Trail Mix: GOP Looks at New Rules for 2024 Debate Stage

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters
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Welcome to Trail Mix, a fun but nutritious snack for your election news diet. See something interesting on the trail? Email me at

This week, we get an update on the planning behind the Republican National Committee’s new rules for the 2024 televised debates.

GOP Looks at New Rules for 2024 Debate Stage

Back in December, I wrote about the RNC’s efforts to avoid an overly crowded debate stage and a repeat of the so-called JV debates from 2016—the embarrassing spectacle where the lowest-polling candidates were relegated to an earlier slot—along with Mike Huckabee’s push to get rid of the moderators altogether.

The dust has settled a bit since then, and Huckabee’s Hunger Games approach is off the table, but some of the same Trump-related headaches remain.

It’s a delicate dance between the parties and the TV networks.

In one of the few areas of American life where both sets of institutions have just as much power as they’ve always had, organizing televised debates takes months—often years—of advance planning.

According to an RNC source familiar with the February meeting, NBC executives sent a small delegation down to RNC headquarters in D.C. to patch up any concerns following Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ blowup last month over comments made by Andrea Mitchell, the network’s chief Washington correspondent and chief foreign affairs correspondent.

Mitchell issued a “postscript” on what she described an “imprecise” question “summarizing DeSantis's position about teaching slavery in schools. DeSantis is not opposed to teaching the fact of slavery in schools.”

Aside from the DeSantis-Mitchell drama—the governor’s press team vowed to boycott the whole peacock over it—the RNC and the networks have kissed and made up like they were always going to, with a schedule in place for the debates to begin some time in August—the first to be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Andrea Mitchell of NBC News </p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">James Lawler Duggan/Reuters</div>

Andrea Mitchell of NBC News

James Lawler Duggan/Reuters

As for who gets to be on stage, that’s a whole different story.

With an official announcement about a month away, a source involved in the planning told The Daily Beast that the qualification metrics will be a combination of polling and an individual donor threshold. Hard numbers have yet to be determined, but the goal of the RNC Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates is to have the donor and polling thresholds rise as the primary moves on past the early voting states.

“Pretty similar to what we did last time, but we are making sure that the polling is done by a smaller list of pollsters, or they have to agree to poll likely Republican voters,” the RNC source added. “It’s not gonna be as loosey-goosey as last time.”

Of the two criteria, the RNC is hoping to have the individual donor threshold be more achievable for the debates in 2023 and early 2024.

“The donors are gonna be the easiest threshold to reach, so people will have a chance,” the RNC member said.

Gone are the concerns of an overcrowded stage as the field has been late to develop.

Instead, the concern has swung the other way, with some Republican operatives wondering if anyone other than Trump or DeSantis will be able to make it.

“I think the glaring thing is Trump is a candidate just like everyone else,” a veteran GOP strategist said. “He needs to get the same treatment. No special green room, arrival logistics, et cetera.”

That concern is shared within the RNC planning committee.

“We don’t want it to just be Trump and DeSantis or something like that at the beginning,” the RNC member said. “We’ll have it narrow down as we go along.”

“The debate committee has pledged to be neutral and transparent throughout this process," RNC Senior Advisor Richard Walters told The Daily Beast. "They will continue to discuss criteria, network partners, and other relevant details, which will be released at a later date. We look forward to hosting our first primary debate this August in Milwaukee, the city where we will nominate the next President of the United States.”

From Harry Crane’s Desk

The biggest ad buy of the cycle so far came this week from the pro-Biden PAC American Bridge 21st Century, according to Bloomberg and the AdImpact tracker.

Which markets did they pick this early?

Some of these are no surprise: Greensboro, North Carolina; Flint, Michigan; Erie, Pennsylvania; and Green Bay, Wisconsin.

“We feel like it’s an important segment because traditionally a lot of the independent expenditure groups go after the major media markets,” American Bridge spokesperson Tiffiany Vaughn told Bloomberg. “And sometimes our message doesn’t get delivered to smaller communities, the rural beltway voters who can get overlooked.”

The ads are also, notably, timed for weekends and to coincide with the anniversary of the president’s COVID stimulus package, the American Rescue Plan.

Polling Station

This one’s less of a developing trend than something to look out for. Should Donald Trump run into any indictments or legal issues after this newsletter is published, it shouldn’t take long for the major pollsters to get questions in the field about how the nation feels about a former president being indicted.

The one group to look out for in a GOP primary context would be any shift in Trump’s approval among voters without a college degree.

In the latest Emerson College poll of the possible 2024 field, Trump had a commanding level of support among that key component of the base at more than 70 percent.

Campaign Lit

New sheriff in town?

The right-wing firebrand and former Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke could be in the mix for the next Wisconsin Senate race in 2024, a scoop from Deputy Politics Editor Sam Brodey.

Stranger at the door?

Trump’s team cases out restaurants before his unannounced visits to make sure there’s a reliably pro-Trump crowd of regulars in place, but the owners never get a heads-up, per WaPo’s Isaac Arnsdorf, Josh Dawsey, and Maeve Reston.

The GOP Campaign Trail Is Already Getting DeSantis-Proofed

Ron DeSantis may be running for president—we’ll see!—but Shy Ronnie’s team has been taking efforts to DeSantis-proof venues in early primary states. And venues are trying to accommodate a candidate who doesn’t want to press the flesh. Read about DeSantis being awkward, like when he ate pudding in front of staffers with his fingers.

“A car door is not a person”

In an extensive investigation into Marianne Williamson’s treatment of her staff throughout her 2020 campaign, Politico’s Lauren Egan spoke to 12 former employees who described her as prone to “foaming, spitting, uncontrollable rage,” including throwing her phone at aides and punching a car door until her hand grew swollen. Williamson denied the allegations, adding “a car door is not a person” and she would “never be physically hurtful to a person.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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