Eight Republicans have qualified for the party’s first 2024 presidential primary debate Wednesday night, the Republican National Committee announced Monday evening.
The list includes North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former Vice President Mike Pence, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott.
Former President Donald Trump – the clear front-runner in national and early state polls – has said he would skip the debate in Milwaukee and called on his rivals to drop out.
To make the first debate stage, the RNC required candidates to draw at least 40,000 individual donors and register at least 1% support in three national polls or in two national and two early state polls that met the RNC’s criteria. The candidates were also required to sign a pledge to back the eventual winner of the GOP primary, no matter who it is. It’s not clear whether Trump, like those who will be onstage Wednesday, has signed that pledge.
“The RNC is excited to showcase our diverse candidate field and the conservative vision to beat Joe Biden on the debate stage Wednesday night,” RNC chair Ronna McDaniel said in Monday night’s statement.
Here’s a look at who’s in and who’s out of the first GOP debate of the 2024 presidential primary.
The Florida governor could wear the biggest target Wednesday night, as the top-polling candidate onstage in Trump’s absence. DeSantis has downsized and reshuffled his campaign in recent weeks after failing to make progress toward unseating Trump as the GOP’s standard-bearer in the primary’s early months. His turn in the national spotlight Wednesday could become a turning point in the party’s primary – either launching DeSantis forward or displacing him as the top Trump alternative.
The tech entrepreneur posted a video of himself shirtless, practicing tennis, on Monday in a tweet he described as his debate prep. He has also made appearances on the sorts of liberal media programs that many Republican contenders skip, such as a podcast with HBO host Bill Maher. A memo by a pro-DeSantis super PAC made public last week advised the Florida governor to attack Ramaswamy, an indication of the 38-year-old’s rise in the race.
The former vice president faced more difficulties than some of his rivals in reaching the 40,000 donor threshold but did so with two weeks to spare. He suggested he had looked forward to a showdown with his former ticket mate. Criticizing Trump’s decision to skip the debate, Pence said Sunday on ABC News that every candidate who qualified “ought to be on the stage willing to square off and answer those tough questions.”
The former South Carolina governor and US ambassador to the United Nations under Trump offered a glimpse of how Republicans onstage could be more focused on chipping away at their lower-polling rivals’ support than on taking on Trump directly. On Monday, she criticized Ramaswamy, saying on social media that “his foreign policies have a common theme: they make America less safe.”
The South Carolina senator has sought to offer a more positive contrast to rivals such as Trump and DeSantis – and he could be on a collision course with the Florida governor as they vie to become the top choice of those seeking to move on from the former president.
The former New Jersey governor is perhaps the biggest wild card on Wednesday night’s stage. As a presidential contender in 2016, he all but ended Marco Rubio’s presidential hopes in a debate when he relentlessly mocked the Florida senator for delivering a “memorized 25-second speech.” Christie has positioned himself as a fierce Trump critic, but he won’t get a head-to-head showdown with Trump skipping the debate.
The North Dakota governor, who attracted donors with a gift-card scheme – $20 in exchange for $1 donations – has described himself as the least-known contender on Wednesday night’s stage. He said Sunday on NBC that he’ll have succeeded in the debate “if we get a chance to explain who we are, what we’re about and why we’re running.”
The former Arkansas governor has also positioned himself as a Trump critic. He previously complained about the RNC’s loyalty pledge requirement but told CNN’s Kasie Hunt on Sunday that he was signing the pledge because he was “confident that Donald Trump’s not going to be the nominee.”
The former president made official Sunday on his social media platform Truth Social what he’d hinted at for months: He is skipping the first debate. Trump pointed to his sizable leads in Republican primary polls and said Americans are already familiar with his record after four years in the White House.
Still, Trump’s campaign is attempting to seize some of the spotlight in Milwaukee. The former president has taped an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson that is expected to be used as counterprogramming during the debate.
The Michigan businessman fell short of the RNC’s polling requirements despite a series of unusual schemes his campaign employed to rack up the minimum 40,000 donors necessary to qualify. It sold “I Stand with Tucker” T-shirts defending the former Fox News host after his firing. It also offered tickets to a concert by country duo Big & Rich to anyone who donated. And it handed out $10 gas cards to anyone willing to make a $1 contribution.
The Miami mayor, who had told Fox News it was “critical” for his 2024 chances to qualify for the debate, said he had exceeded the donor threshold, but he did not meet the RNC’s polling requirements. His absence could be a break for DeSantis, who has faced sharp criticism from his fellow Florida Republican.
The former Texas congressman is one of the most outspoken Trump critics in the race – and has faced backlash for it, such as when he was booed at the Iowa GOP’s Lincoln Dinner in July after telling the Des Moines crowd that the former president was “running to stay out of prison.”
Hurd said he had reached the 40,000 donor minimum but did not register support in enough polls to make the stage. He previously said he wouldn’t sign the RNC pledge, but he appeared to have shifted his position last week when he said he was “confident” he would be onstage in Milwaukee.
The conservative California talk radio host, who was the leading GOP candidate in the state’s 2021 gubernatorial recall, has sharply criticized the RNC’s debate qualification requirements. He attempted to meet the 40,000 donor threshold with a radio blitz Monday, but, according to CNN’s count, was also short of the polling requirements.
The little-known Texas pastor and entrepreneur got a spot in the Iowa GOP Lincoln Dinner’s speaking lineup. He tweeted Sunday that he had more than 45,000 donors. But he has not made waves in primary polling.
This story has been updated with additional information.