RNC Chairman Threatens Punishment For Former Candidates Refusing To Endorse Trump

The GOP civil war continues.....

Fighting Elephants Two

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus is threatening former Republican candidates for President who don’t get in line behind Donald Trump:

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Sunday that it’s high time for Donald Trump’s former primary challengers to come on board and support his campaign—and suggested there could be trouble for them in 2020 or 2024 if they don’t.

“Those people need to get on board,” he told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “And 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 for them.”

Several of Trump’s former Republican primary opponents, including Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have not endorsed Trump in the months since the GOP businessman secured the nomination. Asked explicitly whether that meant there would be penalties for the handful of 2016 Republican hopefuls who have not endorsed Trump if they opted to run again in 2020 or 2024, Priebus said nothing has been decided but that it’s something the party will “look at.”

All of the major Republican candidates, including Trump, signed a so-called “loyalty pledge” last summer stating that they would support the eventual Republican nominee “regardless of who it is.” The document wasn’t legally binding, but candidates were asked to sign it last summer after Trump at the time wouldn’t rule out a third-party bid if he lost the nomination.

“People in our party are talking about what we’re going to do about this. 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,” Priebus said. “So what’s the penalty for that? It’s not a threat, but that’s just the question that we have a process in place.”

“And 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– what should a private party do about that if those same people come around in four or eight years?” Priebus continued.

While there hasn’t as of yet been a response from candidates such as Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, Ohio Governor John Kasich’s camp was quick to respond:

Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s war with the national Republican Party exploded into the open Sunday night, when his top adviser thrashed GOP leader Reince Priebus and hinted that the presidential election may be out of reach for Donald Trump.

The statement, issued on official campaign letterhead, followed remarks by Priebus earlier Sunday suggesting the party might block the Ohio governor from running for president again because he has refused to support Trump.

“Thankfully, there are still leaders in this country who put principles before politics,” said John Weaver, Kasich’s adviser, adding, “The idea of a greater purpose beyond oneself may be alien to political party bosses like Reince Priebus, but it is at the center of everything Governor Kasich does.”

Weaver derided Priebus as “a Kenosha political operative,” referring to Priebus’s Wisconsin home, and said the three-term Republican National Committee leader should be thanking Kasich for “an inclusive, conservative vision that can actually win a national election.”

“The Governor is traveling the nation supporting down ballot Republicans and preventing a potential national wipeout from occurring on Reince’s watch,” Weaver said.

Kasich’s statement was a stunning act of open hostility between the national Republican Party and the governor in perhaps the most crucial swing state — and at a sensitive moment in the election. Trump has risen in national polls and inched closer to Hillary Clinton in swing states. He’s even passed her in Ohio, perhaps his strongest chance to capture a state that Mitt Romney lost in 2012.

RNC spokesman Sean Spicer shrugged off the Kasich camp’s statement. “We are totally focused on winning back the White House and maintaining our majorities in the House and Senate,” Spicer said.

But another national GOP strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Kasich may end up getting punished by Republican voters for breaking his word to support the party’s nominee — which he made along with other rivals last fall. In fact, the party also makes its lists and resources available to campaigns based on similar agreements, and Kasich was a beneficiary of those lists.

“Politicians who sign their names on pledges and agreements then not honor them, are only doing harm to themselves, as they do nothing but illustrate to prospective voters their word means nothing,” the operative said.

Yet, Kasich has persistently refused to endorse Trump since dropping out of the presidential primary on May 4. In an interview that aired Sunday on “Meet the Press,” Kasich ruled out voting for Clinton but said “it’s very, very likely I will not” vote for Trump.

Kasich’s lack of support for Trump in particular is not surprising. During the race for the nomination, and especially in the final weeks before Trump clinched the nomination, which led to both Kasich and Ted Cruz dropping out of the race, Kasich was particularly critical of Trump and he maintained that criticism long after Trump had secured the nomination. In a somewhat surprising show of rebellion, for example, Kasich declined to attend the Republican National Convention even though it was being held in his state and despite the fact that he was in Cleveland for other meetings during the days that the convention was taking place. While Kasich was hardly the only high-level Republican to skip the convention over Trump’s rhetoric, his absence was certainly the most apparent and his failure to address Trump even now is seen by many as something that could potentially hobble efforts to win the crucial state of Ohio, which Democrats won in each of the past two elections and which is once again a battleground state in 2016. Kaisich, meanwhile, continues to sit out the Presidential race and has been spending his free time helping the campaign of fellow Ohio Republican Rob Portman, whose Senate seat is up for re-election this year, as well as Republicans elsewhere around the country such as New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, who is in a tight re-election race of her own. If the quick response from his camp is any indication, I doubt we’ll see any change in those plans in the near future

