A Republican Party committee that oversees the GOP’s upcoming 2024 presidential primary debates will meet next week to consider requiring all Republican White House hopefuls to pledge their support for the party’s eventual nominee before making the debate stage.
The Republican National Committee’s (RNC) Temporary Standing Committee on Presidential Debates is expected to gather next Wednesday and Thursday to hammer out the rules for officially sanctioned presidential primary debates that are likely to kick off starting this summer.
GOP sources confirmed to Fox News that longtime RNC chair Ronna McDaniel, concerned that disunity in the nomination race could hurt the party as it aims to win back the White House next year, is pushing for the pledge. It’s modeled on a similar pledge the RNC asked presidential contenders to sign during the turbulent 2016 GOP nomination race.
The move comes as former President Donald Trump — one of only two major Republicans to date who have launched 2024 campaigns — and some of his potential rivals for the nomination are pushing back on the idea of signing any kind of loyalty pledge.
Trump — one of the two clear front-runners in the early 2024 GOP nomination polls along with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who remains in the sidelines — said “it would have to depend on who the nominee was,” when asked earlier this month by radio host Hugh Hewitt whether he’d commit to backing the nomination winner if it wasn’t him.
Former two-term Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a vocal GOP critic of Trump who’s seriously mulling a presidential run, emphasized on Twitter two weeks ago that “Trump won’t commit to supporting the Republican nominee, and I won’t commit to supporting him. As I have repeatedly said, I fully expect to support the Republican nominee — who I don’t believe will be Trump.”
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, another Trump critic who’s mulling a 2024 bid, has said multiple times that he’ll support the eventual nominee but is certain it won’t be the former president.
Asa Hutchinson, the former two-term Arkansas governor who’s likely to launch a campaign for the White House, told the Washington Post earlier this week that “for leaders such as myself who believe Donald Trump is not the right direction for the country — and I said specifically that Jan. 6 disqualified him — that would certainly make it a problem for me to give an across-the-board inclusion pledge.”
During the early part of the 2016 cycle — as Trump went from a long shot to one of the top polling front-runners in the GOP primary race, worries that the then-reality TV star and business mogul would run as a third-party candidate if he didn’t win the nomination, led then-RNC Chair Reince Priebus to make all the major contenders to sign a pledge. But that pledge wasn’t directly connected to participation in the primary debates.
Trump made major headlines at the first primary debate of 2015 in Cleveland when he refused to pledge that he wouldn’t run as an independent if he lost the nomination. Trump later signed the pledge but then rescinded his commitment a few months later. Trump went on to defeat a large group of rivals to secure the GOP nomination by the summer of 2016.
Fast-forward to present day and advisers in Trump’s political orbit say the former president has yet to make a definitive decision on whether he’ll take part in the primary debates.
“President Trump is the undisputed leader of the Republican Party and will be the nominee,” Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung insisted in a statement to Fox News. “There is nobody who can outmatch President Trump’s energy or the enthusiasm he receives from Americans of all backgrounds.”
McDaniel, who as Michigan GOP chair was Trump’s handpicked choice to steer the committee after he won the White House in 2016, has long pledged that the RNC will stay neutral in the primary process. Late last year and early this year, as McDaniel successfully ran for an unprecedented fourth two-year term steering the national party committee, she argued that she was best positioned to keep Trump from seeking the White House as a third-party candidate if he lost the nomination.
“We have a lot of candidates running saying, ‘I’ll never support Trump,’ and if you are going to get on this debate stage, you are going to have to say, ‘I’m going to support the nominee,’” McDaniel said in a January interview with Steve Bannon on his ‘War Room’ podcast. “We cannot have a rigorous debate process and come out with a nominee and have anyone say, ‘I’m walking away.'”
In a statement to Fox News on Friday, McDaniel reiterated that “the RNC will remain neutral during the Republican presidential primary and that’s why it is so important for the RNC to ensure a fair and transparent process for the 2024 Republican candidates to debate…. by remaining neutral during the primary process, we will be best positioned to unite the party.”