Republican Candidates Compete for Debate Spot as Trump Opts Out

In the upcoming week’s presidential debate, a scramble among Republican contenders is evident as they vie for a coveted spot on the stage. Notably, the former President, Donald Trump, has announced his intention to abstain from attending the event.

As the clock ticks down to the debate scheduled for Wednesday in Milwaukee, two contenders, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and former Texas Representative Will Hurd, assert that they are steadily approaching the stringent criteria set by the Republican National Committee. These criteria necessitate achieving a minimum of 1% support in three reputable national polls or a combination of polls from early states and national sources. Additionally, securing a minimum of 40,000 unique donors is imperative.

Uncertainty surrounds whether Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has indeed fulfilled both stipulations, as he asserted. Businessman Perry Johnson also appears to have positioned himself to qualify for the debate stage.

In the midst of this, Republican candidates convened in Atlanta, Georgia, for discussions regarding the imminent debate and other pertinent matters. Worth noting, this city is the backdrop for Donald Trump’s fourth indictment.

Here are the key developments from the campaign trail on Friday: Mayor Suarez proclaimed on Friday that he has successfully met all the required thresholds to partake in the debate.

“While our campaign only began a few weeks ago, I am humbled knowing Republicans from all fifty states have donated to our campaign—nearly 50,000 thus far,” Suarez said in a statement.

PHOTO: Francis Suarez, mayor of Miami and 2024 Republican presidential candidate, speaks at the Des Moines Register political soapbox during the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, on Aug. 11, 2023.
Francis Suarez, mayor of Miami and 2024 Republican presidential candidate, speaks at the Des Moines Register political soapbox during the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, on Aug. 11, 2023.Rachel Mummy/Bloomberg via Getty Images

But according to a source familiar with the RNC debate qualifications, Suarez has still not met the polling threshold needed to join the other candidates on stage.

Last week at the Iowa State Fair, Suarez told ABC News Senior Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott that he would consider dropping out of the presidential race if he did not qualify for the first debate. Suarez said that if an individual didn’t qualify for the first debate, it only gets harder to make the second debate.

Johnson also announced Friday he qualified for the debate after hitting 1% in a national poll from Victory Insights and 1.8% in a NH Trafalgar Group poll.

During a press gaggle after his soapbox speech at the Iowa State Fair, he said he was set on making it to that stage. It is unclear if Johnson has signed the RNC’s “Beat Biden” pledge yet, as he told ABC News he would back in July.

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate author Perry Johnson talks with fairgoers in the sheep barn at the Iowa State Fair, on Aug. 10, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Republican presidential candidate author Perry Johnson talks with fairgoers in the sheep barn at the Iowa State Fair, on Aug. 10, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa.Charlie Neibergall/AP

Johnson has been critical of the RNC’s qualification requirements calling the 40,000-donor threshold “ridiculous” and the RNC itself a “nutty organization.”

In a statement, Johnson said he was “encouraging President Trump to attend the debate so the American people can measure the plans and the records of all major candidates on stage.”

Trump said Friday that he is planning the skip the first Republican presidential debate and is strongly considering sitting down for an interview with Tucker Carlson that day instead.

-Hannah Demissie, Will McDuffie, Kendall Ross and Isabella Murray

Hutchinson, a vocal Trump critic, told CNN Friday he’s gaining a couple thousand new donors every day and is “getting very close” to the 40,000 donors required.

But with his campaign manager sending a message to supporters last night saying the former governor is still 7,000 donors short, it’s not clear Hutchinson has a path to make it there with only roughly three days left. The message read, “Asa needs 7k more donors to reach the debate stage! Chip in $1 now.”

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson waves to the audience during an event on Aug. 6, 2023, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Republican presidential candidate former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson waves to the audience during an event on Aug. 6, 2023, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.Charlie Neibergall/AP

Hutchinson told CNN he had a unique voice to bring to the stage.

