Wednesday, August 23, marks the first organized Republican debate for 2024 GOP presidential hopefuls. But what does the Milwaukee, Wisconsin contest really mean for participants, and more importantly, what does it mean for candidates who were not qualified to participate?
The qualifications were tough by any standard. Candidates needed to receive at least 1% support in three national polls, or 1% in two national polls and an additional 1% in early primary or caucus states like New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, and Iowa.
Additionally, candidates needed to prove 40,000 unique donors to their campaigns, including 200 donors from at least 20 different states.
Candidates were also required to sign a pledge that they would support whatever candidate earned the nomination.
All requirements needed to be met within 48 hours of the debate.
The first Republican debate is an important one for any GOP candidate. These debates are not intended to garner votes but rather to establish a perception of “votability.” It’s a major milestone in “pre-primary” campaigning. The goal is to survive and be one of the last candidates standing.
The debate provides opportunities for lesser-known candidates to present their platforms. It’s an effective tool for attracting donors and contributing to media campaigns. Historically, candidates who perform well in these debates get a significant bump in approval ratings and polls.
The stage is set for eight candidates: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, ex-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, Mike Pence, former vice-president to Mr. Trump, and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson.
Former president Donald Trump is qualified to participate in the debates but is sitting this one out. Instead of joining the candidates on the stage, Trump has, unconventionally, chosen to air a pre-recorded interview with former Fox News’ Tucker Carlson.
It’s an eyebrow-raising decision for several reasons, the first of which is his refusal to debate his challengers. The second is that the interview is scheduled to air on X, formerly known as Twitter, at the same time as the debates. The interview will draw attention from the formal debates hosted by Fox News. It’s a calculated move designed to tank Fox’s viewership and the result of what Trump called a “hostile network” treating him “unfairly.”
While Trump is choosing to sit on the sidelines of the first Republican debate of the 2024 election cycle, others didn’t qualify to take the stage. Conservative talk show host Larry Elder missed the unique donor qualification by 2,000 votes and the percentage qualifier by 1 poll. Elder insisted that he met all qualifications, calling the process rigged and threatening legal action.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez missed the donor threshold and was not qualified. He had, prior to learning the news, stated during an interview that he had already purchased his plane tickets to Milwaukee while releasing a campaign graphic announcing, “See you in Milwaukee.” Businessman and pastor Ryan Binkley shared his fate and was also disqualified for not meeting the donor threshold.
Former Texas Representative Will Hurd was disqualified from the debate when one of his poll results was taken from a pool of respondents the RNC considered “too small” to be credible. Hurd also stated he refused to sign the pledge if Trump was the nominee. Michigan businessman Perry Johnson was deemed ineligible after the legitimacy of one of his poll results was called into question.
For these candidates, it’s time to make some tough choices. Those who don’t perform well on the debate stage risk irrelevancy, and those who don’t qualify for the debate at all continue the race at an extreme disadvantage. It’s a tough choice for these candidates. Try to stay in the race and sink money and effort into a risky run with little hope of a win, or put their presidential aspirations on hold until 2028.
Per former Republican Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, missing the first debate doesn’t automatically mean a candidate needs to drop out. He emphasized that these candidates need to “find ways to gain exposure and prominence without using the debate stage.”
But it’s hard to take advice from a failed candidate like Gilmore, who dropped out of the 2016 election after qualifying for only two debates from 2015 through 2016. Based on his experience, the best advice to give to the four candidates is simple.
Don’t be a Gilmore in a world of Trump and DeSantis.