candidates to sign for participation. Moreover, the contest’s frontrunner, former President Donald Trump, is contemplating boycotting the event and hosting a separate one.

This has turned the usually eagerly awaited starting point of the election season into an area of uncertainty for both the candidates and the broader party. The anxiety is particularly intense for candidates who intended to leverage the platform as an opportunity to challenge Trump and curb his momentum.


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“The first debate with a restricted participant field and without Trump’s presence could hardly be successful,” expressed Hutchinson. However, he remained confident about making it to the stage, despite receiving donations from just over 5,000 contributors.

“We haven’t reached our goal yet. There’s still some way to go, but we are determined to make it,” he asserted.

According to the Republican National Committee (RNC), candidates must receive donations from at least 40,000 individual contributors, with a minimum of 200 unique donors in at least 20 states to participate in the Aug. 23 debate in Milwaukee. They also need to secure at least 1% in three high-quality national polls or a combination of national and early-state polls between July 1 and August 21. Candidates are required to sign a pledge to support the eventual party nominee and agree not to participate in any non-RNC sanctioned debate for the rest of the election cycle.

Emma Vaughn, RNC spokeswoman, asserted, “Our criteria are clear. We are committed to using quality polls to decide who makes it to the debate stage, and we are confident there will be ample polls for our candidates to qualify.”

Among the qualified candidates are Trump, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. However, some lesser-known candidates such as conservative radio host Larry Elder, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez seem unlikely to meet the criteria.

Former Vice President Mike Pence launched his campaign on June 7. While he hasn’t yet disclosed a donor tally, his campaign reports raising a substantial five-digit figure since the announcement. The Pence campaign is hopeful that the large donor base from Pence’s nonprofit, Advancing American Freedom, will contribute to his campaign.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, confident about achieving the benchmarks, has portrayed himself as the best candidate to challenge Trump directly. Despite Trump’s boycott threats, Christie’s campaign continues to solicit even $1 donations for qualification.

Anthony Scaramucci, former Trump’s White House communications director, now supports Christie and urged contributions to the candidate, even from those not planning to vote for him. ESPN host Stephen A. Smith has made similar appeals to his followers, emphasizing the necessity of Christie’s presence on stage.

However, Christie has rebuked Trump for his boycott threats. He urged potential contributors to ensure his place on the debate stage, promising to confront the president directly.

Trump, as per campaign officials, hasn’t finalized his plans yet but seems disinclined to participate, with aides exploring alternatives for a separate event. Meanwhile, DeSantis confirmed his participation in the debate irrespective of Trump’s decision.

This wouldn’t be the first time Trump has avoided a significant GOP debate. He previously boycotted a crucial event before the Iowa caucuses in 2016 and hosted his own event. Despite grabbing headlines, Trump lost the Iowa caucuses to Ted Cruz, which some supporters attributed to his debate decision.

In 2020, Trump withdrew from the second general election debate against Joe Biden after the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates decided to make it virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic. Trump, who had tested positive for COVID-19, insisted on an in-person debate.

Candidates with lower polls during the crowded Democratic primary in 2019 expressed similar grievances about the debate process. However, this year’s GOP tension is unique, as the party mandates candidates to pledge support for the eventual nominee.

The actual language of the pledge has not been disclosed by the RNC, but it’s expected to resemble the 2016 pledge. The only candidate to definitively refuse to sign the pledge is former Texas Rep. Will Hurd, who has vowed not to support Trump if he is the nominee.

RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel has defended the criteria consistently, referring to the 2016 situation when numerous candidates necessitated splitting the debates.

Contributions to this story were made by Big Big News reporters Michelle L. Price in New York, Sara Burnett in Chicago, and Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about GOP primary debate

When is the first GOP primary debate scheduled for 2024?

The first GOP primary debate for 2024 is scheduled to take place seven weeks from now.

Who is finding it difficult to meet the fundraising and polling requirements for the GOP debate?

Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and several other candidates are finding it challenging to meet the fundraising and polling requirements to qualify for the debate.

What is Donald Trump’s stance towards participating in the GOP primary debate?

Former President Donald Trump is considering boycotting the event and hosting a separate one.

Who among the candidates have qualified for the debate so far?

Among the qualified candidates are Donald Trump, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.

Why is the pledge required by the Republican National Committee causing contention?

The pledge, requiring candidates to support the eventual party nominee and agree not to participate in any non-RNC sanctioned debate, is seen as controversial. Some candidates, like former Texas Rep. Will Hurd, refuse to support Trump if he is the nominee, creating tension.

More about GOP primary debate

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Timothy96 July 7, 2023 - 7:43 am

what’s with this loyalty pledge? Sounds like a loyalty to trump pledge if you ask me.

LibertyLover101 July 7, 2023 - 12:26 pm

All the best to Gov. Hutchinson…he needs a miracle to qualify, but he’s got my support!

OldSchoolRepub July 7, 2023 - 1:23 pm

Christie and Trump on the same stage – now that would be a sight! I’d pay to see that, lol.

Joe_R July 7, 2023 - 5:04 pm

Can’t believe Trump’s considering a boycott… again. Why can’t he just play by the rules like everyone else? smh

RonFan July 7, 2023 - 6:08 pm

DeSantis is the one to watch guys, don’t underestimate him… trump or not, he’s in for the fight.

MaggieSue July 8, 2023 - 4:35 am

Do we really need to hear more from Trump? Wish there was more focus on the other candidates!

JennyB July 8, 2023 - 5:46 am

is it just me or does the 40k individual donors rule seems a bit much?? the RNC really needs to rethink this.


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