“This is the first debate that will really be showcasing a future Republican Party without Donald Trump,” he said. “Whether he’s there or not he will be a topic of it. We’ll state our positions on him. I’ll tell the truth.”

Hurd said on Friday he already had tickets to Milwaukee, despite still needing to reach the RNC’s polling threshold and commit to signing the loyalty pledge.

“For those that know me, I’m single minded, I have one goal right now. And that is to make sure we’re on that debate stage,” Hurd said during a fireside chat with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. “I’m going to be doing debate prep this weekend, I have tickets to Milwaukee, so I feel confident that we’re gonna be on the debate stage.”

-Libby Cathey and Isabella Murray

In Georgia, ABC News Correspondent Rachel Scott asked former Vice President Mike Pence about his repeated statements the election was not stolen.

“What impact do those false claims have on the Republican party going forward?” ABC News’ Scott asked.

Pence responded that he thinks Republican primary voters are ready to move on and “aren’t interested in looking in the rearview mirror.”

“There’s too many challenges facing American families today,” he said, citing inflation, high mortgage rates and other issues.

“And we’ll let these other issues work themselves out in a manner consistent with the rule of law, but for my part, we’re going to continue to remain focused on where the American people are focused — and I can’t wait to get to that debate stage. And I hope everybody shows up,” he said.

-Rachel Scott, Gabrielle Abdul-Hakim, Ben Siegel and Libby Cathey

President Joe Biden’s campaign seized on news Trump is planning to skip debating his Republican rivals.

“Of course Donald Trump wants to avoid appearing in Wisconsin because he knows Wisconsin is a state that illustrates his failed leadership,” Biden campaign spokesperson Kevin Munoz said in a statement, citing Trump’s stance on abortion and how Foxconn is cutting jobs in the state. (Trump once touted the jobs the company created in Wisconsin.)

“He cannot hide from the fact that Wisconsinites rejected him in 2020, and will reject the MAGA agenda again in 2024,” Munoz added.

-Fritz Farrow

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Friday offered his thoughts on the criminal charges Trump is facing in his state.

“One thing is certain about these indictments in my mind and my opinion: this trial, despite what dates anybody’s asking for or anything else, it is not going to happen before the election,” he said. “And the Democrats want us to be focused on things like this so we’re not focused on Joe Biden’s record.”

PHOTO: Republican Gov. Brian Kemp speaks at an event hosted by Conservative radio host Erick Erickson, on Aug. 18, 2023, in Atlanta.
Republican Gov. Brian Kemp speaks at an event hosted by Conservative radio host Erick Erickson, on Aug. 18, 2023, in Atlanta.Megan Varner/Getty Images

Kemp drew Trump’s ire when he certified Biden’s win. On Friday, he told people to “quit complaining” about the 2020 presidential race.

“We don’t need to be focusing on stupid things that aren’t going to happen before this election,” Kemp said. “We can deal with that later, after we win. We have to tell people what we are for. And then we have to have a candidate that can win the election because if we don’t win, we don’t get to govern and we don’t get a pencil. I mean, it’s that simple to me.”

The Trump campaign announced a new plan to combat what they say are candidates and political action committees soliciting donations from people by falsely claiming Trump supports them.

PHOTO: Former President Donald Trump speaks during the 56th annual Silver Elephant Gala in Columbia, S.C., Aug. 5, 2023.
Former President Donald Trump speaks during the 56th annual Silver Elephant Gala in Columbia, S.C., Aug. 5, 2023.Artie Walker Jr./AP

The campaign will now hand out a “Seal of Approval” — a gold badge featuring Trump’s face with the words “Official Team Trump” — to candidates and committees that Trump endorsed.

“The purpose of the Seal is to help President Trump’s donors distinguish between authorized uses of his name and likeness, and unauthorized uses including oftentimes outright scams. It is intended to protect the President’s donors and supporters from illegitimate organizations falsely claiming some affiliation with President Trump and his campaign,” the campaign said in a statement.

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