Caving to intense Republican lobbying, presidential candidate Donald Trump ruled out a third-party White House bid Thursday 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 follows weeks of behind-the-scenes efforts by GOP leaders, who have tried to head off 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 any prominent conservative could doom Republican efforts in 2016.
“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.
The 69-year-old billionaire, who announced his decision after meeting with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, insisted that he got “absolutely nothing” for pledging his loyalty “other than the assurance that I’ll be treated fairly.”
Priebus did not comment, but it was clearly a positive result for GOP leaders in what has been an unpredictable primary season.
To their dismay, Trump has emerged as the overwhelming front-runner in a crowded field despite repeatedly insulting key constituencies and offering few details about his policies. The former reality TV star has described Mexican immigrants as rapists, questioned Sen. John McCain’s war-hero status and insulted a popular Fox News host.
And his refusal to pledge to support the GOP nominee, if he falls short, further roiled the party.
The document signed by Trump 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 & 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 a check for an additional $65 million. Afraid of losing their jobs, the bankers folded, Trump recounted.
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 an oath probably wouldn’t exist. No one doubted the intentions of the GOP’s other major contenders, and they quickly lined up to sign the document.
Doug Watts, a spokesman for retired surgeon Ben Carson, another GOP 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.
‘All Donald, all the time’
Despite Trump’s reversal, he succeeded again Thursday in what he has done consistently throughout the race: Make the story about him. Even Tea Party leaders, who have been skeptical of the onetime Democrat, commended his political skill.
“Trump has once again outmaneuvered the GOP, his fellow candidates and the media,” said Mark Meckler, a co-founder of the Tea Party movement. “The news is all Donald, all the time.”
The document asks candidates to promise to “endorse the 2016 Republican presidential nominee regardless of who it is.” It demands that each candidate pledge “that I will not seek to run as an independent or write-in candidate, nor will I seek or accept the nomination for president of any other party.”
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who angrily challenged Trump at the debate over the pledge, took credit for what he termed Trump’s “capitulation.”
“I spent the last few weeks making sure people knew it was not acceptable to potentially throw the next election to Hillary,” Paul wrote on Twitter, referring to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.