Eight Republican presidential hopefuls have qualified for the first primary debate on Wednesday night in Milwaukee, the Republican National Committee announced Tuesday.
The participants who will square off against each other are: North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former Vice President Mike Pence, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.
All the participating candidates met polling and donor requirements laid out by the RNC and had to sign a loyalty pledge in which they agreed to support the 2024 GOP nominee.
The 2024 Republican hopeful who notably won’t be on stage Wednesday is former president Donald Trump, who confirmed on his social media site Sunday that he would be skipping this debate, citing his lead in the polls over the rest of the GOP candidates.
The former president is facing a total of 91 felony charges across four criminal investigations. This week he’s expected to turn himself in at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, where he faces 13 felony counts related to alleged election fraud in the state.
It’s perhaps the most consequential case for Trump in the long term, as he faces a minimum of five years in prison if found guilty of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) charges in Georgia. He also wouldn’t be able to be pardoned by a U.S. president or by Georgia Republican governor Brian Kemp. The former president would have to complete the prison sentence first before being considered by the state’s parole board.
However, in the two federal cases against Trump that involve election fraud and classified documents, a Republican president could, theoretically, pardon him. Here’s where the eight GOP presidential hopefuls who qualified for the debate stand on the hypothetical scenario.
Chris Christie: Leaning against a pardon
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who back in 2016 was the first prominent Republican politician to endorse Trump, is now one of Trump’s most vocal critics. He said on The Brian Kilmeade Show in June, “I can't imagine if he gets a fair trial that I would pardon him." Christie added, "To accept a pardon, you have to admit your guilt."
Asa Hutchinson: Leaning against a pardon
Since the former president was indicted the first time, the former Arkansas governor has called on Trump to drop out of the 2024 presidential race. Hutchinson told Scripps News that if Trump were to be pardoned, it would be a "misuse of the pardon power."
Ron DeSantis: Leaning toward a pardon
On Megyn Kelly’s podcast, the Florida governor pointed to the historical example of President Gerald Ford pardoning President Richard Nixon over his role in the Watergate scandal. DeSantis told Time, “When I’m President, we need a fresh start,” he said. “Just like Ford pardoned Nixon, we are going to move on from the Trump controversies.”
Nikki Haley: Leaning toward a pardon
The former South Carolina Governor and former U.N. ambassador during the Trump administration said she would “be inclined in favor of a pardon,” during a June interview on the Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show. Haley explained: “When you look at a pardon, the issue is less about guilt and more about what’s good for the country.”
At the same time, Haley also notably said on CBS’s Face the Nation that if the accusations against Trump are true, it would be “incredibly dangerous to our national security.”
Mike Pence: Leaning toward a pardon
Trump’s former VP, who previously skirted around the pardon question, was asked about the issue during a July campaign stop in Sioux City, Iowa. "I’ve been a governor; I’ve actually pardoned people," Pence said, "and I think any pardon that you could conduct would only be appropriate to consider after somebody has been found guilty. And I don’t know why some of my competitors in the Republican primary assume the president’s going to be found guilty." Pence has also indicated he would “clean house” in the Justice Department if elected.
Vivek Ramaswamy: Leaning toward a pardon
The biotech executive has been one of Trump’s staunchest supporters when it comes to pardoning the former president. In fact, Ramaswamy pledged that it would be one of his first orders of business if he were elected to the White House.
"This is my commitment, on Jan. 20, 2025 — if I'm elected the next U.S. president — to pardon Donald J. Trump for these offenses in this federal case," Ramaswamy said outside the Miami federal courthouse when Trump was arraigned in the classified documents case in June.
Doug Burgum: No position on a pardon
The North Dakota governor repeatedly dodged the question when he appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday.
"Whether it's for Hunter Biden, Joe Biden or Donald Trump, everybody is innocent until proven guilty in this country," Burgum said. "But if somebody came up and said this person's been accused, there hasn't been evidence — there hasn't been one day of a trial in 2025, would you pardon them? Those kind of hypothetical questions — any governor that understands his role would never speculate on that because it hasn't played out."
Tim Scott: No position on a pardon
The senator from South Carolina has avoided answering the question of a Trump pardon. “I’m not going to deal with the hypotheticals, but I will say that every American is innocent until proven guilty,” Scott told Fox News Sunday in June. Like Pence, Scott has also said that, if elected president, he’d want to “clean out” the Department of Justice.
Wednesday’s debate, hosted by Fox News, is set to start at 9 p.m. ET. You can follow along with Yahoo News’ planned liveblog coverage.