As for Priebus, while his rhetoric is tough it’s unclear exactly what he can actually do regarding Kasich or any of the other Republicans who refuse to endorse Trump. Withholding support for future campaigns is one possibility, of course, but that’s a strategy that could end up backfiring on the party if it puts a seat in danger. Moreover, of the former candidates for President who continue to sit on the sidelines in the Presidential race many are no longer involved in politics and unlikely to run for office again in the future, so there’s really nothing that the RNC or anyone else can do about their failure to support the party nominee regardless of whether or not they made a pledge to do so. For those candidates who may run again in the future, whether for President in 2020 or 2024 or for another office, the RNC’s options are once again limited. The party has no power to prevent someone from throwing their hat in the ring for any nomination, for example. All that takes is a filing with the Federal Election Commission and collecting enough signatures to get on the ballot as required by the laws of each state and the rules of the state party in each individual state. In theory, I suppose, the RNC could attempt to bar a candidate from appearing in RNC-sponsored debates or impose some other sanction in an effort to hobble their campaign, but if we’re talking about someone who is polling high enough to be relevant to the race that would be extremely difficult. Additionally, party rules generally prohibit the national committee from taking sides in primary fights so it would be difficult for them to enact any sanctions that would have any meaning.

In the end, of course, this argument is less about potential sanctions in 2020 or further down than line than it is about what happens to the GOP in the wake of the current campaign. If Trump loses, conservatives and establishment Republicans who rebelled against Trump will no doubt fight hard to take the reins of the party back from the Trump populists, likely resulting in a civil war that could hamper efforts in the midterms in 2018. If Trump wins, there will likely be conflict between House and Senate Republicans and the Trump White House regarding the correct agenda on everything from international trade to tax reform to immigration. And, win or lose, there will be those on both sides of the growing GOP rift who will seek to exact revenge against the other side. It’s a battle that will decide the future of the GOP, and it could be quite something to watch unfold.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics, , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. cian says:

    If Trump wins, there will likely be conflict between House and Senate Republicans and the Trump White House regarding the correct agenda on everything from international trade to tax reform to immigration.

    Not sure what makes you think this. From my observations over the past ten years there hasn’t been an issue ‘principled’ conservatives haven’t been willing to give up on at the first sign of a far right backlash. The republican leadership has been utterly spineless when faced with tea party republican demands. Faced with the kind of racist, rancid support a President Trump will generate for whatever he wants and they’ll fold like a cheap tent.

  2. Slugger says:

    Will Mr. Priebus get punished for the nomination process?

  3. Tillman says:

    At this point, one wonders how many pictures of elephant fighting we will exhaust before this sordid mess is finished.

    As for Priebus, while his rhetoric is tough it’s unclear exactly what he can actually do regarding Kasich or any of the other Republicans who refuse to endorse Trump.

    He can continue drinking, it’s served him well since the primaries.

  4. Jen says:

    If Trump wins, Republicans have no idea which version of him will be taking the oath of office. The pro-choice Donald, who suggested nominating his sister to the Supreme Court? Or maybe some other version? Trump’s anti-trade position and newly discovered family leave mandate position will most certainly put him at odds with the business wing of the party. Who knows what we’ll get on a dozen or more other issues. He’s been on so many sides of so many issues, I don’t think anyone can really say for certain what he’ll do.

    I’m not sure why Priebus has decided to go to war on this issue in such a public way. The “get in line or GTFO” message here isn’t going to sit well with Republicans and independents who have an issue with Trump. I don’t see the upside here–does Priebus really think picking a fight with Kasich right now is a good idea? Or is he just hedging his bets to keep his job if Trump actually manages to win?

  5. Andrew says:

    You go into the election with the candidate you have, not the candidate you might want. To loosely borrow a quote from Donald Rumsfeld.

    Priebus is doing his job. Rallying behind the Republican candidate. Anything less would be unbecoming.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Andrew: Priebus is doing his job. Rallying behind the Republican candidate. Anything less would be unbecoming. principled.

    FTFY, you’ll get my bill in the mail.

  7. KM says:

    @Andrew :

    Priebus is doing his job. Rallying behind the Republican candidate. Anything less would be unbecoming.

    While that is true, there had to be a better way to communicate it without threatening a RNC pimp slap. A significant potion of the masses, both monetarily and in terms of voting blocs, have serious doubts about this candidate. Instead of reassuring them the USA isn’t going to go down in a ball of fiscally-insolvent, toxic-waste-spewing flames, he issues an ultimatum? Where’s the carrot to go with the stick?

