As high-profile Republicans continue to resist Donald Trump, the head of the Republican National Committee (RNC) suggested on Sunday the party may take punitive action against failed presidential candidates who have reneged on pledges to support the nominee.
“It’s not a threat, but that’s just the question that we have a process in place,” Reince Priebus told CBS’s Face the Nation. “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 or eight years?”
Priebus has tried for months to persuade rebellious factions of the party into line behind Trump, who among others has alienated the 2012 nominee, two former presidents and a handful of outspoken senators. Three of Trump’s primary rivals have rejected him, explicitly or implicitly, despite signing pledges to support the nominee.
Trump himself loudly withdrew and recommitted to the pledge before he secured the nomination.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush declared in May that he would not vote for Trump, who he said “has not displayed a respect for the constitution” and “has not demonstrated that temperament or strength of character” needed for the presidency.
Texas senator Ted Cruz pointedly refused to endorse Trump at the Republican national convention in July, an event meant to unify the party and crown the businessman as its leader. The non-endorsement from Trump’s most significant primary rival reportedly enraged party leaders. Cruz has since quietly returned to pushing far-right policies in the Senate.
While Cruz drew boos in Cleveland, Ohio governor John Kasich refused to attend the convention altogether, even though it was held in his state. Like Cruz, Kasich has not explicitly condemned Trump, but in an interview with NBC this weekend he said it was “very, very likely I will not” vote for the Republican nominee.
Kasich has also bucked party calls to march behind Trump’s proposals of mass deportation of undocumented migrants and isolationist trade deals. Last week he met Democrats in Washington to argue for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which is supported by Barack Obama. He has also called for Trump to apologize to Obama for years of spreading the lie that the president was not born in the US.
Neither Cruz nor Kasich have discounted new campaigns for the White House in 2020, and Priebus warned that they may face consequences for their current intransigence, hinting that should they fail to support Trump, the RNC may withhold its trove of voter data, which campaigns rely on to compete in primaries, or restrict ballot access in some states.
“I think that people who gave us their word, used information from the RNC, should be on board,” Priebus said. “I mean, there’s a ballot access issue in South Carolina. In order to be on the ballot in South Carolina, you actually have to pledge your support to the nominee, no matter who that person is. So what’s the penalty for that?
“We’re a private party. We’re not a public entity. Those people need to get on board. And if they’re thinking they’re going to run again someday, I think that we’re going to evaluate … the nomination process and I don’t think it’s going to be that easy for them.”
Disaffected Republicans have been courted by the Libertarian party, which is led by two former Republican governors, Gary Johnson and running mate Bill Weld. On Sunday, Johnson was asked about reports of pressure on the third-party candidates to drop out, for fear that the Libertarians could allow a Trump presidency by siphoning votes away from Hillary Clinton.
Johnson refused to concede, and wished active ill on his old party.
“This is a party that needs to be ruined,” he told CNN’s Reliable Sources. “They have done this to themselves. They have become so polarized. Their only agenda is to kill each other.”
He said a “third scenario in lieu of Trump and Clinton” would be “the best opportunity” for the country, though his low poll numbers have already excluded him from the first presidential debate.
Johnson currently polls at about 8.3% in three-party poll averages of the general election, below the 15% threshold for the debates.
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