Mike Pence makes the debate stage. ‘Hopefully former President Trump has the courage to show up’

WASHINGTON – Former Vice President Mike Pence has qualified for the first GOP presidential primary debate, benefiting from a surge of donations after the latest indictment of his former boss, Donald Trump.

Pence, one of the most recognizable names in the race, took a while to get here. By contrast, Chris Christie entered the race a day earlier than Pence and qualified for the debate a month sooner than Pence.

But as the former vice president has become more critical of Trump, he has attracted more donors − and also more ire from the former president.

Pence will be on the debate stage Aug. 23 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, his campaign confirmed Monday. Trump has still not said if he will be there. He is seemingly leaving it to his supporters to decide.

Why did it take Pence so long to qualify?

A candidate must have 40,000 unique donors and score above 1% in a certain number of national and state polls to qualify to be on stage − requirements set forth by the Republican National Committee.

Pence has scored 3% or higher in some national and state polls. His campaign also said that he had met the donor threshold and “chose not to employ schemes, giveaways, or gimmicks used by other campaigns” to do so.

Fox News first reported on the development.

Pence became the eighth candidate to qualify after former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, biotechnology entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.

He had struggled for weeks to meet the donor threshold. University of New Hampshire political scientist Dante Scala previously told USA TODAY that Pence’s candidacy was a nonstarter to those who wanted him to stand by Trump on the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack. But Pence also had not appealed to GOP voters who want to move on.

Pence sells ‘Too Honest’ merch

After Trump was indicted on four counts last week for allegedly overturning the 2020 election, Pence’s team started selling hats and T-shirts with the label “Too Honest” – a reference to an instance described in the indictment – as a way to bolster his presence in the crowded GOP field.

The Pence campaign found a way to profit, literally, from all the fresh attention. Hats and T-shirts with the label “Too Honest” appeared on his campaign site Thursday, a reference to an instance described in the indictment.

In a January 2021 phone call between the pair, Trump “berated” Pence for saying there was no constitutional basis for the vice president to reject electoral votes during the certification of results, according to the indictment.

Pence could potentially face off against Trump in the Aug. 23 debate, but it is still unclear whether the former president will take part.

“Mike Pence made quick and easy work of the donor threshold and he’s looking forward to a substantive debate about the issues important to the American people,” said Pence communications adviser Devin O’Malley. “Hopefully, former President Trump has the courage to show up.”

Contributing: Savannah Kuchar and Francesca Chambers

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How Mike Pence qualified for the first GOP debate on Aug. 23

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