Some GOP Presidential Candidates Worry About Pledge to Back a 'Potential Felon' in Order to Participate in Debates

(AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

The Republican National Committee will require GOP presidential candidates to sign a “loyalty pledge” to support the eventual winner of the primaries, and at least one candidate is looking for an “out.”


Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchison (yes, he’s an announced candidate) complained to the RNC that he didn’t want to support a “convicted felon” for president. The RNC said that’s fine. The door is right over here.

“I’m not going to vote for him if he’s a convicted felon,” Hutchinson said in the interview. “‘I’m not going to vote for him if he’s convicted of espionage, and I’m not going to vote for him if he’s (convicted of) other serious crimes. And I’m not going to support him.”

“They need to put a little rationality to what is said in that oath or that pledge,” Hutchinson continued, referring to the RNC.

As a practical matter, the RNC is correct in forcing other candidates to sign a pledge to support whoever the eventual nominee might be if they want to participate in the debates. But Hutchison likely isn’t the only candidate who would hesitate to sign a pledge that could end up binding his loyalty to Donald Trump


The committee recently released its requirements to participate in its first sanctioned debate — scheduled for Aug. 23 in Milwaukee on Fox News Channel. Alongside usual criteria about minimum polling and donor thresholds, it included signing a pledge “to support the eventual party nominee,” though the RNC has not yet shared the precise language of that oath.

POLITICO reached out to the other declared candidates, but none said they wanted the RNC to amend the loyalty pledge. A spokesperson for former Vice President Mike Pence’s team did not immediately dismiss Hutchinson’s proposal, but said: “We want President Trump on the debate stage, because we think this would be a good contrast for us.”

A spokesperson for Chris Christie’s campaign, meanwhile, said the former New Jersey governor has been “pretty clear on his thoughts around the pledge and any future support for Trump — conviction or not.”


Christie said that under no circumstances would he support Donald Trump for president. Last week, he said would only take the pledge “as seriously as Donald Trump did eight years ago.” Trump signed the pledge but claimed he wouldn’t necessarily commit to supporting another candidate as a nominee.

“Politically, I don’t think there’s any reason to distance themselves in any way,” said Saul Anuzis, the former Michigan state GOP chair and a past candidate for RNC chair, referring to the RNC fundraising off the Trump cases.

“If any other candidate were being attacked, I think they would probably do the same thing,” he added. “It might not be as effective, but I think it’s a legitimate issue.”

Christie’s hollow pledge to support the nominee echos Trump’s refusal to promise he would support someone else for president made earlier this year. With almost every other Republican candidate agreeing to sign the pledge — probably with the same level of  intent as Christie and Trump — Hutchison appears to be trying to generate some buzz in a buzz-free campaign.




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