Trump calls GOP’s bluff
The front-runner says he was promised nothing in return for signing the loyalty pledge.
Donald Trump and Reince Priebus have a deal.
The Republican front-runner announced at a news conference on Thursday that he signed the loyalty pledge the GOP sought and will support the eventual Republican nominee, whoever that may be.
The deal, which was announced after a private meeting with Priebus in New York regarding a party-sponsored pledge that candidates will support the nominee, is a winner for Trump. In the short term, it clears the way for his name to appear on primary ballots and addresses the concerns of Republican voters turned off by his initial unwillingness to pledge his fealty to the party.
And if he changes his mind down the road, the party has no legal power to block Trump from reversing course and making an independent presidential bid.
“I just wanted fairness from the Republican Party,” Trump said. “I will be totally pledging my allegiance to the Republican Party, and the conservative principles for which it stands.”
Trump tried to headoff speculation that the RNC traded something for his signature. “What did I get for signing the pledge? Absolutely nothing.” And he said he could not envision circumstances that would lead him to tear up the pledge.
Rival campaigns, however, were already griping about the very idea of a pledge, with one adviser saying many of the campaigns have ridiculed the RNC’s loyalty oath among themselves. “We’re all going to sign it, but it’s meaningless because it’s not binding,and Trump is going to do whatever he wants anyway. And to see Reince standing up there next to the guy who has destroyed his autopsy, it’s just ridiculous.”
Trump, who has led the GOP field in poll after poll, has long viewed the threat of a third-party candidacy as priceless leverage—and even used that word when he refused to take such a pledge in the first debate, on Aug. 6. But he agreed to the pledge to avoid complications in getting listed on primary ballots, and to take away an attack line in the next debate, a close associate told POLITICO.
His decision is a sign that he increasingly wants to show his campaign is real and not a stunt. The magnate is also trying to make that point by adding staff in key states, issuing position papers, and pursuing access to primary ballots throughout the country.
“It’s purely political. From what I’ve seen there are no legal ramifications,” said Larry Noble, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center. “There are no penalties for not doing it, and I’m not sure what they could do to him other than make a political issue of it.”
Priebus was accompanied by RNC chief strategist Sean Spicer, who has been closely involved in the negotiations.
The meeting was delicately choreographed. The RNC waited to circulate the pledge until it looked like Trump was on board, and Priebus would not go to Trump’s turf if he thought there was a chance he might be embarrassed.
A top Republican source further explained Trump’s logic: He thinks he could very well be the nominee. And with the pledge in place, the other candidates would have to support him.
The RNC’s draft pledge was first reported Wednesday by POLITICO’s Alex Isenstadt.
The text of the pledge: “I [name] affirm that if I do not win the 2016 Republican nomination for president of the United States I will endorse the 2016 Republican presidential nominee regardless of who it is. I further pledge that I will not seek to run as an independent or write-in candidate nor will I seek or accept the nomination for president of any other party.”
One of the most memorable moments of the first Republican debate came on the first question, when Fox moderator Bret Baier asked: “Is there anyone on stage—and can I see hands?—who is unwilling tonight to pledge your support to the eventual nominee of the Republican Party and pledge to not run an independent campaign against that person?”
Trump drew some boos when he raised his right hand. He explained: “I am discussing it with everybody. But I’m, you know, talking about a lot of leverage. We want to win, and we will win. But I want to win as the Republican. I want to run as the Republican nominee. … I will not make the pledge at this time.”
The next debate is Sept. 16, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Southern California. The associate said Trump knew the third-party issue would again be a distraction, so he decided to close that door.