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Republicans schedule first 2024 primary presidential debate for August in Milwaukee

RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel has pledged a fair and neutral debate and primary process for a Republican field that already includes former President Donald Trump.
Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel speaks at the committee's winter meeting in Dana Point, Calif., on Jan. 27, 2023.Jae C. Hong / AP

Republican presidential candidates will meet for their first debate of the 2024 campaign cycle this August in Milwaukee, Republican National Committee Ronna McDaniel announced Thursday in an email to party insiders that was obtained by NBC News.

The exact date and criteria for participation are not yet set, but the event will coincide with the RNC's summer meeting and continue a tradition of holding the first debate in the same city that will host the GOP convention the following year. The RNC previously selected Milwaukee as the site of the 2024 nominating confab.

"At this time, no other debates have been sanctioned, nor has the final criteria for the first debate been decided," McDaniel wrote in the email to RNC members. "The Committee will continue its work and will release updates as they become available."

"We have a long way to go, but I am confident we will be able to showcase our eventual nominee in a world-class fashion," McDaniel added.

The move to hold the first debate in Milwaukee mirrors the decision to hold the first debate of the 2016 campaign in Cleveland, which hosted the Republican National Convention the following year. But the GOP's 2024 debates will be the first since that cycle. The RNC shut down primary debates when then-President Donald Trump ran for re-election in 2020 without any serious primary opposition.

Trump, who lost his bid for a second term, is running again but already has drawn primary challengers, including his former ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley. Other Republicans are expected to enter the race, most notably Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has led Trump in a few primary polls.

McDaniel, who has been close to Trump since he handpicked her as RNC chair more than six years ago, has pledged neutrality for 2024. In her Thursday email, she praised members of the RNC's standing committee on presidential debates "for their dedication to both fair primary and general election debates."  

After the first primary debate, Republicans will likely hold one debate per month through the end of this year, increasing to two or more a month beginning in January, a person familiar with the ongoing discussions told NBC News last month at the RNC winter meetings.

The committee has been in conversations with the major news networks about hosting its upcoming slate of presidential primary debates and made clear its positions on “moderators and fairness,” this person said.

“We’re looking for moderators who don’t want to be part of the story,” this person added. “We’re not looking for moderators who say, ‘How do I ask a question that’s going to be repeated during the general election debate?’”

Nearly all of the major broadcast and cable news networks are being considered as potential debate hosts. The party would like to see networks partner with conservative outfits for the debates — including in the selection of moderators.

The only hard-and-fast requirement for moderator selection: That they have not worked for a Democratic politician previously nor said “egregious things about any of our potential nominees,” said the source familiar with the preparations.

“I do know that my friends who are on [the RNC’s debate committee] are really pushing for as much transparency and fairness as they can to make sure that we’re not tipping the scale for any candidate, no matter who it is,” Oscar Brock, an RNC committeeman from Tennessee, told NBC News at the winter meetings. “Whether it’s a state senator from Nebraska, or a former president of the United States.”