RNC Debate Stage Shrinks To 7 Candidates, With Trump Still Not Participating

The debate stage for the 2024 Republican presidential primary is down to seven contestants, the Republican National Committee announced Monday, and will again not include the party’s front-runner, former President Donald Trump, who attempted a coup to stay in office after losing in 2020.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina will participate in the second primary debate Wednesday night, having reached the 3% polling threshold and the 50,000 individual donor requirement to qualify.

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson had qualified for the first debate on Aug. 23 in Milwaukee, which had a 1% polling floor and 40,000 unique donor threshold, but failed to make the stage for the second one at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

Trump and his staff have said that because he is so far ahead of his rivals in the polls, he does not believe he needs to debate them in order to win the nomination.

The third debate, set for Nov. 8 in Miami, will have yet more stringent requirements: Candidates must hit 4% in national or a combination of early state polls and have raised money from at least 70,000 different donors.

Candidates must also have signed a pledge to support the eventual GOP nominee, although it is unclear how that might be enforced.

Christie, for example, at the last debate refused to agree to support Trump if he is the nominee and winds up getting convicted of a felony. The former Trump ally is nevertheless being permitted to take part Wednesday. He previously has said he would treat the pledge only as seriously as Trump took it in 2016.

Eight years ago, Trump signed the pledge of support at the urging of then-party chair Reince Priebus but then hours later said he would not honor it if the party treated him poorly. In early 2016, Trump said the party had treated him badly and he would no longer support the nominee if it were someone else. He wound up clinching the nomination anyway and, later, the presidency.

Trump currently faces four separate criminal indictments, two based on his coup attempt that culminated in the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. He nevertheless remains the polling leader for the 2024 nomination in both national surveys as well as those in states voting early in the primary process.

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