(Bloomberg) -- Republican presidential candidates will need to meet polling and fundraising requirements and agree to back the eventual nominee to join the first primary debate on Aug. 23, raising questions about how many will qualify and whether frontrunner Donald Trump will participate.
The Republican National Committee is requiring at least 1% support in three RNC-recognized national polls or 1% in two national polls and 1% in a poll covering two of the early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina after July 1 and no later than 48 hours prior to the first debate.
Candidates must also have a minimum of 40,000 unique donors with at least 200 unique donors in each of 20 or more states and territories plus sign pledges to share data with the RNC, to support the eventual nominee and not to participate in any debates not sanctioned by the party.
The candidates will be placed on stage according to polling with the highest-polling candidate in the center. Should enough candidates qualify for the Aug. 23 debate, there will be a second debate on Aug. 24, the RNC said.
The number of qualifying candidates that would trigger a second debate wasn’t announced. In the first GOP presidential debate in Cleveland in August 2015, 10 candidates participated in a prime-time forum and seven lower-polling candidates were relegated to an earlier session.
“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 in a statement.
McDaniel had said there would be requirements for the first debate being held in Milwaukee, site of the 2024 Republican National Convention. Another debate will be at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, but a date has not been announced.
Trump has said he doesn’t want to participate because he’s so far ahead in the polls and doesn’t want to boost lower-polling candidates. He also objects to debating at the Reagan Library because its foundation chairman is Fred Ryan, publisher of The Washington Post.
“When you’re way up, you don’t do debates,” Trump said in April.
McDaniel, who has pledged that the RNC will remain neutral in the GOP race, has said she thinks Trump will want to participate but it’s his choice and “everybody should get on that debate stage.”
Twenty candidates qualified for the first Democratic National Committee presidential debates in 2019 when the required threshold was at least 1% support in major polls or 65,000 individual donations from at least 20 states.
The 2024 GOP presidential field keeps growing. Besides Trump, the announced major GOP candidates so far include Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, US Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, Ohio businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, and conservative radio host Larry Elder.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum are expected to announce their White House bids next week, and other candidates including New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu are considering runs.
Hutchinson and Elder so far are polling at less than 1% in the RealClearPolitics average of early polls, and some candidates including Ramaswamy are making appeals for campaign contributions to ensure they make the stage.
Hutchinson said he intends to be on the debate stage but criticized the requirements. He said the RNC should require a pledge not to run as a third-party candidate rather than a “party loyalty oath,” and that the 40,000 donor threshold benefits candidates who use “extreme rhetoric and scare tactics” to generate online donations.
“The RNC should have minimal criteria for the debates in the early stages of this campaign,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “More choices are better.”
Christie said Trump should want to debate because voters deserve the chance to hear from all the candidates.
“This is a guy who seems like he’s afraid,” Christie told radio host Hugh Hewitt in May. “If he’s afraid, he has no business being president.”
Sununu told CBS he expects the former president ultimately will debate because “you cannot stand in front of America and say, ‘I’m a fighter, but I’m going to wimp out and not get on a debate stage and engage in the fight.’”
It’s also unclear whether Trump will pledge to support the nominee if it’s not him. He’s said in interviews it would depend on the nominee — the same answer he gave during his 2016 presidential campaign.
McDaniel has defended requiring the pledge, saying she would be kicked out as chair if she said she didn’t support the party’s nominee and that Republicans can’t defeat President Joe Biden without being united.
(Updates with Hutchinson comment in 15th paragraph.)
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