Everyone remembers back in August when the Trump phenomenon was still fresh and new and the GOP Establishment had not yet befouled its drawers at the looming reality of Trump actually winning primaries, right? The fear was that Trump was using the GOP primaries as a way of building a following and then, when his efforts flagged, he would use his resources to mount a third party run, a la Ross Perot in 1992. Then the vogue among state GOP party establishments were loyalty oaths, that is, demanding that candidates… read that as Donald Trump… pledge to support the eventual nominee
The South Carolina GOP has one, and Republicans in Virginia and North Carolina are thinking of adopting the idea as well: a loyalty pledge for presidential candidates requiring them to support the party’s eventual nominee and not run as a third-party candidate.
The obvious target is Donald Trump, who has declined to make such a promise. Mr. Trump commands the biggest chunk of the GOP electorate – about 25 percent in the latest polls. But his negatives are high, and he faces an uphill climb to the nomination. If Trump gives up on running as a Republican, he could take his personal fortune and go independent, likely handing the election to the Democrat.
Other leading candidates promptly signed:
Four candidates — Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson — have already filed the form and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham are filing this week, Moore said in a statement Tuesday.
Ultimately, Trump signed the pledge and had this to say:
Donald Trump said Thursday he has signed a pledge promising to back the Republican presidential nominee if it is not him, an action that presumably rules out a potential third-party bid.
“I have no intention of changing my mind,” Trump said during a news conference in the lobby of his corporate tower in New York City. “I see no circumstances under which I would tear up that pledge.”
One of many failed taunts of Trump by Bush followed:
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) September 3, 2015
Yesterday, Jeb Bush was on Hugh Hewitt’s show, which is always the establishment’s favorite ambassador to conservatives, and he was asked point blank if he would support Donald Trump should he become the nominee.
HUGH HEWITT: I want to come back to the ’94 deal in just a moment, but to be clear, if Donald Trump is the nominee, will Jeb Bush support him and campaign for him?
JEB BUSH: Donald Trump will not be the nominee, because of the reasons we’re discussing right now. I think there will be, particularly here, I’m in New Hampshire today, as people begin to realize the responsibilities they have as first in the nation primary voters, that they will take into consideration that we’re nominating a candidate to beat Hillary Clinton, which I don’t think he can do, and we’re nominating someone who could be president, which requires leadership skills and understanding of how the world works.
HH: But if he were, and I asked this question, I have to ask it twice of everyone.
HH: If he were, would you support him?
JB: Donald Trump’s not going to be the nominee. So you asked me twice, and I answered you twice.
HH: Okay, I’ll try three times. Just go with me, because he’s ahead in New Hampshire, he’s ahead everywhere. Would Jeb Bush do the loyal Republican thing and support the nominee?
JB: I have been a loyal Republican my entire adult life. I have supported and voted for every Republican candidate since Richard Nixon. That should give you some indication of my loyalty to the conservative cause.
HH: So is that a yes, Governor?
JB: That’s not a yes, it’s not a no. I’m just telling you, I don’t think it matters. I have been a loyal Republican, and is past is prologue, then I’m confident I’ll be supporting the Republican nominee.
HH: But if Donald Trump hears that, and I’ve got to break and then I’ll come back and talk about it after the break, he might say the same thing, which would send shudders down the spine of the Republican Party, right?
JB: I’m just telling you what I believe. I believe that we need to have a candidate that can beat Hillary Clinton, and that candidate cannot be a candidate that tries to insult their way to the presidency. Perhaps Mr. Trump will change his path, start taking lessons on how things work. It’s possible, I don’t know. But I’m organizing myself to become the nominee to beat Hillary Clinton. That’s all I can tell you.
What you are witnessing there is not a politician being cute. You are watching the abrogation of the loyalty oath Bush signed back when he thought he was making Trump agree to support Bush’s own inevitable nomination. After denigrating Trump’s chances and shamelessly fluffing his own, the only acceptable answer and to include words to the effect of “if Trump is the nominee I will support him.” Which is what the South Carolina loyalty oath says.
This is what the GOP establishment does. When it sees it can’t win, it takes its marbles and leaves. But it is never content with just walking off in a pout. If they lose, they have to actively sabotage the person who won the nomination. The McDaniel-Cochran fight in Mississippi was only the highly visible tip of the way the GOP establishment has operated for decades.
The South Carolina GOP must demand that Jeb Bush make an unequivocal vow to support the GOP nominee no matter who that person is. If he won’t do that and do it publicly he needs to be taken off the SC primary ballot.