The RNC warns candidates that attending the Iowa Christian Group’s forum will disqualify them from debates

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Former President Donald Trump, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and Senator Tim Scott were invited to the family’s “Thanksgiving Family Forum”.


The Republican National Committee has warned some of the 2024 GOP presidential candidates against attending an Iowa Christian organization’s Thanksgiving forum, saying it would disqualify them from participating in future RNC presidential debates.

Five candidates — former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott — were invited to the family’s “Thanksgiving Family Forum” on Nov. 17.

“It has come to the attention of the RNC Counsel Office that several Republican presidential candidates have been invited to attend an open press event in Iowa in November where they would ‘gather around the table to have a moderated, friendly and open discussion of the issues.’ In other words, a debate,” the RNC’s legal office said in a letter obtained by CNN.

“Be advised that any Republican presidential candidate who participates in this or any similar events will be deemed to have violated this pledge and will be disqualified from participating in future RNC-sanctioned presidential primary debates,” the office said.

In its letter, dated Oct. 28, the office reminded the candidates that they had agreed not to participate in any non-RNC-sanctioned debates during the campaign.

RealClearPolitics first reported on the letter.

The family leader plans to go ahead with the event despite the RNC’s warning.

“We do not agree that our forum fits within the RNC’s ‘debate’ restriction,” Drew Zahn, a spokesman for the group, said in a statement, noting that the family leader held the same event during the 2012 and 2016 election cycles.

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“So we know from experience that our event can be a win-win addition to the election process without in any way competing with the RNC debates. It’s just a completely different format and kind of event,” Zahn said.

DeSantis, Scott and Ramaswamy have responded to the event, according to Zahn.

DeSantis said Friday he would attend the event despite the RNC’s warning. “I’ll be there with the family leader. I think that’s an important part of this process. It’s been part of this process for a long time. There’s no way that should make the RNC penalize any candidate,” DeSantis told reporters after a campaign event in Ames, Iowa.

Florida’s governor said he told the group’s president and CEO, Bob Vander Plaats, earlier Friday: “I don’t know what you guys are going to do to figure it out. But I’m going to be here, whatever happens, so it can Please sign me up.”

Ramaswamy campaign spokeswoman Tricia McLaughlin said in a statement to CNN that the campaign is “hopeful that the RNC and the family leader will be able to resolve their logistical issues to best serve voters.”

CNN has reached out to the DeSantis, Haley and Scott campaigns for comment.

“Trump’s reluctance to attend other events leads us to believe he will not accept the invitation,” Zahn said. Vander Plaats has been critical of the former president, who did not attend the group’s Family Leadership Summit in July.

An Iowa Republican official familiar with the Thanksgiving event said the Trump campaign raised concerns about the forum with the RNC behind the scenes, the latest step in the long-running feud between Trump and Vander Plaats.

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The former president was invited but has no plans to attend, a Trump aide said.

In a press release, the family leader billed the event as an “evening where invitees gather around a table, instead of standing at podiums, for what is described as “a family discussion with presidential candidates.” Vander Plaats will moderate the event.

Last month, the RNC blocked a joint appearance by Ramaswamy and GOP rival Chris Christie on Fox News.

CNN’s Jeff Zeleny contributed to this report.

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