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First Republican Debate: Who’s In, Who’s Banned, Who’s Boycotting

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photos: Getty Images/AP

On August 23, Fox News will host the first debate of the 2024 presidential race in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. With 13 GOP candidates running for the nomination, the Republican National Committee decided to set some rules to cull candidates who have little chance of victory. By August 21, candidates had to hit fundraising and polling thresholds and sign a “loyalty pledge” in order to qualify for the stage.

The requirements announced in June were, by previous standards, pretty tough. Candidates had to have 40,000 unique donors, with at least 200 donors from 20 different states. And they had to poll at one percent or greater in three national surveys, or two national and two early-state polls, meeting specified methodological requirements.

Polling aside, the debate rule that’s drawn the most controversy is one that any candidate could meet, in theory: a “loyalty pledge” to support the eventual party nominee. While there’s been widespread grumbling and equivocation, only one candidate flatly rejected the pledge: former Texas congressman Will Hurd, who is running on a staunch anti-Trump message.

Here’s a list of all the nine Republican candidates who qualified for the debates. Eight will be on the debate stage; one will boycott the event; the rest will be sitting on the sidelines involuntarily.


Candidates Who Qualified

Donald Trump

Donor requirements: Easily met.

Polling requirement: Easily met.

Will he show up? Trump was really the only candidate for whom this question was even relevant. While the rest of the candidates desperately need to be on the debate stage, Trump has openly observed that given his current lead, he has little to gain and much to lose from participating. Instead, he has pre-recorded an interview with fired Fox News personality Tucker Carlson that will appear on social media during the debate. Trump’s absence could frustrate the plans of several rivals, notably Chris Christie, and might lead some candidates to instead go after his most formidable opponent, Ron DeSantis.

Ron DeSantis

Donor requirement: Met.

Polling requirement: Met.

Loyalty pledge: Like Trump, DeSantis has been noncommittal about this pledge. But unlike Trump, he wasn’t about to risk missing the debate.

Mike Pence

Donor requirement: Met.

Polling requirement: Met.

Loyalty pledge: Pence has said he’ll sign the pledge.

Tim Scott

Donor requirement: Met.

Polling requirement: Met.

Loyalty pledge: Scott has agreed to take the loyalty pledge, and he’s probably criticized the front-runners less than most other candidates.

Vivek Ramaswamy

Donor requirement: Met.

Polling requirement: Met.

Loyalty pledge: Ramaswamy has agreed to take the pledge if other candidates do. It’s hard to imagine him passing up the opportunity to debate.

Chris Christie

Donor requirement: Met.

Polling requirement: Met.

Loyalty pledge: It’s understandable that as an open anti-Trump candidate, Christie isn’t eager to pledge he’ll support the 45th president’s bid to become the 47th president if he’s nominated. But Christie can’t make the debate stage to try to stop Trump until he takes the pledge, so he has held his nose and offered to sign it.

Doug Burgum

Donor requirement: Met.

Polling requirement: Met.

Loyalty pledge: Burgum has unconditionally agreed to sign the loyalty pledge.

Update: On Tuesday night, Burgum was “was taken to a Milwaukee emergency room Tuesday after suffering an injury while playing a game of pick-up basketball with his staff,” CNN reports, potentially threatening his appearance at the debate.

Asa Hutchinson

Donor requirement: Met, barely.

Polling requirement: Met, barely.

Loyalty pledge: Hutchinson has said he won’t support Trump as the nominee if the 45th president is convicted of a felony, but has agreed to sign the loyalty pledge on the dubious grounds that he believes the party wouldn’t put a felon on the general-election ballot.


Candidates Who Did Not Qualify

Francis Suarez

Donor requirement: Met.

Polling requirement: Suarez claimed to have met the requirement, but relied on late low-quality polls the RNC did not recognize.

Loyalty pledge: If he had met the other criteria, the pledge, which he’s agreed to sign, wouldn’t have been a problem for Suarez.

Perry Johnson

Donor requirement: Met, according to his own records.

Polling requirement: Like Suarez, Johnson made a late claim that he had met the requirement but relied on non-recognized polls.

Loyalty pledge: Johnson has said he will support the GOP nominee.

Larry Elder

Donor requirement: The longtime California talk-show host has spent more time complaining about the debate requirements than exhibiting any innovative way to build a national donor base.

Polling requirement: Elder has not hit one percent in any of the RNC-certified polls.

Loyalty pledge: Elder is fine with the loyalty pledge.

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Getty Images

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First GOP Debate: Who’s In, Who’s Banned, Who’s Boycotting