Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Candidates Use T-shirts to Qualify for Debate

Minor Republican candidates for president, which are all the candidates not named Trump or DeSantis, have to make it to the debate stage or they are toast. To qualify they need to poll 1% in certain national or state polls and also have 40,000 donors. Getting to 1% will be tricky for some of them, but getting to 40,000 donors may be even harder. For example, Gov. Doug Burgum (R-ND) is well known in North Dakota and maybe in parts of northern South Dakota, but that is probably about it. OK, maybe in East Grand Forks, MN, just across the state line, but that is really it. That said, he is also a billionaire. How do you get people to donate to a billionaire who has zero chance of getting the nomination? There are also the candidates who are not billionaires and also have the problem of getting people to donate to a hopeless cause. What can they do?

They have figured out how to game the system: Use loss leaders. This is a tactic sometimes used by stores. They offer a product for sale below its cost to get people into the store, in the hope they will buy something else while there. What candidates are doing is offering "free" T-shirts, books, signs, or other items for anyone who makes a "donation" of $1. Of course, giving away 40,000 T-shirts for $40,000 is going to be a large financial hit for any campaign, but if they don't make the stage, it's game over. For someone like Burgum, buying 40,000 T-shirts for, say, $400,000, is not a problem. He can just write his campaign a check. For some of the other candidates, it could be a big problem. They might offer cheaper freebies, like a bumper sticker or yard sign. This is obviously not what the RNC had in mind when it set the rules, but it is technically legal.

A few of the candidates are either too high-minded or too broke to play this game. Asa Hutchinson, for example, is not giving away swag in return for donations. Instead he has a button on his website saying: "Donate to get Asa in the Debate."

Will the qualifying rules work? From the point of RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel, she wants to have the appearance of being fair to all candidates while also winnowing the field. As a result, this might not be such a crazy idea. If a candidate can't get 40,000 donors in 2 months, how can he go up against Trump, who has a massive base, or DeSantis, who has $86 million in his state account that he would like to transfer to his presidential account, although the legality of this might be questioned.

When the Democrats put up a donor requirement in 2020, half the field spent more than they raised early in the cycle. Many of those dropped out before Iowa or New Hampshire. Candidates like this simply aren't viable at all. To seriously compete, you need either national name recognition, as Mike Pence and Chris Christie have, or be self-funding, like Burgum and the other two rich guys whose names we can never remember. If you have neither, you might want to start your political career running for city council or if you are really ambitious, the state House, and not for president. (V)

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