The much publicized GOP “pledge” for the presidential candidates to support the eventual nominee met its unofficial end Tuesday night.
During the CNN town hall ahead of the Wisconsin primary, GOP frontrunner Donald Trump said “no, I don’t anymore” when asked if he still backed the pledge to support the eventual nominee, should it not be himself.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Gov. John Kasich backed away from the pledge as well during the event.
“I’m not in the habit of supporting somebody who attacks my wife and attacks my family,” Cruz said when asked about the pledge. “I think that is going beyond the line.”
He added: “Listen, I think nominating Donald Trump would be an absolute trainwreck,.”
Kasich said he couldn’t stand behind the nominee if he thought they were “really hurting the country.”
And responding to Cruz’s answer, Trump said Tuesday that he didn’t even want Cruz’s support.
“I don’t want to have him be tormented,” Trump said. “Let me just tell you I don’t want his support. I don’t need his support.”
GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak, the founder of the Potomac Strategy Group, told Business Insider that Trump’s statement didn’t make any sense. Trump would naturally need Cruz’s supporters to have a chance in the general election.
“That stuff is bluster, that’s not logical,” he said.
The current state of affairs between the candidates is a far cry from the scene within Trump Tower in early September, when Trump signed a Republican National Committee pledge to support the GOP candidate no matter who it is.
“It is my great honour to pledge my total support and loyalty to the Republican Party and the conservative principles for which it stands,” Trump said at the September press conference announcing the pledge. “This is far and away the best way to secure victory against the Democrats in November 2016.”
He also added that he only floated running as a third-party candidate as “leverage.”
That threat was what led to the pledge, which was never binding. However, Trump did say at the time that he saw “no circumstances under which I would tear up that pledge.”
The fallout is also a far cry from the early-March GOP debate, in which each of the candidates emphatically announced that they’d support the eventual nominee.
Republican strategist Rick Wilson, a prominent Trump critic, said he knew all along that Trump would end up backing out of the pledge.
“Donald Trump is a guy for whom contract and promises are contingent upon his desires, not on a sense of honour,” he said. “The guy is someone who throughout his career has broken faith over and over again.”
He added that it’s “about time” the others backed out as well: “They should have recognised all along that Donald Trump would not honour it.”
At the time, Trump said he’d stick to the pledge so long as he was treated fairly by the party. Trump frequently invoked the pledge last year, hinting at various times about a third-party bid when he thought GOP elites were being unfair. But Wilson pointed out that “it’s not a pledge if it’s contingent.”
“If you’re in politics and you say you want to be treated fairly, that’s like saying, ‘I want a pony,'” he said. “Sometimes you get a pony but most of the time life isn’t full of ponies. Life is unfair,” he added.
Mackowiak said the recent back and forth between Trump and Cruz, in which Trump threatened to “spill the beans” on Cruz’s wife, has made it easier for Cruz to distance himself from the pledge. The strategist said the Trump attack gave Cruz “a lot more cover to make whatever decision he wants.”
“The more interesting element is Trump,” Mackowiak said. “The problem he faces right now is that he thinks he’s going to be the nominee. He’s likely to be the overall delegate leader going into Cleveland, but I think he’s going to not have the majority he needs.”
No matter who wins, the nominee would in all likelihood need the supporters of the other candidates in order to stand a chance in November. Mackowiak said that, should Trump lose on a second or third ballot after entering the convention with the most delegates, there would be “no way” he could see Trump telling his supporters to vote for the nominee.
“There will be lawsuits, he’ll say he was cheated, there will be huge protests at the convention, it will be ugly,” he said. “That to me is the bigger problem. It’s not about what they’re saying about the pledge now, it’s about how they put Humpty-Dumpty back together in Cleveland.”
He continued: “Can you imagine the picture at the convention of the three finalists with their hands raised unified No. You can’t.”
For its part, the RNC released a Wednesday statement denying the apparent abandonment of the pledge calling for party unity.
“The pledge is simple, each candidate agreed to run as a Republican and support the nominee,” it read. “We are confident that Republicans will unite to defeat Hillary Clinton”
On Thursday, Kasich directly said that Trump “is not prepared to be president” after the real-estate mogul made “inflammatory statements” about abortion rights, nuclear weapons, and the Supreme Court. Kasich said in part:
Donald Trump is not ready to be commander in chief. He talks loosely about the use of nuclear weapons and of dismantling NATO. America is facing major challenges at home and abroad and cannot afford to elect a president who does not respect the seriousness of the office.
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