Will Donald Trump Debate or Not? – The stage at next month’s Republican Presidential debate – scheduled for August 23 in Milwaukee – won’t be quite as crowded as the GOP debates back in the run-up to the 2016 primaries when 196 candidates took the main stage (or maybe it just seemed that way).
This first debate will have some elbow room, as only seven candidates including former President Donald Trump, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott have met the Republican National Committee’s (RNC’s) polling and fundraising thresholds to earn invitations.
The biggest question is whether Trump will show up – and so far, the former president has indicated he has little to no interest to step foot on the stage, citing his huge lead in the polls.
“Ronald Reagan didn’t do it and a lot of other people didn’t do it. When you have a big lead, you don’t do it,” Trump said during an interview on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” last weekend.
Trump added that it wouldn’t be “fair” but it is unclear what he meant by it. It seemed that he implied that it wouldn’t be fair to him.
“We have a lead of 50 and 60 points in some cases. … You’re leading people by 50 and 60 points, you say why would you be doing a debate? It’s actually not fair,” Trump explained. “Why would you let somebody that’s at zero or one or two or three be popping you with questions?”
Debating Whether Trump Will Debate!
As Politico.com reported, this melodrama could carry on for weeks, as all of those candidates will have until 48 hours before the Aug. 23 debate to indicate if they’ll actually participate.
More importantly, the former president’s potential lack of participation could completely redefine the first debate – where those on the stage could tell the American public why they should be considered a viable alternative without Trump getting to respond.
On the other hand, if Trump shows up, it will be the first real opportunity for his rivals to draw a contrast between themselves and the current GOP frontrunner.
Who Is In?
To date, DeSantis has confirmed that he will show up regardless of whether Trump does, while Haley, Scott, and Ramaswamy, have all indicated that they will be in attendance. In addition, Christie has said he is eager to debate.
Former Vice President Mike Pence has yet to make the cut. While he has already hit the polling numbers, he has yet to meet the individual donor threshold — 40,000 unique donors, with 200 donors in 20 different states or territories.
“We will qualify,” Pence said on “Fox and Friends” last week, but admitted it could be an uphill climb. “Getting 40,000 donors in just a few short weeks is a challenge. We’re not offering gift cards, not offering kickbacks or tickets to soccer games, just traveling.”
In addition to the donors, all of the candidates also need to have at least one percent in three national polls that meet the RNC’s methodological requirements, or one percent in two national polls and one percent in two polls conducted separately from the four early states, Politico.com further reported.
As a result of the RNC requirements, few of the other GOP presidential hopefuls are unlikely to make the stage – at least this time around.
Taking the Pledge
The RNC will also require candidates who want to participate in the August 23 debate to sign a bevy of pledges, including to not participate in any non-RNC sanctioned debates, as well as a data-sharing agreement with the party committee – and then there is also the RNC loyalty pledge that could be an issue.
As noted, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has indicated that he would like to debate, but he also said he would not support Trump if the former president is the eventual nominee, clashing with the loyalty pledge to the eventual nominee as a condition of participating in the debate.
“I’m going to take the pledge just as seriously as Donald Trump took it in 2016,” Christie said in an interview with CNN last month – and it served as a reminder that Trump was the only Republican candidate who said he would not rule out a third-party run.
Chicken or Loser?
Christie has also said that he believes Trump’s ego won’t let the former president skip the debate, but he also recently taunted Trump in a new ad asking, “Are you chicken or just a loser.”
If Trump does show up, it will be interesting whether he can pick off his rivals or whether this time they’ll direct all their fire at him. Either way, it could be Trump’s debate to lose.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.