2024 Republicans jockey for survival as next debate rules get tougher

Wednesday night’s first Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee kicked off a five-week scramble among the GOP field to qualify for the second debate at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif. next month.

Eight Republicans — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum — took the stage at Fiserv Forum anxious for not only a breakout moment to help close the massive gap with frontrunner and former President Donald Trump, but to remain in the running for the next showdown Sept. 27.

The Republican National Committee is strengthening its requirements for the second verbal bout, ratcheting up the unique donor threshold to 50,000 from 40,000 for the first debate.

Candidates must also hit 3% in at least two national polls or 3% in one national poll and 3% in two of four early-voting states: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. The polling minimum for the first debate was 1%.

Republican primary voters will get their first look at most of the major candidates on stage together, duking it out verbally.
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Donald Trump, the undisputed frontrunner, is skipping the first debate.
Fox News

The second requirement could pose major problems for both Burgum and Hutchinson, both of whom are significantly below 3% nationally in the latest RealClearPolitics average.

The outsiders barely managed to land a coveted stage spot in the Milwaukee debate and forced to deploy unusual tricks to ensure they hit the unique donor requirement.

Hutchinson, for instance, leaned on a texting scheme in which individuals would get paid $20 for every person they could convince to donate $1 to Hutchinson, Politico reported.

Donald Trump’s lead over the GOP primary is almost as large as President Biden’s in the Democrat primary, according to some polls.

Burgum, a billionaire, engaged in a similar scheme, doling out $20 gift cards for every $1 donation.

Multimillionaire biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who claims to have already met the criteria for the second debate, announced a crowdfunding ploy in which fans could get a 10% cut from funds raised for him.

Four somewhat well-known candidates — Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, former Texas Rep. Will Hurd, radio talk show host Larry Elder, and businessman Perry Johnson — failed to qualify for the first debate, missing out on a key platform and putting their campaigns at risk of sinking into obscurity.

Ron DeSantis will take center stage next to Vivek Ramaswamy.
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Elder and Johnson both cried foul and mused about mounting a long-shot legal challenge against the RNC.

They claimed to have met the polling threshold, but the RNC didn’t count those polls due to various concerns about sample size and provenance.

“I have nothing against all four of these candidates. They are far better than Joe Biden,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel told Politico. “But the rules are the rules. We were very clear about it. We applied them equally to every candidate. And unfortunately, they fell short for this debate.” 

Fox News is hosting the first GOP debate and Fox Business will host the second one.

The second debate will be hosted by the Fox Business Network and broadcast online by Rumble.

As 2024 Republican aspirants slugged it out on the Milwaukee debate stage, former Fox News host Tucker Carlson posted a prerecorded interview with Trump on X, formerly Twitter.

Trump announced Sunday that he would skip the debates, citing his staggering lead, which sits at 41.1 percentage points in the latest RCP national average.

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