RNC backs off threat to disqualify candidates if they participated in Iowa group’s forum

The Republican National Committee threatened to ban candidates from future presidential debates if they participated in an Iowa conservative Christian group’s upcoming forum, the committee said Friday, before working out a deal with the group for it to go on a day later.

The Family Leader Foundation invited all major presidential candidates to its “Thanksgiving Family Forum” next Friday, but the RNC initially said the event would really be an unsanctioned debate.

The organization describes the forum as a “moderated, friendly and open discussion about the issues that are most important to evangelical Americans today.”

The threat, first reported by RealClearPolitics, would have barred attending candidates from future, sanctioned RNC debates, and represents a campaign controversy over the committee’s control of debates overall.

Family Leader President Bob Vander Plaats said Saturday that the two sides worked out a deal to allow candidates to attend with no repercussions.

“The RNC and I have agreed on the format of The Family Leader November 17 Thanksgiving FAMiLY Forum,” he said on X, formerly Twitter. “The Forum is NOT a debate. Thus, the RNC is giving a thumbs up for candidates to participate. Thanks to the RNC for facilitating a win/win for the process.”

As former President Trump — the clear primary favorite — bucks and demeans RNC debates and viewership continues to drop, they appear to have less importance than ever.

The Family Leader Foundation told RCP that three candidates have committed to attend their event: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Vivek Ramaswamy. Former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley and former President Trump were also invited, the group said.

According to the event’s website, which does not list attendees, candidates will also host “hospitality rooms” after the moderated panel to meet and speak with voters.

The fight with the Family Leader is not the first time the RNC has gotten involved in potential debates. Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie scrapped a hastily-scheduled television debate shortly after it was announced after the RNC threatened consequences.

The pair ended up appearing separately on the same night’s Fox News broadcast instead.

This story was updated at 3:36 pm on Nov. 11.

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