The cable news networks are all breathlessly reporting that after a one-on-one meeting with Reince Priebus, Donald Trump has signed a pledge in which he promises to support the eventual Republican nominee, regardless of who it might be. I am sure that in the corridors of the RNC national headquarters, they are all slapping themselves on the back confident that eventually Trump will fade away and that they have averted a third party disaster.
In the first place, I don’t think they have accomplished any such thing. I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion anymore that Trump will ever fade away – the length of his stay at the top suggests an actual level of staying power rather than a momentary fling. But moreover, if Trump wants to run third party, he will run third party. This pledge will do nothing to stop him from doing so, or from throwing the election to Hillary if he does.
If Trump does decide to run third party, he will not be doing it to win. He will be doing it to make a point. And so, it ultimately won’t matter whether he is excluded from the ballot in states like Ohio, because all he has to do in our increasingly polarized society is cost the Republican nominee a couple states like Virginia and Colorado and Ohio won’t matter.
Second, to the extent that violating the pledge will be used as a political weapon against him, it will be a remarkably ineffective one. Trump’s hardest core of support will not care one iota that he has violated a promise to Reince Priebus. In fact, they will see it as a feature, rather than a bug.
So at the end of the day, Trump has given up essentially nothing in exchange for the right to stay on the stage for all the debates and on the ballot in states like South Carolina. Which, frankly, shows that the GOP isn’t any better at negotiating with Trump than they are with the Democrats in Congress.
Moreover, I’m not entirely in favor of the RNC attempting to hold him to this pledge. In the first place, it places them in a position of weakness, basically groveling at Trump’s feet, knowing that he holds the cards. They didn’t require this from Ron Paul even after he endorsed Cynthia McKinney (and other nutjobs) in 2008. The fact that Priebus personally flew to Trump’s home terrain with this worthless piece of paper in hand indicates who’s really in charge here.
But more importantly, I think it sets a bad precedent on the merits. The Republican party can no longer command the loyalty of candidates as a condition of participation in the process. They’ve lost the moral authority with voters with their fecklessness over the years. They will have even less if (as expected) the party’s caucuses in Congress capitulate on Planned Parenthood funding in a couple weeks. While I get the special danger that Trump presents, I don’t like the idea of Priebus demanding of someone like [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ] that they must support the nominee even if it turns out to be [mc_name name=’Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000355′ ].
Look, I get that the issue is still important to some people, and let them hash that out in the debates. If a candidate won’t promise to endorse the eventual nominee, let the voters determine how much that matters and adjust their preferences accordingly. Don’t send Reince Priebus in to Trump’s lair with a meaningless piece of paper to wave about. That’s not how it’s been done before and I don’t think it’s how it should be done going forward.