DemDaily: The Rules of Debate

June 8, 2023

On the heels of what may be the last major GOP presidential hopefuls to announce their candidacies, the race is now on to qualify for the first Republican primary debate.

The new qualifications, however, announced last Friday by the Republican National Committee (RNC), may weed out some of the first round contenders by default.

To qualify for the stage on August 23 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, also the site of the RNC's nominating convention next July, candidates must:

1) Polling
Poll at least 1% in three national polls OR 1% in two national polls and 1% in one early state poll from two separate “carve out” states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina) recognized by the RNC. For a poll to be recognized, it must:
• Survey at least 800 registered likely Republican voters through a mix of live calls, integrated voice response, online panels, and/or text message.
• Not overly weight responses of any individual cohort beyond the margin of the error of the poll.
• Ask the question on presidential preference prior to any question which may allow potential bias.
• Not be conducted by a polling company affiliated with a candidate or candidate committee.
• The polling must be conducted on or after July 1, 2023.

2) Fundraising
• Have a minimum of 40,000 unique donors to candidate’s principal presidential campaign committee (or exploratory committee), with at least 200 unique donors per state or territory in 20+ states and/or territories.
• Present this evidence to the RNC no later than 48 hours prior to the first scheduled debate.

3) Candidate Pledge
• Have signed a pledge agreeing not to participate in any non-RNC sanctioned debate for the remainder of the election cycle.
• Have signed pledge agreeing to support the eventual party nominee.
• Have signed RNC data-sharing agreement.
• Pledges and agreement to the RNC must be signed no later than 48 hours prior to the first scheduled debate.

The August 23, 2023 debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin will be televised exclusively on Fox News. Rumble is the online live-streaming partner and Young America’s Foundation is a co-host.

If enforced, the rules would fundamentally change the way GOP presidential primary elections have been conducted for the last three decades. It is also designed to avoid the disaster of 2016, when the top tier candidates of 17 had one debate, followed by "a kids table" debate for the lesser performing candidates.

The 40,000-donor debate threshold to show true grassroots support is likely to prove the most challenging barrier to more marginal candidates, and those who have just begun their campaigns.

The pledge to support the eventual Republican presidential nominee may also change the game as former President Donald Trump, the frontunner, has so far refused to support the nominee if he doesn’t emerge as the primary winner. There is no quarantee, in fact, that Trump will still participate in the debates at all as he has questioned the necessity when he holds such a commanding lead in GOP primary polls. His absence would also prevent an onslaught of attacks against the former President about what is anticipated to be his numerous indictments by that date.

The RNC stated that those who make it onstage will be grouped according to polling, with the highest-polling candidate in the center.

Democratic Debates?
The RNC took a page from the Democrats, who in the 2020 presidential primary, introduced rolling requirements, beginning with a threhold of 1% on polling and a 65,000 individual donor fundraising base to participate in the first two debates. The third and fourth debates required contenders to meet both the new polling requirements and the grassroots fundraising qualifications, which doubled.

At this point, with an incumbent Democratic president in the White House, the DNC plans to forego any primary debates. That means the first time President Joe Biden will grace the debate stage may not be until the 2024 general election next Fall against his GOP rival.

Related
DemDaily: GOP Field Tops Nine. Christie, Pence and Burgum Announce 6/7/23
DemDaily: The Expanding GOP Field. Tim Scott Enters Race 5/22/23
DemDaily: Biden: No One Left Behind 5/4/23
DemDaily: Biden Back In The Fight 4/25/23
DemDaily: GOP Files First Fundraising Numbers 4/18/23
DemDaily: Indictment Divides Expanding GOP Field 4/3/23
DemDaily: CPAC Kowtows to Trump 3/6/23
DemDaily: Red State, Blue State 2/27/23
DemDaily: The Contenders. The GOP Field Takes Shape 2/21/23

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Kimberly Scott
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Sources:AP, New York Times, CNN, RNC, Fox
DemList will not publish June 9

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