Meaningless at best, a PR fiasco at worst.
The Republican National Committee on Wednesday privately reached out to GOP presidential campaigns to ask whether they’d be willing to sign a pledge stating they would not run as an independent candidate in the event they fail to win the Republican nomination in 2016.
“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 pledge 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.”
At least two campaigns reported they received a call from Katie Walsh, RNC chief of staff, asking if they would be willing to sign such a pledge.
Bill Kristol anticipates the grassroots critique:
Problem: Party seems like a closed group of insiders resistant to new faces and ideas.
Solution: A loyalty pledge. https://t.co/GC7u1pcMkK
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) September 2, 2015
Adding to the weirdness is the fact that some of the state parties had already started twisting Trump’s arm by demanding a loyalty pledge as a condition of appearing on the primary ballot. It seemed to have an effect too: At last check, Trump was reportedly mulling an announcement that he’s dropped the idea of running third-party and will embrace his (new) Republican identity. The RNC getting involved is going to elevate this to a test of wills with him, as if daring him to prove that he’ll bow to the GOP establishment’s demands when they call on him to do so. If I were Trump, I’d feel obliged now to refuse on principle, to show my populist fans that no one tells me what to do. I don’t know why the RNC would try to call his bluff this way unless this whole thing has actually been coordinated with his campaign, i.e. unless today’s news of the loyalty pledge is just priming the pump for the bigger news that Trump’s in the GOP race to stay. In that case, though, why would Trump need any help from the RNC to build anticipation? He’s a media master. He could have made a huge announcement splash without them.
And as I say, the pledge is meaningless. If Trump wants to defy it later, all he has to do is say that he’s not going to let a bunch of establishment punks who’ve been bought and sold by lobbyists stop him from offering voters a real choice next fall. He won’t lose a single vote for breaking his promise. In the meantime, Kristol has good advice for him: Trump should reply that his only loyalty is to the United States and that, while he hopes to support the eventual nominee, it’ll depend on what the nominee stands for. “I’m a patriot, not a partisan,” in Kristol’s words. Alternately, Trump could follow Drew McCoy’s plan and issue some demands of his own. E.g., “I’ll sign the loyalty pledge if the other nominees sign a pledge that they won’t agree to any comprehensive immigration reform plans once they’re in office.” The only reason Trump would acquiesce in all this without seeking concessions from the party, I think, is if he’s seen polling suggesting that his third-party flirtations are hurting him with voters. There’s circumstantial evidence that that’s true — he dropped a few points on average in polls after the debate, which began with him being asked if he’d run as an independent — but nothing conclusive. Without that, there’s nothing compelling him to be “loyal.”