Businessman Donald Trump predicted Thursday that he would secure the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, playing down the suggestion he might run as a third-party candidate.
“I want to run as a Republican. I think I’ll get the nomination,” Trump said in Laredo, Texas, during a nationally televised speech amid his trip to the southern border.
“I’m a Republican, I’m a conservative,” Trump said, touting his recent polling figures.
“The best way to win is for me to get the nomination,” Trump said.
During an interview with The Hill on Wednesday, Trump threatened to run as a third-party candidate if national Republicans do not treat him fairly.
He suggested that the Republican National Committee “has not been very supportive.”
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus reportedly asked Trump to tone down his rhetoric, and last week the RNC criticized him sharply for remarks that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was not a war hero.
In the interview with The Hill, pressed on whether he would run as a third-party candidate, Trump said that “so many people want me to, if I don’t win.”
“I’ll have to see how I’m being treated by the Republicans,” Trump said. “Absolutely, if they’re not fair, that would be a factor.”
Trump’s third-party threat sent shockwaves across the political world on Thursday, with pundits wondering whether he could doom the eventual Republican nominee by splitting the vote.
“If Trump decides to run as a third-party independent, the Republicans’ chances of winning the White House in 2016 are pretty much dead in the water, and Hillary Clinton automatically becomes the next president of the United States,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.
O’Connell compared Trump to Ross Perot, who ran as an independent candidate in 1992 and took nearly 19 percent of the popular vote.
Several Republican lawmakers were hesitant to discuss the possibility of Tump’s third-party run when approached in the halls of Congress — a sign how polarizing and powerful he has become.
GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak said that Trump running as a third-party candidate would be “a disaster” for Republicans.
“He will mortally wound the GOP nominee and undoubtedly ensure Hillary is the next president — which is perhaps his goal,” Mackowiak said.
But Trump says he’s running to win, and on Thursday called himself the Republican best equipped to take on Clinton, who he described as easily “the worst secretary of State in the history of our country.”
Clinton is leading the Democratic race, and Trump is leading several polls on the GOP side.
Trump has put border security and immigration at the center of his campaign, and the trip to the Texas border was designed to highlight it.
“There is a huge problem of the illegals coming through. In this section it’s a problem. In some sections, it’s a massive problem,” Trump said, suggesting a wall on the border was essential “in certain sections.”
He declined to answer what to do with the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the U.S.
“I’m the one that brought up the problem of illegal immigration,” Trump said, referring to it as an issue he would “get straightened out.”