The field is already large and poised to grow next week, if, as expected, Christie, Mike Pence and Doug Burgum each enter. These potential entries would bring the number of notable candidates who have held federal or state office to eight.
And with a handful of other Republicans who have never been elected spending seven figures on self-financed TV ads, the number of credible candidates is rapidly approaching double digits.
The larger the field, the greater the chance that the party will have too many candidates to fit together on one stage. The RNC said in its announcement it could add a second debate the following night if needed to accommodate more candidates, although it did not specify what sorts of numbers would require the field to be split.
But the RNC’s requirements are also stricter than they used to be, making it equally possible for only a few candidates to take the stage. Candidates who have long and impressive political resumes but are struggling to gain traction in the polls could be left out in the cold.
Perhaps the bigger question has to do with Trump’s participation. The RNC requires all attendees to pledge their support for the party’s eventual nominee, something that could prompt Trump, who withdrew from televised debates in both 2016 and 2020, to opt out altogether.
Debates are unique when it comes to penetration: 24 million people watched the first debate in 2015, which also aired on the Fox News Channel, a staggering number for cable television. A broader field of candidates could benefit the frontrunner, Trump, who has a loyal following after eight years dominating GOP politics.
The polls that will count towards qualifying are still at least a month away from taking the field, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to wonder who is likely to make the cut — and who might be on the outside watching when the Republicans turn in. will convene in Milwaukee later this summer.
The 5 candidates in block
Donald Trump: The former president will obviously have no problem meeting polling thresholds (1 percent in three national polls or two national polls plus one state) or fundraising (40,000 individual donors). But can Trump accept a pledge to support the party’s candidate and promise not to participate in unauthorized debates?
Candidates have until August 21, two days before the first debate, to deliver their signed pledges. A lingering « Will he or won’t he? » guessing the game to the deadline would be in line with Trumpian precedent.
Ron DeSantis: Even though he has the second-highest name in current polls, the debates could offer DeSantis his first chance to personally run to a national GOP primary electorate and spark a wedge with Trump. That’s if they’re on the same stage, though.
The RNC did not respond on Friday to questions about how they would group the candidates if a second round of debate were needed. There are at least two options: keep the candidates with the highest votes together, as the Republicans did in 2015, or split them randomly. This is how the Democrats approached their large field in 2019, which led to some oddities, such as current President Joe Biden and the Senator. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) does not appear on the same stage until the third debate.
Nikki Haley: The former South Carolina governor isn’t voting in double digits like Trump or DeSantis, but he should have no problem with the poll threshold, having scored 1% or more in each of 50 national polls conducted this year. A spokesperson for Haley said he reached his fundraising milestone earlier this year.
TimScott: Haley’s South Carolina partner isn’t getting quite as high ratings, at least ahead of his campaign launch last month, but he should be fine. He has achieved at least 1% in the last five national polls collected by RealClearPolitics and nine of the last 10.
Scott also built a strong fundraising foundation during his tenure in the Senate.
Vivek Ramaswami: Ramaswamy has achieved at least 1% in the last eight polls listed by RealClearPolitics (and 17 of the last 18). Despite self-financing much of his campaign, Ramaswamy said he has reached the donor threshold, an effort supported by solicitations for $1 donations seeking to build his list and tick this qualifying box, even if it has little impact on its coffers.
The 5 candidates on the bubble
Mike Pence: Pence will have the poll — he’s one of only four candidates to top 1% in every national poll this year (along with Trump, DeSantis, and Haley).
But the late entry of the former vice president — he plans to launch his campaign next week — could complicate efforts to hit the donor threshold before August 21, especially without real access to the country’s more conservative base of small donors. match. Pence also balked when asked in the past whether he would back Trump as a candidate again, a question he actually should have answered by signing a loyalty pledge.
Chris Christie: If he runs, the former New Jersey governor could reach the electoral threshold. It was 1% or more in three of May’s nine polls on RealClearPolitics’ average—a paltry performance, to be sure, but good enough if there are enough polls during the qualifying period.
The RNC’s polling standards are strict, especially with regards to sample size, and many of the polls in the RealClearPolitics database would not meet them. Friday’s press release specified that polls must look at at least 800 likely Republican primary voters, which is both a large number and a specific screen.
Most national pollsters poll about 1,000 voters, a sample too small to hold 800 Republicans without oversampling. And some pollsters are hesitant to classify anyone as a « probable voter » ahead of an election.
Even with that, donors would be the biggest hurdle for Christie to overcome. Like Pence, she has a shorter runway than candidates who are already in the running, and she may struggle with grassroots donors more aligned with Trump.
Larry Elder: Elder didn’t come close to ousting Gavin Newsom in the 2021 California recall election, but managed to build a decent donor roster during the campaign. An Elder spokesperson described the campaign as « on track » to reach the donor threshold by the deadline.
As far as polls go, it has a shot. Senior reached 1% in three polls in May; he would only need to perform the same feat from July 1st to August. 21.
Chris Sununu: Sununu might not run at all, but the poll bar might be viable if he does. He’s been 1 percent in five of the last seven national polls, and he would have easily made that clear in polls for New Hampshire, the state where he was first elected governor in 2016.
Again, the donor mark would be harder to erase.
Asa Hutchinson: Hutchinson has been in the running for months, which gives him an edge over some of the other candidates vying for Trump’s critical lane, like Pence and Christie. In a statement, Hutchinson said he intends to qualify but criticized the donor threshold, saying it « will prevent some candidates from being on the debate stage and will benefit candidates who generate online donations through extreme rhetoric and scare tactics. »
Hutchinson hit 1% in seven of the last 11 national polls in the RealClearPolitics database, suggesting it wouldn’t necessarily be out of reach for him once polls start counting next month.
The 4 candidates sweat it out big time
Douglas Burgum: The North Dakota governor is set to enter the race next week, and will perhaps begin registering in national polls once pollsters begin including him in their slate of candidates.
Burgum, a former software executive who sold his company to Microsoft, will finance himself, but said he will also seek outside donations. He will need 40,000 donors in less than 11 weeks, roughly equal to 5% of his state’s population.
PerryJohnson: Johnson calls himself a « quality guru » in his self-financed television commercials. He’s spent real money in Iowa and New Hampshire—$1.8 million through next Friday, according to AdImpact—and could register in the polls there.
But donor thresholds can exclude self-financers even if the polls are good. Just ask Mike Bloomberg four years ago.
Ryan Binkley: The Dallas-area businessman and pastor is advertising in Iowa, though the latest independent poll didn’t even include his name. A spokesperson for Binkley’s campaign did not immediately respond to questions about his donor count.
Mike Rogers and Will Hurd: Former Michigan and Texas congressmen say they will make a decision on the candidacy soon, but debate thresholds may preclude closing those doors before they open.