Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy on Tuesday became the first GOP candidate for president to formally qualify for the first debate by signing a Republican National Committee pledge to support the party’s eventual nominee.
Party Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has made the “Beat Biden pledge” a central requirement for gaining access to the party’s official debates, which begin with the first, in Milwaukee on Aug. 23. She has pledged to bar any candidate who fails to sign from participating in the monthly televised events later this year, as well as several likely debates next year before key early nominating contests.
Former president Donald Trump, the current polling leader, has publicly suggested that his support for the nominee depends on the winner, while several of his opponents have indicated they will sign the pledge reluctantly.
Tricia McLaughlin, a senior adviser to Ramaswamy, said in a statement that by meeting both the polling and donor requirements he had demonstrated the early success of his campaign.
“Vivek is a first-time candidate who started with very low name ID, no political donors, and no pre-existing fundraising lists. If an outsider can clear the bar, politically experienced candidates should be able to as well,” McLaughlin said. “Vivek has achieved what no one has said is possible. We look forward to Vivek participating in his first debate.”
To join the first debate, Republican candidates for president must also agree to a data-sharing agreement with the national party, receive donations from at least 40,000 people and meet a polling requirement to be invited to the first debate.
The language of the pledge echoes a similar agreement that Trump signed in 2015, after he refused to say at the first Republican debate that he would support the eventual nominee. After signing, Trump suggested he would break his promise if Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) defeated him.
“I affirm that if I do not win the 2024 Republican nomination for President of the United States, I will honor the will of the primary voters and support the Republican presidential nominee in order to save our country and beat Joe Biden,” the new pledge reads, according to a copy obtained by The Washington Post. “I further pledge that I will not seek to run as an independent or write-in candidate nor will I seek or accept the nomination for president of any other party.”
The pledge also requires the candidates to promise not to participate in unsanctioned debates.
A Republican official, who requested anonymity to share internal party information, said nine candidates had already met the polling standard for the first debate: Ramaswamy, Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, former vice president Mike Pence, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie and former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson.
All of those candidates, with the exception of Hutchinson, have indicated that they have the number of donors needed to make the stage, with Pence finally crossing the line this week.
Trump, who has more than 50 percent of voter support in most early national polling, has suggested to aides that he will not attend either the first debate in Milwaukee or the second debate, in September at the Reagan Presidential Library in California. Advisers have said those plans could change in the coming weeks. Eligible candidates have until 48 hours before the debate to reserve their spot.
But Trump has also not yet committed to supporting the eventual nominee, as the pledge requires. “It would have to depend on who the nominee was,” he told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt in February.
A Trump spokesperson did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment on the pledge.
Other candidates, who have said in other contexts that they do not support Trump’s reelection, have come up with more creative ways of discussing how they can sign the pledge. Christie has called the pledge a “useless idea.”
“I’ll take the pledge in 2024 just as seriously as Donald Trump took it in 2016,” Christie said in June.
Hutchinson has said he thinks Trump should step aside and not be the party’s nominee. He has worked out a rather nuanced rationale for signing the pledge, if given the opportunity.
“The only way is to pull my lawyer hat out and use some legal analysis of it,” Hutchinson, a former U.S. attorney, said in an interview last month. “I can sign that saying I’ll support the nominee of the party because I don’t believe Donald Trump will be the nominee of the party. That’s the mind-set you have got to have.”