Back in July, before it became apparent that Donald Trump poses a serious threat to the GOP, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus tried a simple strategy: just asking the bombastic businessman to “tone it down” and refrain from insulting any key voting blocs. That plan quickly backfired, with Trump claiming that Priebus actually called him to say he’s “hit a nerve” and is “doing well,” then going on to turn this into the Summer of Trump.
With the other candidates — particularly Jeb Bush — struggling to draw attention from Trump or even defend themselves from his constant insults, now the RNC is staging its most aggressive challenge to the Trump campaign. Taking a cue from state Republican parties in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, on Wednesday the RNC asked every GOP candidates to sign a statement promising not to run as a third-party candidate.
“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,” the document reads. “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.”
Many recent polls show Trump leading the GOP field by a wide margin, and if he fails to win the nomination and launches a third-party bid, the Republicans would have little chance of retaking the White House in 2016. While Trump famously refused to rule out running as an independent at the start of the Fox News GOP debate, he’s signaled that he may be willing to make such a pledge. The South Carolina Republican Party said it will only put presidential candidates on the primary ballot if they say they “generally believe in and intend to support the nominees and platform of the Republican Party in the November 8, 2016 general election.” Candidates have until September 30 to sign the state’s loyalty oath, and while Trump has not committed, last weekend he said, “I think a lot of people are going to be very happy.”
There are also signs that Trump has agreed to sign the RNC’s pledge. A Trump campaign spokesperson told the Washington Post that Trump and Priebus will meet on Thursday in New York, and the candidate has scheduled a 2 p.m. press conference. There’s little doubt that the other 16 candidates will take the oath. “If someone is going to go to the party and ask for their support, if they’re going to ask the rank and file for their vote, that comes with an obligation for loyalty, in my mind,” said Jim Gilmore. “Generally speaking, if you want the party’s support, that loyalty should be there.”
But even if Trump takes the loyalty oath, it’s unclear if he’ll adhere to it. He already violated his truce with Fox News with no apparent provocation, and as New York’s Jonathan Chait noted, “All Trump needs is some insult to his oceanic ego to declare any previous agreement null and void.” The New York Times reports that the oath is just “a party-produced document and is not legally binding.” So the RNC is hoping that Trump will hold true to his word, even if he’s furious about losing the nomination, or that droves of antiestablishment Trump supporters will be incensed when he decides to go rogue.