Yesterday Allahpundit covered the breaking news out of South Carolina, where “presidential candidates” are required to sign off on a party loyalty pledge in order to appear on the ballot there. It’s worth putting the term presidential candidates in scare quotes as this story moves to other states because there’s really only one candidate they have in mind. South Carolina has the salable excuse that they were already doing it anyway (not that anyone paid much attention before this) but now that the trend may be moving to Virginia and beyond, they can probably expect some pushback. (Washington Post)
The Virginia Republican Party is considering requiring a loyalty oath from presidential primary contenders — a move widely considered an early sign of GOP skittishness about Donald Trump’s campaign.
State party officials are debating whether to require candidates to pledge their support to the eventual nominee and promise not to run as a third-party candidate — as Trump has hinted he might do.
The development could be an early sign of trouble for Trump, particularly if other state parties consider similar ideas. But it also is being debated cautiously by Republicans who worry that it could backfire and breed resentment among activists who are suspicious of attempts by the GOP establishment to control the party.
The Virginia Republican chair, John Whitbeck, is out on the front lines telling the assembled masses that of course this isn’t about Trump. It’s just a new rule which will apply to everyone. Perish the thought that we would try to game the system!
When AP discussed this previously he hit several of the key points where we pretty much agree. First of all, signing a pledge doesn’t exactly do anything to change the outcome. Anyone signing such a document would only be asked to do so if they were seriously in contention for the party’s nomination in that state. If they go on to win the nomination they’re obviously not going to make a third party run. But if they don’t snag the nomination, by the time that becomes evident they aren’t going to care much about the support of the party who rejected them anyway. I suppose the case can be made that their opponents can point to the pledge and tag them as an oath breaker, but let’s remember… we’re talking about politicians here.
As to this “not being about trump” and the expected backlash mentioned in the article above, that’s a rather laughable conversation to have. Obviously it’s about Trump. But the state parties might do well to worry a bit less about The Donald and a bit more about the broader concern being expressed. They’re talking about a plan to go after not just one of the candidates, but the front runner. If they use the influence of the establishment to knock him off the ballot there may be trouble down the line. In certain tabletop RPGs such as Dungeons and Dragons there is a word for when the game master bends the rules to drive the players in the direction he wants them to go. It’s called railroading. Players don’t tend to like it and I doubt the grassroots will care much for it in this application either.
The final point I wanted to bring up is the question AP addressed about cases where there are not only party rules and pledges, but actual laws in place. He was referring to Ken Cuccinelli’s comments to Politico about those “sore loser” laws that some states have. On an admittedly brief check, I wasn’t able to find a case where these have been challenged in the courts. Would they survive if they were? I’m only arguing from the cheap seats here, but it sounds rather dubious. The parties clearly have the right to establish their own rules about how the primaries are handled… that’s been well established. But when you start putting laws on the books about who can or can’t run for public office based on nothing more than whether or not they attempted to get in with one of the parties, that sounds like you’re venturing into some risky waters.
As Allahpundit pointed out, a poorly financed candidate might not have many options, but if you have the time, the money and the lawyers to challenge something like that you might wind up prevailing. Sound like anyone we know?