Donald Trump signed a loyalty pledge today, promising that he will not run as a third-party candidate for the presidency and that he will support the eventual Republican nominee if he doesn’t win the primary. This development has a number of interesting implications.
It may simply demonstrate that weeks of double-digit leads in national polls and primary state polls have convinced the real estate billionaire that he can actually win as a Republican and that he won’t need to resort to a disruptive run from outside the traditional two-party structure in order to make his mark on the 2016 presidential race.
It could also be a sign that Trump has concluded that a run within the GOP is his only ticket to the White House.
His big lead in the polls aside, The Donald has now had time to get a feel for just how much coordination and infrastructure a national campaign requires, and realize he currently doesn’t have it. A national campaign for president waged across all 50 states can’t be run on a shoestring, and despite his wealth, his promise to eschew campaign contributions from big donors who might “want something” from him, and his success so far, he will need both the money and the help that only a national party can provide.
Also, Trump can’t help but have noticed the polls that show many GOP voters actively dislike him. Asked if there is a candidate that they would “never” support for president, a large number – 29 percent in a recent Iowa poll – say they couldn’t back a Trump candidacy.
Showing that he is safely within the party fold could go some distance toward mollifying Republicans who are currently feeling very anti-Trump, though just how far into that number Trump will eventually be able to cut remains an open and important question.
The pledge that Trump signed is being circulated by the Republican National Committee and bears on the conduct of candidates after the primary should they not win the nomination. It reads, in part, “I will endorse the 2016 Republican presidential nominee regardless of who it is. I further pledge that I will not seek to run as an independent or write-in candidate nor will I seek or accept the nomination for president of any other party.”
The promise of support is something other candidates have already made. Even former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who has been attacked by Trump and is hitting back in return, has promised to support the billionaire if he is the eventual candidate.
Trump made his final intentions known at a 2 p.m. press conference, which took place after a meeting with RNC Chair Reince Priebus.
In an interview with a conservative radio host this morning, the real estate tycoon discussed signing the pledge.
“Look, my number one thing is to win, and the best way to win is as a Republican,” he said, according to The Washington Post. “The third party thing is a tough thing, it’s a tough route. And I believe that it can be done, but it’s a tougher route, it’s a riskier route. And certainly it would give Hillary, or whoever’s going to be running on the other side, a better shot, let’s face it. They would love it.”
Although Trump signed the pledge, it's important to note that it is not legally binding. In the past, Trump has inserted vague caveats into his promises, such as pledging not to run as an independent “if I am treated well” by the GOP. So Trump's pledge may be worth little to a nervous GOP field going forward.
Updated at 3 p.m.