Second GOP debate could be smaller, with or without Trump

The second Republican presidential primary debate is less than two weeks away. So time is running out for GOP candidates to meet the Republican National Committee’s qualifying criteria. To participate in the September 27 debate, each candidate must have at least 3 percent support in two national qualifying polls, or at least 3 percent in one national survey and that same figure in polls in two different early-voting states , carried out since August 1. Each candidate must also provide proof that they have reached at least 50,000 unique donors for their campaign. And if they have the polls and donors, candidates will once again have to sign a pledge to support the party’s eventual 2024 nominee if they wish to participate.

As things stand, there’s a good chance that fewer candidates will qualify than the eight who attended the party’s first rally in August. Six of these bytes appear to have the donors and polling needed to hold the second debate, and each has signed the RNC pledge for the first debate, so there’s no reason to think they won’t sign again . However, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson may struggle to qualify again under September’s higher polling and donor thresholds. And after skipping the first debate despite easily qualifying for it — except for signing the RNC pledge — former President Donald Trump appears ready to avoid the second debate as well.

At least six candidates appear set to participate in the second GOP debate

Republican presidential candidates by whether and how they qualified for the second primary debate and whether they signed the first debate pledge, at 4:30 p.m. Eastern Time on September 13, 2023.

Candidate Polls Donors Commitment signed for the first debate
Ron DeSantis
Vivek Ramaswamy
Nikki Haley
Mike Pence
Chris Christie
Tim Scott
Donald Trump
Doug Burgum
Asa Hutchinson
Will hurt

The table only includes candidates who meet FiveThirtyEight’s “major” application criteria. Poll qualification is based on surveys that appear to meet the Republican National Committee’s requirements for inclusion.

To qualify for the debate, candidates must meet both polling and donor thresholds established by the Republican National Committee. To meet the poll requirements, a candidate must reach 3 percent in at least two national polls, or 3 percent in one national poll and two polls of the top four states voting in the GOP primary, each from separate states, based on surveys that meet the RNC inclusion criteria. To meet donor requirements, a candidate must have at least 50,000 unique donors, including at least 200 from at least 20 states and/or territories. Information released by campaigns is used to determine whether a candidate has met the donor threshold. If a campaign reached 50,000 donors but did not specify whether it had at least 200 donors in 20 states, we assumed it had also met the latter requirement. To participate, candidates with enough poll numbers and donors must sign a pledge promising to support the eventual Republican presidential nominee.


FiveThirtyEight’s analysis found that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy had at least 3% support in every qualifying survey (also Trump). Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have achieved this goal in almost every investigation, while South Carolina Senator Tim Scott has. reached in about three-quarters of them. And none of these six candidates showed any signs of difficulty reaching the 50,000 donor mark. Even Pence’s campaign, which has had a harder time attracting donors than most, announced in mid-August that it had enough unique contributors to qualify for the second debate.

With 11 days until the September 25 qualification deadline, the voting threshold rising from 1 to 3 percent appears to be the main obstacle for unqualified candidates. Burgum announced in late July that he had 50,000 donors, but FiveThirtyEight’s analysis found he had reached 3 percent in just one statewide survey, a poll taken in mid-August in Iowa by Trafalgar Group. Today, Burgum’s campaign can argue that he reached 3 percent in New Hampshire, based on either the 2.5 percent he collected in another Trafalgar poll in mid-August, or the 4 percent he reached in a poll in early August based on the coefficient in the name of the party. New Hampshire Journal. We cannot rule out that the RNC may count Trafalgar’s second poll, although the RNC has shown no indication that it is willing to round reported poll results to decimal places when qualifying for the first debate. However, because the coefficient polled in Trump’s favor this cycle, his poll in New Hampshire will not count under the RNC polling rule that excludes surveys conducted by affiliated organizations with a candidate or a committee of candidates.

Yet whether he has polling in one or two early states, Burgum has struggled to reach the 3 percent mark in national surveys. It’s no wonder that Best of America PAC, a super PAC supporting Burgum, booked $4 million in ads between August 30 and September 24. However, there’s not much evidence that this boosted Burgum: The nation’s most prolific survey firm, Morning Consult, has released data from seven national surveys since Aug. 1, but Burgum has collected more than 0 percent just once, reaching 1 percent in a mid-August poll preceding the super PAC’s ad buy. In fact, Burgum has reached 2 percent in just one national poll of at least 800 likely Republican voters since Aug. 1, a Kaplan Strategies survey conducted just after the first debate.

Meanwhile, Hutchinson needs more polling And donors to take the stage, although it seems likely to reach the 50,000 contributor mark. Last week, a campaign spokesperson told ABC News that Hutchinson was “very close” to the required number of donors and had secured a last-minute increase in contributors to qualify for the first debate . On the polling front, Hutchinson has something that Burgum doesn’t: a national poll rating of 3 percent or better, thanks to a Kaplan Strategies survey conducted before the first debate. But Hutchinson has not topped 1 percent in any potentially eligible national poll conducted since the first debate. And he didn’t do better in early state surveys, making it unlikely he would combine qualifying polls from two different states with his national survey to meet the RNC’s alternate poll qualifying path .

It’s hard to imagine that any other Republican has a chance of qualifying for the September debate. Former Texas Rep. Will Hurd appears to have a qualifying poll in New Hampshire — an Echelon Insights/Republican Main Street Partnership survey from mid-August — but like Burgum and Hutchinson, he struggled to get 1 percent in most polls. And even though Hurd could hit the 50,000 donor mark, his public refusal to consider signing the RNC pledge all but guarantees he won’t take the stage. Additionally, businessman Perry Johnson and radio host Larry Elder nearly qualified for the first debate, and both threatened legal action against the RNC, alleging that it unfairly held them to away from the stage. But even if Johnson and/or Elder manage to reach 50,000 donors – Johnson claimed to have the same in mid-August – neither candidate has a qualifying poll under his belt.

Finally, Trump’s presence – or absence – weighs on the debate process. The former president scores above 50 percent in FiveThirtyEight’s national average, making him a clear favorite to win the GOP nomination. Yet even though Trump’s average fell slightly after the first debate, it essentially returned to where it was before the debate, suggesting that voters didn’t really penalize him for skipping the event. It’s no wonder, then, that he seems determined to skip the second debate and hold counterprogramming that night, just as he did for the first debate when a pre-recorded interview between Trump and the Former Fox News host Tucker Carlson aired at the same time.

With Trump likely absent, the second debate is once again shaping up to be a clash between the party’s major alternatives, none of which appear able to mount a meaningful challenge to Trump. Still, it’s critical that these candidates advance to the debate stage, because failing to qualify could signal to donors that their campaigns really have no chance of success. Additionally, without Trump being in the spotlight, the debate will offer other Republican contenders the opportunity to be seen and heard by a large audience. This is a chance that candidates don’t want to waste, because a strong performance in a debate could… could – change the course of their campaign.

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