Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Sunday that she expects 2024 GOP presidential contenders will have to sign a pledge to back the party’s ultimate nominee in order to participate in primary debates.
“We haven’t put the criteria out, but I expect a pledge will be part of it. It was part of 2016. I think it’s kind of a no-brainer, right? If you’re going to be on the Republican National Committee debate stage asking voters to support you, you should say, ‘I’m going to support the voters and who they choose as the nominee,’” McDaniel told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” in her first interview since winning a contentious race for a fourth term as RNC chairwoman.
“As RNC chair, if I said I wouldn’t support the Republican nominee, I would be removed from office,” she said.
Asked if there would be other requirements for candidates to get onto the debate stage, McDaniel said, “I think there should be a threshold.”
“You want to make sure you have people on the debate stage who are running for president. We don’t want people who are running for book deals, or media contracts, or Cabinet positions,” she said.
Republicans who have launched presidential bids include former President Donald Trump, former US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, but many more are signaling interest. Among them are Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, and Mike Pompeo, Trump’s former secretary of state.
A Trump campaign spokesperson told CNN later Sunday in response to McDaniel’s pledge expectation that “President Trump will support the Republican nominee because it will be him.”
Earlier this month, Trump hesitated when asked if he would support the eventual GOP nominee if it were not him.
“It would depend,” the former president told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt during an interview on radio show. “It would have to depend on who the nominee was.”
DeSantis called for “some new blood in the RNC” prior to McDaniel’s win in January, while offering praise for Harmeet Dhillon, one of her opponents for the chair position. Asked by Bash if she had spoken to the Florida governor since then, McDaniel said, “Ron and I have a good relationship. And we’re going to work well together,” adding that she campaigned with DeSantis’ wife, Casey, “quite a bit” in the last election.
The primary is still in its early stages, and it could take months before the field fully rounds into form and candidates make more than occasional visits to states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, which will kick off the GOP’s nominating process.
“We can’t be attacking each other so much that we lose sight of: We have to beat the Democrats. We have to beat Joe Biden in 2024. And we may have divisive primaries and differences of opinions, but in the end we have to settle those to win the big picture, which is governing our country and doing right by the American people,” McDaniel said Sunday, leaning on the message of unity she put forward in her campaign for another term atop the RNC.
Asked Sunday about compelling certain White House hopefuls who have broken with party leaders – such as former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson – to sign a loyalty pledge, McDaniel offered: “I think you support the voters.”
“I am Mitt Romney’s niece and I was appointed to the RNC by Donald Trump. And I would support both of them … if they were the nominee of our party over Joe Biden. But I don’t know if they would support each other,” she said.
McDaniel was also asked about the decision by Republicans in her home state of Michigan to choose Kristina Karamo as state party chair. Karamo has falsely claimed that Trump won the state in the 2020 election, and she has yet to concede her loss in last year’s race for Michigan secretary of state.
“I don’t know her very well. And I wasn’t at this recent convention,” said McDaniel, herself a former Michigan GOP chair. “But I’m committed to Michigan. It’s my state.”
“We have a Senate seat. We have House seats. I love our great state. And the RNC is absolutely committed to Michigan,” she said.
This story has been updated with additional reaction.
CNN’s Kristen Holmes contributed to this report.