Republican presidential candidates have less than a month to get ready for the first debate of this election cycle. And the GOP presidential hopefuls are probably hoping for a breakout moment that could help them catch up to the front-runner, former President Donald Trump.
The Republican National Committee is hosting the first debate on Aug. 23 in Milwaukee, and as host, the RNC set the guidelines for participation. To make the stage, candidates need to get at least 1% support in three different polls, and they need to have at least 40,000 unique donors. Debate participants also need to sign a pledge that promises to support whoever the eventual nominee is.
Brian Darling, a former counsel and senior communications director for Sen. Rand Paul, said he expects a lot of candidates to make the stage.
"I'm OK with the Republican National Committee putting some standards down so they don't just let everybody who's declared get on the stage," he said.
So far, it appears at least seven candidates have qualified: Former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, American entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
But Trump might choose not to participate, and as the clear front-runner, he doesn't need to.
"He's got such a big lead right now; the only thing that could happen are bad things for him if he actually showed up at the debate," explained Darling.
For all the other candidates, a Trump-free debate would give them a chance to focus less on attacking the front-runner and more on their own campaign promises.
"They need to talk about policies — policies the American people care about. The American people care about inflation, they care about the economy, they care about some of the foreign policy controversies we've been having," said Darling.
Candidates have until 48 hours before the debate to try to reach the polling and donor minimums.
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