Nine long months after former President Donald Trump jumped into the 2024 presidential race, the first Republican primary debate is finally around the corner. The Republican National Committee announced late Monday that eight candidates had qualified for a spot on stage at the first debate, which is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 23. Trump was not on the list.
To qualify, candidates needed to draw donations from 40,000 individuals and reach 1% support in several high-quality polls, benchmarks which TIME first reported the Republican National Committee was floating to campaigns in May. Their donors must include 200 individuals from 20 different states. Additionally, they needed to sign a loyalty pledge agreeing to support whoever the party eventually nominates. The Republican National Committee set a deadline of Monday for candidates to meet the criteria.
Trump, the frontrunner, confirmed over the weekend that he would not be attending the debate after previously raising questions around whether doing so would benefit him. He also had expressed qualms about signing the loyalty pledge. Additionally, multiple other candidates who claimed to have qualified for the first debate were not included in the RNC's list of confirmed participants.
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Here are the eight candidates set to be on the debate stage:
DeSantis, a former congressman, is currently the governor of Florida. He has long been seen as Trump’s chief rival for the nomination, but has not yet caught fire. While DeSantis, 44, recently argued he is running on a “parents’ rights” agenda, he has for months faced a barrage of criticism for a lack of charisma on the campaign trail and for embracing right-wing culture war issues that could alienate some voters. His feud with Disney, a major Florida employer, over what critics have dubbed the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, has been a constant source of controversy. He's also faced questions from even within his own party over his support for a six-week abortion ban in Florida, and new state education standards that suggest slavery helped Black Americans develop skills that could benefit them. Nonetheless, the Governor last year won reelection in his home state by a whopping 20 points and still consistently polls in second, if far below Trump.
Despite being a first-time candidate for office, Ramaswamy, the right-wing, uber-wealthy author of Woke, Inc., has catapulted into second or third in some recent polls. Since he launched his bid in February, the 38-year-old has adopted an everywhere-all-at-once strategy, appearing on dozens of podcasts, attending numerous early state town halls, and blanketing social media with statements decrying what he calls “new secular religions,” like “wokeism,” “COVIDism,” and “climatism.” Among all the candidates in the running, he is the one who has most vociferously promised to pardon Trump. Meanwhile, while advertising himself as Trump 2.0, he has also embraced unconventional positions, pledging to eliminate the FBI, leave abortion rights up to the states, and raise the automatic voting age to 25.
Scott, a Senator from South Carolina, has seen some improvement in the polls recently through a campaign emphasizing his personal likeability. He has the support or interest of many of his Senate colleagues and a few super-wealthy donors. Like much of the rest of the field, he is campaigning on promises to reduce inflation and secure the border, but has done so while putting forth a message of unity. Even in a historically diverse GOP field, Scott stands out in the race as the only Black Republican in the Senate. He frequently talks about how he was able to overcome disadvantages and achieve the American Dream and touts his signature legislative achievement—Opportunity Zones designed to funnel money into struggling communities.
Haley is a former governor of South Carolina, who later served as Ambassador to the United Nations in the Trump administration. She has drawn on that latter job frequently on the campaign trail, where she has highlighted her interest in going more aggressively after China, as well as other foreign policy issues. When it comes to Trump, she has a history of flip-flopping over the past few years, and has, like most of the field, been hesitant to go after him directly ahead of 2024.
Burgum, the governor or North Dakota, made millions early in his career as a software entrepreneur, and has made good use of that fortune ahead of the debate. He has loaned his campaign upwards of $10 million and enacted a plan to hand out $20 gift cards in exchange for donations as small as $1 to help him meet the donor criteria in time. In his home state, Burgum signed a law in April banning most abortions after six weeks, but he has taken a more measured path on the national stage, saying he would not sign a federal abortion ban. He has largely framed his presidential campaign around less controversial issues: economic strength, energy independence, and strong national security in the face of threats from China and Russia.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, long known for his evangelical faith and his close ties to the religious right, became a foil to Trump on Jan. 6, 2021, by choosing to certify the results of the 2020 election, which he insists was not stolen, as a mob threatened to hang him. While drawing attacks from the former President, Pence is running on his conservative credentials, promising to restore American values and campaigning as the most anti-abortion candidate in the field.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has been Trump’s most vocal critic in the Republican presidential field, and in fact has framed his bid in opposition to the former President. He has also made winning New Hampshire, a blue-leaning state full of independent-minded voters, a key part of his campaign.
The former Arkansas Governor has been another outspoken critic of Trump's 2024 campaign, slamming the former president as he's racked up four indictments. Hutchinson has urged the RNC not to make the signing of a loyalty pledge a condition of getting on the debate stage, but has nonetheless said he would sign the pledge, claiming that he is confident Trump won’t be the party’s nominee.
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