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RNC Chair Threatens to Penalize Former Candidates Refusing to Back Trump

On CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus threatened that the Republican Party would not go "easy on" 2016 presidential candidates who refuse to back Donald Trump.

"Those people need to get on board," Priebus said, bringing up the issue almost unprovoked. "If they're thinking they're going to run again someday, I think that we're going to evaluate the process of the nomination process, and I don't think it's going to be that easy on them."

When the RNC chair insisted that "it's not a threat," he might as well have added that "it's a promise."

He phrased the question simply, and in a way that captures the conundrum in which he finds himself: "If a private entity puts forward a process, and has agreement with the participants in that process, and those participants don't follow through with the promises that they made in that process, what should a private party do about that if those same people come around in four, eight years?"

That is indeed an excellent question. While Priebus only referred to Ohio Governor John Kasich specifically in the interview, the situation may arguably also apply to Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who famously refused to explicitly endorse Trump at the Republican National Convention in July. There is a caveat however: both former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Iowa Representative Steve King argued that Cruz effectively endorsed Trump in his remarks, and predicted that he would be involved in electing the Republican in November.

Another caveat comes when considering the context of the then-candidates' pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee. While Cruz spoke of the pledge, he joined Kasich and Trump in appearing to back away from the pledge in a March 30 debate. Arguably, the fact that Trump was part of this mutual rejection of the pledge freed both Cruz and Kasich from it. Trump's attacks on Cruz's family certainly compound the case for Cruz's independence from the pledge.

Despite this potential exoneration, Trump has threatened to target Cruz and Kasich in future Republican primaries. Indeed, it is not out of the question that Priebus launched these threats on Trump's instigation, especially since there is an excellent argument that both Cruz and Kasich should be released from their pledge (by Trump himself, no less).

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush did not take part in the March 30 debate, however, and he did pledge to support the eventual nominee. He has not yet done so, and this arguably means he has violated his word. Trump has not targeted him, for some inexplicable reason.

Next Page: A Kasich operative responds to Priebus' threat.