By Andrew Millman and Shawna Mizelle, CNN
Washington (CNN) — Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie said Sunday it was a “useless idea” to force 2024 GOP contenders to sign a pledge to back the party’s ultimate nominee in order to participate in primary debates.
“It’s only in the era of Donald Trump that you need somebody to sign something on a pledge. So I think it’s a bad idea,” the former New Jersey governor told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” about the Republican National Committee requirement.
Christie, who kicked off his presidential bid earlier this month, said he’s expressed his views directly to RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, “so this is not the first time she’s hearing it.”
But he affirmed that he would do what was needed “to be up on the stage to try to save my party and save my country from going down the road of being led by three-time loser Donald Trump” – saying the former president cost the party the House in 2018 and the White House and Senate in 2020, and was responsible for “the worst midterm performance we have seen in a long, long time” in 2022.
“I’ll take the pledge in 2024 just as seriously as Donald Trump took it in 2016,” Christie said.
Trump, as a candidate in 2015, did not rule out an independent run for president at a debate in Cleveland. He ultimately signed a pledge to support the party’s eventual nominee and to not run as a third-party candidate if he did not win the GOP nomination.
McDaniel has repeatedly supported requiring a so-called loyalty pledge for participation in the GOP debates, telling CNN on Friday it was a “no-brainer.”
“Once it’s all done and the dust is settled and you’ve made your best case, if the voters choose someone else, then you need to get behind who the voters chose and make sure we beat Joe Biden,” McDaniel said. “We can’t have division. We can’t have people who get on the debate stage who are going to come out and say, ‘I’m not going to support the eventual nominee.’”
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has pushed to amend the pledge and reiterated on Sunday that he did not think it should be a requirement to participate in the debates.
“You have to make the pledge based on the fact that Donald Trump is not going to be our nominee and you’re confident of it. Therefore, you can sign a statement saying you’re going to support the nominee of the party. I’m not going to, you know, support – just like other voters are not going to support – somebody for president who is under indictment,” Hutchinson told ABC News on Sunday.
Trump pleaded not guilty in federal court last week to 37 charges related to his alleged mishandling of classified documents after leaving office.
The RNC announced earlier this month that the first presidential primary debate will take place on August 23 in Milwaukee. Qualifying candidates will need to register at least 1% in three national polls, or a combination of national polls and a poll from the early-voting states recognized by the RNC. Candidates will also need “a minimum of 40,000 unique donors to candidate’s principal presidential campaign committee (or exploratory committee), with at least 200 unique donors per state or territory in 20+ states and/or territories,” the RNC said in a statement.
A recent CNN Poll found Trump was the first choice of 53% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters in the primary, roughly doubling Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ 26%. Other hopefuls were all polling in the single digits, including Christie, Hutchinson, former Vice President Mike Pence, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott.
Another pledge making waves in Republican presidential circles is a call by GOP candidate Vivek Ramaswamy for 2024 contenders to commit to pardoning Trump if elected president.
Pence said Sunday that it was “premature” to discuss such a pardon, telling NBC News, “I don’t know why some of my competitors in the Republican primary presume the president will be found guilty.”
But he said he would evaluate any request for a pardon if he wins the White House.
“We need to let the courts do their job. And let this case work its way through our judicial system,” the former vice president told NBC News. “If I have the great privilege of being president of the United States, as I did when I was governor, we would (evaluate) any request for pardon for any American.”
Scott would not answer Sunday when asked if he would join Ramaswamy in his pledge or if he thought Trump’s indictment was unfounded.
“I’m not going to deal with the hypotheticals, but I will say that every American is innocent until proven guilty,” the GOP senator told Fox News.
But Haley, another South Carolinian presidential contender, said last week that she would be inclined to pardon Trump if she were elected president because, she argued, “the issue is less about guilt and more about what’s good for the country.”
This story has been updated with additional information.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Asa Hutchinson’s stance on the Republican National Committee’s loyalty pledge to participate in the GOP primary debates.
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CNN’s Veronica Stracqualursi and Kate Sullivan contributed to this report.