The Sentinel-Record

GOP to adopt loyalty pledge for debates

- STEVE PEOPLES AP National Political Writer

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.

Meanwhile, there is no such threat on the Democratic side.

Virtually every Democrat thought to have presidenti­al aspiration­s has already promised to unite behind President Joe Biden, assuming the 78-year-old Democrat follows through on his plan to seek a second term. Biden may face token resistance from a lower-profile intra-party rival — activist and author Marianne Williamson is exploring another White House bid, for example — but the Democratic president would face little pressure to appear on the debate stage before the fall of 2024 for the general election debates, should they occur.

The Republican loyalty pledge is among several provisions likely to be adopted as the RNC’s Temporary Standing Committee on Presidenti­al Debates meets next week to determine the rules governing which candidates may participat­e in the GOP’s upcoming debate season — and which media networks will host the events.

The committee is considerin­g between 10 and 12 debates to begin in late July at the Reagan Library in California or at the RNC’s summer meeting in Milwaukee, the host of the GOP’s next national convention.

Committee officials are sorting through proposals from as many as 18 media companies eager to host a debate. They include major television networks like CNN, MSNBC and Fox and lower-profile conservati­ve favorites like Newsmax, according to people directly involved in the process who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal discussion­s.

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