Reince Priebus: There might be penalties in 2020 for presidential candidates who don't back Trump this year

Whatever. This guy and his inner circle haven’t showed an inch of spine all year in resisting Trump. Now suddenly he’s found his balls and wants to pick a fight with the majority of Republicans who didn’t support Trump in the primary by penalizing some of their preferred candidates down the road? Sketch me a scenario in which that plausibly happens. If Trump beats Clinton in November, the 2020 primaries are effectively canceled. If Trump loses, nationalists and conservatives will spend months brawling with each other next year over whose fault that was. The RNC will watch that play out in terror that the longer the hard feelings persist, the greater the chance that one side or the other will sit out the 2018 midterms in disgust, ruining the GOP’s prospects for a wave election. He and the rest of the leadership will be in reconciliation mode five minutes after the race is called on November 8th. There’s no way they’re going to voluntarily re-open old wounds three years from now by punishing John Kasich or Ted Cruz for not endorsing Trump, especially if Trump fades down the stretch against Hillary and a consensus forms among Republicans that nominating him was a mistake. Besides, Cruz would like nothing more in 2020 than to be able to say he’s the RNC’s public enemy number one and that they’re trying to wreck his campaign. If you liked Trump’s version of “the system is rigged,” wait until you see Cruz’s.

There needs to be some penalty for breaking a signed pledge to back the party’s choice, Reince insists. There does? Trump broke the pledge and he hasn’t paid a penalty, right? If your memory needs some freshening on that, watch the second clip below. To the extent that there’s a penalty, though, Ted Cruz is paying it right now. His biggest donors are mad at him for his RNC speech and his favorable rating has tanked among Republicans nationally. He’s now less popular in Texas than his colleague John Cornyn, who has declined to endorse Cruz for reelection. There are already whispers of recruiting a serious primary challenger for him in 2018, and Trump himself has vowed (credibly or not) to spend big bucks on a Super PAC to wreck Cruz’s career. That’s the price of withholding your endorsement from the party’s presidential nominee. If Trump loses this fall and Cruz runs again for president in 2020, he’ll pay an additional price when some Trump fans inevitably decide they’ll never reward him for his disloyalty with their vote, even if he’s the most populist candidate in the field. And just as inevitably, if Cruz wins the nomination anyway, some establishment Republicans who loathe him and don’t want to support him will cite his own refusal to endorse Trump if he dares to complain about them staying home in November that year. Put all of that together and you’ve got your penalty, created and enforced by the Republican electorate. You would think a conservative like Reince would rather like the idea of letting the political market discipline Cruz and Kasich. But maybe, now that he’s a top lackey in Trump’s National Front, he’s given up on conservatism too.

The key bit runs from 1:14 to 3:20. By the way, since Reince (among other people) seems to have forgotten, the reason the pledge was a big deal in the primaries this year is because one of the candidates is a former Democrat and longtime Clinton chum who remains to this day unrecognizable as a conservative. That same candidate threatened repeatedly last year that he might bolt the party if he didn’t win the nomination and take his loyal supporters with him, guaranteeing a split vote on the right and a Clinton victory this fall. That is to say, the pledge wasn’t an issue in past elections because there wasn’t reason to doubt in past elections that the Republican nominee really is a loyal Republican. It was designed this year as a shield against Trump — and now here’s Reince using it as a sword against lifelong Republicans Cruz and Kasich. That’s the state of the GOP in one line.

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