NEW YORK—Presidential candidate Donald Trump ruled out the prospect of a third-party White House bid and vowed to support whoever wins the party’s nomination—a U-turn made easier by his position at the front of the field.
The decision on Thursday follows weeks of behind-the-scenes efforts by Republican leaders, who’ve been trying to avert the possibility of an independent campaign by Trump ever since last month’s opening debate, when he refused to promise to back the party’s eventual nominee.
A third-party bid by Trump, or any prominent conservative, could doom Republican efforts in 2016 by splitting the Republican vote. “I will be totally pledging my allegiance to the Republican Party and the conservative principles for which it stands,” Trump said in a news conference at Trump Tower, the gold-hued skyscraper in midtown Manhattan where he launched his surging campaign for president.
To the dismay of Republican leaders, Trump—still considered a longshot candidate—has emerged as the overwhelming front-runner in the party’s crowded field of candidates, despite repeatedly insulting key constituencies and offering few details about his policies. The billionaire businessman and reality television star has described Mexican immigrants as rapists, questioned Sen. John McCain’s war hero status and insulted a popular TV news host.
The 69-year-old billionaire, who announced his decision after meeting with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, insisted he got “absolutely nothing” for pledging his loyalty “other than the assurance that I’ll be treated fairly.” In a statement on Thursday night, Priebus didn’t mention Trump by name but declared his pride in having all major Republican candidates pledging to support the eventual nominee and then took a swipe at the Democratic front-runner.
“We have the largest, most diverse field in the history of either party,” he said. “Any candidate would be a better president than Hillary Clinton and offer the new direction Americans want.”
The document Trump signed on Thursday is a pledge, not a contract. Even if it were legally binding, Trump’s history in contract law is suspect. When lender Boston Safe Deposit and Trust refused to extend the mortgage on his Palm Beach resort, Mar-a-Lago, he ceased making loan payments until the bank capitulated in 1992. In his book, The Art of the Comeback, Trump proudly recounts forcing his unpaid lenders to choose between fighting him in bankruptcy court or cutting him an additional $65 million check.
Afraid of losing their jobs, the bankers folded, Trump says. On Thursday, Trump insisted he would make good on his commitment to Republicans. “I see no circumstances under which I would tear up that pledge,” he said.
If not for Trump, the need for a loyalty oath probably wouldn’t exist. There were no doubts about the intentions of the party’s other major presidential contenders headed into last month’s debate, and they quickly lined up on Thursday to sign the document issued a day earlier by the Republican National Committee. Doug Watts, a spokesman for retired surgeon Ben Carson, another Republican candidate, said the committee “felt it had to box Trump into a decision.”
“We just sort of shrugged our shoulders, and that’s the end of that,” Watts said.
Despite Trump’s reversal, he succeeded yet again on Thursday in what he has done consistently throughout the race: make the story about him. Even tea party leaders, who’ve been skeptical of the one-time Democrat, commended him on his political skill.
Image credits: AP/Richard Drew