DeSantis accuses RNC of doing Trump’s ‘bidding’ with threats to punish 2024 candidates

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The Republican National Committee (RNC) threatened to prevent GOP presidential candidates from taking part in future party-sanctioned debates if they engaged in an open-press event in Iowa next week, drawing backlash from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The threat came prior to an agreement that was announced Saturday between the RNC and organizers of the event to allow GOP candidates to participate.

Prior to the agreement over the format of the forum, in an Oct. 28 letter to the respective presidential campaigns the RNC Counsel’s Office said that any candidate who participates in the Nov. 17 Des Moines event would violate their pledge to not participate in non-RNC-sanctioned primary debates.

“It has come to the attention of the RNC Counsel’s Office that several Republican presidential candidates have been invited to participate in an open-press event in Iowa in November at which they would ‘gather around the table to have a moderated, friendly, and open discussion about the issues.’ In other words, a debate,” the RNC Counsel’s Office wrote in the letter, which was obtained by Fox News.

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Four 2024 Republican presidential candidates – Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Tim Scott – arrive to participate in the GOP primary presidential debate hosted by NBC News in Miami, Florida, on Nov. 8, 2023.

“As a reminder, in accordance with RNC Rule 10(a)(11), each Republican presidential candidate participating in RNC-sanctioned primary debates has signed a pledge stating, in relevant part, that ‘if I participate in any debate that has not been sanctioned by the Republican National Committee, I will not be eligible to participate in any further Republican National Committee sanctioned debates,'” the counsel’s office added in the letter.

Should the candidate(s) choose to ignore the warning and participate in the event, or an event similar in nature, the counsel’s office said the candidate(s) said at the time that they “will be deemed to have violated this pledge and will be disqualified from taking part in any future RNC-sanctioned presidential primary debates.”

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

Organizers for the event told Fox News that three candidates — DeSantis, Ramaswamy, and Scott – have confirmed they will attend, with Haley expected to do the same.

The RNC’s former threat to bar Republican candidates from future debates if they take part in the event was met with frustration from DeSantis, who said he would participate in the event “no matter what.”

“I’m going to be there at The Family Leader. I think it’s an important part of this process,” DeSantis wrote in a post to X on Saturday. “There’s no way that should cause the RNC to penalize any candidate. I’ll be here no matter what happens.”

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Following the letter to Republican candidates, Family Leader President and CEO Bob Vander Plaats announced Saturday that he and the RNC had “agreed on the format” for the event.

“The Forum is NOT a debate,” he wrote in a post to X. “Thus, the RNC is giving a thumbs up for candidates to participate. Thanks to the RNC for facilitating a win/win for the process.”

Prior to announcing the agreement Saturday, Vander Plaats told the Des Moines Register that his organization would move forward with the planned event, saying “these forums are not debates.”

DeSantis also accused the RNC of doing Trump’s “bidding” by issuing the threat while speaking to reporters on Saturday, before the agreement was announced by Vander Plaats.

“Bob Vander Plaats is someone that’s been very outspoken, that Donald Trump is not the way forward for the party. And because of that, I think there’s been pressure from Trump’s camp on the RNC to try to do something to stop it,” DeSantis said. “But if I have an opportunity to speak to Iowans about issues that matter to them, I’m going to show up.”

DeSantis waves ahead of GOP debate in Miami

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis arrives to participate in the GOP primary presidential debate hosted by NBC News in Miami, Florida, on Nov. 8, 2023. (Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

DeSantis also questioned why the RNC would “be doing the bidding of somebody who not only didn’t show up to the last debate, but counter programed a rally.”

“I’ll be there one way or another, we’re going to be there spreading the message, answering the questions,” he added.

The event is set to feature presidential candidates sitting around a table to engage in conversation with Vander Plaats. In order to be invited to the forum, candidates needed to have an RCP polling average of 4.0 or more in either the national polls or the Iowa polls on November 1.

Bob Vander Plaats

Bob Vander Plaats, chief executive officer and president of The FAMiLY Leader, speaks during the FAMiLY Leader summit in Des Moines, Iowa, on July 16, 2021. (Rachel Mummey/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Vander Plaats is one of the major endorsements candidates are seeking. He’s expected to announce around Thanksgiving who he will support in the race.

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Vander Plaats endorsed the last three Republican winners of the Iowa caucuses — Mike Huckabee in 2008, Rick Santorum in 2012 and Ted Cruz in 2016 — but none went on to win the GOP nomination.

Fox News Digital reached out to the campaigns of Ramaswamy, Haley, and Scott for comment.

Fox News’ Jessica Loker and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.

Get the latest updates from the 2024 campaign trail, exclusive interviews and more at our Fox News Digital election hub.

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