Trump: By stacking the debate audience against me, the RNC is in default of its pledge

Three months ago this would have sounded like a threat to go third-party. As it is, with Trump poised to win on Saturday in South Carolina and then potentially to clean up in the SEC primary, this is just a likely nominee polishing his anti-establishment brand.

Everyone knows by now, I hope, that “sore loser” laws would greatly complicate an independent bid by Trump at this point by barring him from running in the fall as a third-party candidate in states where he’s already registered to appear on the primary ballot as a Republican. But even if you could work around that, the logistical challenge is formidable. Here’s what Mike Bloomberg is looking at as he mulls an independent bid of his own. If you’re willing to throw a billion dollars at the problem, anything is possible. If you’re not — and Trump has prided himself on spending less than the other candidates in the primary — you’ve got trouble.

Qualifying as an independent candidate in all 50 states is an arcane, expensive and time-consuming process. Texas is the first state that requires a candidate to submit an application for independent status on the presidential ballot. Here, for example, are the parameters for the Lone Star State:

–A general election candidate must submit 80,000 valid signatures of independent voters who did not participate in Texas’ March 1 presidential primary.

–That candidate cannot begin collecting those signatures until March 2.

–The signatures, filing fees and the name and written assent of the running mate must be submitted by May 9—months before the Republicans and Democrats have to do the same thing.

–The names of 38 qualified presidential electors must be submitted by May 9 as well.

That’s why Bloomberg has set himself a deadline of late February to decide on whether to pull the trigger. There simply won’t be time after that to qualify in all 50 states, even for someone with limitless financial resources. Frankly, if you like the idea of Trump jumping ship and trying to smash the establishment as an independent, you should have been rooting for him to finish second in New Hampshire as that would have convinced him that he has no path to the Republican nomination. As it is, he has zero reason to quit the GOP before the south starts voting over the next few weeks and zero reason to quit it afterwards given the third-party deadlines that’ll start passing next month. In fact, I’d argue that even if it were somehow known with absolute certainty today that Trump won’t be the GOP nominee, he still has more incentive to go on running as a Republican than to jump ship. He’ll end up with enough delegates to guarantee himself a major role at the convention, and possibly to play kingmaker if no candidate gets an absolute majority. As an indie, he’d get a podium at the presidential debates in the fall but without a real chance at 270 electoral votes, meaning that his political legacy realistically would simply be as a Perot-esque spoiler for the GOP in the general election. If he wants to cement a place for Trumpism at the table inside the GOP, he’s better off sticking around. Although that assumes that he cares more about the fate of Trumpism than about maximizing his own chances at the presidency. If those two diverged (and I don’t think they will), which would he prioritize above the other?

Oh, he also dropped a new insult on Cruz today:

“I think he’s an unstable person,” Trump said of Cruz.

Trump called Cruz a “bad liar” who stole the Iowa caucus when the senator’s volunteers spread rumors about GOP candidate Ben Carson leaving the race. Cruz won while Trump finished second.

Trump said the Iowa Republican party should disqualify Cruz’s win “if they had any guts.”

Cruz’s contradictions — touting his religious background while misstating other candidates’ records — is the reason why he is not leading among evangelical Christian voters, Trump said.

That’s an … interesting critique from a guy who’s been criticized relentlessly for his own erratic temperament, aimed at another guy who’s frequently criticized for being, if anything, a little too stable. The rap on Cruz is that he’s an ice-cold hyper-calculating politician whose every move is determined by whatever’s best for his own political self-interest. If that means launching a defunding war over ObamaCare with no chance of success, even at the price of a government shutdown, then that’s what it means. I don’t know why Trump, the anti-politician, thinks it makes more sense to attack Cruz for supposedly being some sort of loose cannon (remember, he called him a “maniac” two months ago for his Senate obstructionism) than for being the epitome of a self-serving Washington insider who worries about his own ambitions before the country’s. Maybe it’s as simple as Trump essentially saying, “I know you are but what am I?” Bad messaging, though.