As the GOP primary gets nastier and nastier, the remaining contenders for the Republican presidential nomination have dropped the pretense that they would all rally around whichever one of them prevails, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz floated a claim that Ohio Gov. John Kasich won’t even be eligible for the nomination at the convention in Cleveland in July.
All three of the GOP contenders appeared on CNN Tuesday night in a town hall format hosted by CNN’s Anderson Cooper. In between questions about Donald Trump’s campaign manager facing battery charges in Florida and allegations that Cruz has had multiple extra-marital affairs, each of the candidates was asked if they would honor a pledge signed last summer. In it, each promised not to run as a third-party candidate if they do not win the nomination and to support the eventual nominee, whoever that turned out to be.
Asked if he still stood by the pledge, Trump said simply, “No, I don’t anymore.” He claimed that he has been treated “very unfairly” by the Republican establishment, and that he no longer felt bound by his promise.
Cruz, referring to several tweets by Trump attacking his wife, made it clear that if Trump were the nominee, he would not support him. He is not, he said, “in the habit of supporting someone who attacks my wife and my family.”
Kasich, in turn, backed away from supporting Trump if he were nominee, though he did not actually use the billionaire’s name. The Ohio governor said that he would have to reconsider his pledge because, “If the nominee is somebody who's hurting the country and dividing the country, I can't stand behind him.”
The death of the loyalty pledge may have been a long time coming, but it had been on life support for weeks. Trump flirted with abandoning it in his public remarks, and other candidates were repeatedly asked to justify a promise to support a candidate who, they repeatedly claimed, was unfit to hold the office of president.
Another sign that even the veneer of comity left among the candidates is peeling away was Cruz’s contention yesterday that under the rules governing the GOP convention, John Kasich would not even be eligible to have his name placed in nomination on the floor.
Cruz was referring to Rule 40(b), adopted as part of the package of rules for the convention by delegates in 2012. It requires that “Each candidate for nomination for President of the United States and Vice President of the United States shall demonstrate the support of a majority of the delegates from each of eight (8) or more states, severally, prior to the presentation of the name of that candidate for nomination.”
Cruz is correct that, under the rule, Kasich would not be eligible for the nomination in Cleveland. (At the moment, neither would Cruz, but he appears likely to meet the 8-state threshold before the campaign is over.)
However, Rule 40 isn’t some long-established piece of Republican doctrine that the party is bound to honor. It was unique to the rules governing the 2012 convention. Supporters of Mitt Romney, who had already been guaranteed the nomination, wanted to prevent delegates supporting Texas Rep. Ron Paul from complicating the convention by placing his name on the ballot.
At the moment, there are no rules for the 2016 GOP convention, because the rules committee has not proposed any. The delegates have not even all been elected yet. That’s not to say that Rule 40 won’t get re-adopted – it very well might. But there is no obvious reason why it should carry over into 2016 other than a naked attempt to block Kasich from being nominated in a contested convention.
Judging by the last few days, of course, naked political opportunism looks to be what we can expect from the GOP field for the rest of the primary season.