As candidates prepare for the upcoming GOP presidential debate on August 23, the Republican National Committee wants to stand by a rule about loyalty pledges that it first surfaced in February.
RNC Chairperson Ronna McDaniel said to CNN's Dana Bash on "State of the Union":
If you're going to be on the Republican National Committee debate stage asking voters to support you, you should say, I'm going to support the voters and who they choose as the nominee ... We're saying you're not going to get on the debate stage unless you make this pledge.
At the time, only three candidates were vying for the nomination.
Today the field is much broader, with seven candidates meeting the party's polling criteria for debate appearance: Former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former Vice President Mike Pence, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Also, something unprecedented has occurred in the last six months. Donald Trump has been criminally indicted three times, with a fourth indictment from Georgia prosecutors imminent. Yet Trump has such a comfortable lead in the polls that he beats his nearest opponent by nearly 40 points.
Pence and Christie are making the most of Trump's legal troubles by taking the high road on the Constitution and the events of January 6, hinting that Trump's actions bordered on insurrection. But even Jack Smith, the Special Counsel, did not charge Trump with insurrection, the term the hyper-partisan J6 committee used 78 times in its report. Legal analysts believe that the four criminal indictments recently brought by Smith are not legally tight and could well lose in an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Even DeSantis has pivoted to the Never Trumper line that President Biden decidedly won the 2020 election when multiple polls show that most GOP voters believe otherwise. In a recent CNN poll, 69% of Republicans believed that Biden's 2020 win was illegitimate.
It is nonsense to force former President Trump to endorse Pence, Christie, or DeSantis when the divisions among them are so deep and centered on character. Likewise, after the public statements that Pence or Christie, or DeSantis have made about Trump, it is unfair to force them to embrace Trump as the nominee should he win. Unity by force or for political expediency only reinforces the idea among rank-and-file GOP voters that politicians are corrupt.
Political campaigns are all about differences, but unlike any other election in recent memory, the 2024 race has become a test of character. Former President Trump collectively faces 670+ years in prison if convicted on all counts. Meanwhile, Biden faces his own legal peril, first in the classified documents case, which appears dormant under a different partisan Special Counsel, and second, in the Hunter Biden scandal that increasingly points to allegedly corrupt transactions, some of which might even trap the president. We are talking impeachment-grade charges here. The Attorney General Merrick Garland hastily announced the appointment of David Weiss as Special Prosecutor to placate impeachment talk, but given that Weiss blessed such a sweetheart deal just a few weeks ago to scuttle all charges against Hunter only to be rebuked by a federal district court will only sharpen criticism that Garland continues to protect the Bidens while mercilessly pursuing Trump.
It is also unclear what the RNC means when it says losers should pledge to "support" the eventual nominee. Should they send out recorded messages for the winner? Campaign on the trail? Help raise funds? Get involved in voter registration drives? How would voters feel about Christie actively campaigning for Trump after the nasty things he has said about him for four long years on ABC? Finally, how would the RNC enforce these pledges? Publicly shame the candidates and drive their supporters away from the voting booth when every vote counts?
The idea that Pence voters will require Pence's persuasion and advocacy to vote for Trump in the general election is absurd. Elections are about choices, and should President Biden be the Democratic nominee, do Pence supporters want to cast their ballots for Biden as opposed to Trump merely on character and not on policy?
A recent Pence ad shows his dilemma of separating policy positions from politics. As he fills gas into a truck (without first choosing the grade or seeming to press the handle), Pence talks about how he helped keep gas prices in the $2 range. "And then Joe Biden became President of the United States and launched his war on energy," he continues. "Since that time, gasoline prices are up 60 percent." Do Pence voters give Pence credit for America becoming a net energy exporter in 2019 or Trump?
Debates during the primary season have become dull, choreographed TV shows where candidates rehearse every word and deliver their practiced sentences to get favorable media coverage. With everyone playing defense, excitement levels are muted. The only attraction comes when someone goes on offense to take another candidate down.
GOP voters remember well what happened in February 2016 in New Hampshire. As the New York Times reported, Chris Christie brought down Sen. Marco Rubio by instructing the audience to watch for Rubio's canned lines and then interrupting them with a searingly memorable quip from which the senator never recovered: "There it is everybody," Mr. Christie said. "The 25-second memorized speech." Unbelievably, Rubio repeated those canned lines even after the snub. His candidacy ended that night.
The issue for five GOP contenders on the debate stage (and others who are not) is that all agree that the Biden administration has been a disaster, but the Trump years were outstanding for the country. Except for Trump.
With so much animosity going around, forced-loyalty pledges are delusional.
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