Republicans to adopt loyalty pledge for debate participants
NEW YORK >> Republican presidential candidates will be blocked from the debate stage this summer if they do not sign a pledge to support the GOP’s ultimate presidential nominee, according to draft language set to be adopted when the Republican National Committee meets next week.
The proposal sets up a potential clash with former President Donald Trump, who has raised the possibility of leaving the Republican Party and launching an independent candidacy if he does not win the GOP nomination outright. While RNC officials and Trump aides downplay that possibility, such a move could destroy the GOP’s White House aspirations in 2024 and raise existential questions about the party’s future.
“After the primary, it is imperative to the health and growth of our Republican Party, as well as the country, that we all come together and unite behind our nominee to defeat Joe Biden and the Democrats,” RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel said in a statement to The Associated Press when asked about the loyalty pledge.
As many as a dozen Republicans are expected to enter the 2024 presidential contest as the GOP braces for an all-out civil war in the months ahead.
Much of the party is eager to move past Trump and his divisive politics, but in reality, Republican leaders have few, if any, tools to control the former president given his popularity with the GOP’s most passionate voters. RNC leaders
are hopeful that a loyalty pledge, while ultimately unenforceable, would generate some shared commitment to unity, albeit a fragile one, as the presidential primary season takes off.
A senior Trump aide could not say whether the former president would
sign the pledge to support the eventual nominee but suggested privately that he plans to participate in the debates. Campaign spokesman Steven Cheung declined to answer the question directly as well.
“President Trump is the undisputed leader of the
Republican Party and will be the nominee,” Cheung said. “There is nobody who can outmatch President Trump’s energy or the enthusiasm he receives from Americans of all backgrounds.”
Facing similar concerns in 2016, Trump signed a similar loyalty pledge that was not tied to debates, but he later reneged as the primary campaign became more contentious. At the very first Republican primary debate that year, Trump was the only candidate on stage who refused to commit to supporting the party’s eventual nominee unless it was him.
And just last December, Trump shared an article on social media encouraging him to seek a third-party bid to punish the GOP should Republican primary voters select another presidential nominee in 2024.