The first debate of the Republican presidential primary is just around the corner. Scheduled for August 23, it is poised to serve as a formal starting gun for the crowded field. As former President Donald Trump continues to dominate in GOP polls, the debate will be a key opportunity for competitors to make their cases in front of a national audience.
To qualify for the debate, candidates must have drawn donations from 40,000 individuals and reached 1% support in at least three high-quality polls, benchmarks which TIME first reported the Republican National Committee was floating to campaigns in May. But for some candidates, particularly those targeting anti-Trump voters, the most challenging requirement is a loyalty pledge that the RNC is insisting they sign in order to participate. Here’s what to know about the pledge.
What Does The Pledge Say?
“I affirm that if I do not win the 2024 Republican nomination for President of the United States, I will honor the will of the primary voters and support the Republican presidential nominee in order to save our country and beat Joe Biden,” the pledge reads, according to images posted on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, by the campaign of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and by former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.
“I further pledge that I will not seek to run as an independent or write-in candidate nor will I seek or accept the nomination for president of any other party,” the text continues.
The pledge also requires candidates to agree not to take part in any debates not sanctioned by the RNC.
Candidates have until two days before the first debate to sign the pledge.
Who Has Signed the Pledge?
An RNC official confirmed to TIME that DeSantis, Haley and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy have all signed the pledge. North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum also announced he had signed it. Ramaswamy was the first candidate to sign the pledge earlier this week, according to the Washington Post.
While other candidates appear to have met the polling and donor thresholds, including former Vice President Mike Pence and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, it is unclear if they have signed the pledge yet. None of them have made statements suggesting they wouldn’t.
Who Is Refusing to Sign the Pledge and Why?
After weeks of playing coy, Trump said in an interview with Newsmax on Wednesday that he would not sign the pledge.
“Why would I sign a pledge?” he told political commentator Eric Bolling. “There are people on there that I wouldn't have. I wouldn't have certain people as, you know, somebody that I’d endorse. … I can name three or four people that I wouldn’t support for president. Right there, there’s a problem.”
He declined to name the candidates he wouldn’t support. He added that he would “let it be known next week” whether he would attend the debate anyway, even though his refusal to sign the pledge would mean he doesn’t qualify for a spot on the stage. Asked for comment by TIME, an RNC official pointed to comments made by RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel earlier this year.
“Everybody has to sign the Beat Biden pledge, everybody,” McDaniel said to CNN’s Chris Wallace in July. “It's across the board. The rules aren't changing. We've been very vocal with them.”
Former Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, who launched a presidential bid in June and does not appear to have met the other qualification criteria, told CNN last month that he would not sign the pledge either.
“I’m not going to support Donald Trump,” Hurd said. “I recognize the impact that has on my ability to get access to the debate stage, but I can’t lie.”
Other candidates have suggested they would sign the pledge, but may not hold to their agreements.
Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, like Hurd, has indicated he will not support Trump if the former President becomes the party’s 2024 nominee, emphasizing his concerns about Trump’s legal woes. However, Hutchinson has also suggested he will still sign the pledge because he assumes the party’s voters would pick another standard-bearer.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has also criticized the pledge. Referring to Trump’s dismissal of a previous version of the pledge, Christie said on CNN in June, “I’m going to take the pledge just as seriously as Donald Trump took it in 2016.”
Asked by Wallace about Christie’s comments, McDaniel said, “It's not just the pledge, not just a piece of paper. Intent is going to be part of it, too.”
Is the Pledge a New Requirement?
In 2015, the RNC circulated a similar pledge, though signing it wasn’t a condition of attending the first debate. Trump hesitated to sign back then, too. After then-RNC chair Reince Priebus met with him in Manhattan, Trump ultimately signed in September, saying, “I see no circumstances under which I would tear up that pledge.”
However, six months later, when the Republican field had narrowed to just himself, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and then-Ohio Governor John Kasich, Trump went back on his agreement. Asked at a CNN town hall if he stood by the pledge, he replied, “No, I don't anymore. … No, we'll see who it is."
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