(WASHINGTON) -- Republican candidates for president have danced around whether or not they'd support former President Donald Trump in 2024 if he wins the GOP nomination -- but with the first primary debate under two weeks away, their hands are being forced.
To qualify for the Aug. 23 debate, candidates will have to have to meet polling and fundraising thresholds, but they'll also have to sign a loyalty pledge declaring that they'd support the eventual Republican presidential nominee and forgo any third-party bid of their own.
"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 nominee in order to save our country and beat Joe Biden. 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 reads.
Trump has hinted that he plans on skipping the first two debates altogether, but Wednesday night he said more definitively that he wouldn't sign the loyalty pledge.
"I wouldn't sign the pledge. Why would I sign a pledge if there are people on there that I wouldn't have. I wouldn't have certain people as somebody that I would endorse," Trump said on Newsmax, though he didn't specifically say who he would not endorse.
When running for president in 2015, Trump was reluctant to say he'd back whoever topped the GOP ticket in 2016, though he did ultimately sign that cycle's loyalty pledge.
So far, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum have been the only four candidates so far to sign the loyalty pledge. Those four have also met the other criteria to make the debate stage in Milwaukee later this month.
"See you in Milwaukee!" DeSantis' campaign teased on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
The Republican National Committee has come under fire from some longshot, anti-Trump candidates who have said the pledge would force them to back the former president despite their repeated criticisms.
"The @GOP should clarify that there is no pledge to support a nominee if they are found guilty of espionage or a serious felony," former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson wrote on X in June. "Donald Trump is the target of an ongoing criminal investigation and he should step aside & put the good of the country above his candidacy."
Other anti-Trump candidates have seemed to pooh-pooh the pledge, with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie noting Trump's own aversion to support an alternative nominee in 2016.
"I’m going to take the pledge just as seriously as Donald Trump took it in 2016," Christie said last month.
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