    The heavy hand of Do As I Say isn’t going to fly well with the Rage Against the Machine masses. Once Trump goes down, whomever rises to take his place will inherit these nuts with an added grudge against “insiders” and street cred (“See, they slapped me down when I tried to stop Hillary from getting elected. I knew he didn’t stand a chance but the RNC tried to take me out for telling the People the Truth!!”). Priebus is throwing gas on a wildfire for no sensible reason.

  8. Kylopod says:

    @Jen:

    Or is he just hedging his bets to keep his job if Trump actually manages to win?

    Actually, I think that’s exactly it. It’s like Chris Christie, who probably realized his political career in Jersey was over after Bridgegate, and so once he lost the nomination he had nothing to lose (except every last shred of dignity he may once have possessed) by putting all his eggs in Donald’s basket.

    (Sorry for ruining your morning with that image.)

    Similarly, if Trump loses Priebus is almost certainly gone. And Priebus knows it. So he figures his only hope for any sort of a political future is to act as Trump’s toady in the hopes he’ll be rewarded for it if Trump wins.

  9. gVOR08 says:

    …Reince Priebus is threatening ______who ___________:

    Bwhhahahaha!

    I’m sure they’re quaking in their boots. Not. Didn’t he just spend a year or more demonstrating the RNC has no control over anything?

  10. gVOR08 says:

    @Kylopod:

    …Chris Christie, who … had nothing to lose (except every last shred of dignity he may once have possessed)

    So he had nothing to lose?

  11. cian says:

    Similarly, if Trump loses Priebus is almost certainly gone. And Priebus knows it. So he figures his only hope for any sort of a political future is to act as Trump’s toady in the hopes
    he’ll be rewarded for it if Trump wins.

    Trump doesn’t reward lackeys, only sycophants.

  12. James Pearce says:

    Sounds like a loser’s gambit…

    The winner will have bigger priorities.

  13. gVOR08 says:

    Off topic, but right now I really wish Christie were the GOP nominee. NYT reports that in opening remarks in the Bridgegate trial the prosecutor alleged that Christie knew about the plan in advance and that it was revenge against the mayor.

  14. Davebo says:

    I’d say Priebus is toast regardless of what he does or who wins the election come November.

  15. Moosebreath says:

    @Andrew:

    “Priebus is doing his job. Rallying behind the Republican candidate. Anything less would be unbecoming.”

    Not merely unbecoming. Anything less would ensure that in 4 years, there will be a similar rebellion.against the next nominee.

    Let’s face it, not all of the Republican base supported Romney or McCain. But there wasn’t a Never-Romney or Never-McCain movement because they knew that it would be the end of their career for anyone who was a part of them. If the RNC implies that Never-Trump is acceptable, then someone is going use that as precedent to say the next nominee is too far from the center of the Republican mainstream.

  16. James Pearce says:

    @Moosebreath:

    If the RNC implies that Never-Trump is acceptable, then someone is going use that as precedent to say the next nominee is too far from the center of the Republican mainstream.

    This is why any effort to do this will fail: The GOP is a loose coalition of somewhat divergent interests working together for common goals.

    Kinda hard to run the GOP like the Russians ran the CP if you don’t have borders. What’s he going to do with defectors? Does he think there will be no defectors?

  17. Hal_10000 says:

    As a former Republican and one who still caucuses with them occasionally, I have to say this: no punishment Priebus can dish out could be worse than seeing that horse’s backside Trump in the Oval Office.

    Bring it, Forehead Boy.

  18. Franklin says:

    Unfortunately for Kasich, he signed the loyalty pledge when he guessed, like most other people, that Trump wouldn’t be the nominee.

  19. michael reynolds says:

    Trump is loyal to his toadies. Priebus needs to remain significant but he’s gone too far into Trump world to hold any sway with whatever survives of the Original GOP. He has no real alternative but to drop to his knees and gag on the orange banana.

    I mean, assuming he has no self-respect, no interest in truth or justice, no love of country. Safe assumptions.

  20. bookdragon says:

    @Moosebreath: Good.

    It would be nice if the last remaining Republicans with any sense of decency would stand up and say that alt-right sympathizers are outside the mainstream and have no place in the GOP. I might even consider voting GOP again if they could move that far toward country and moral decency before party.

    My folks live outside Columbus so I know too much to be a big fan of Kasich, but I applaud him for sticking to his guns here. Granted, it may be pure calculation – whether you stood for or against Trump may be the equivalent of the Iraq war vote by the 2020 election.

  21. MarkedMan says:

    This is bizarre. Why would Priebus call them out publicly? I just don’t see an upside here. If anything, being put on the spot would make them less likely to endorse Trump.

  22. gVOR08 says:

    I’ve always had a nagging feeling Reince Priebus reminded me of someone. Finally hit me that it’s Pee-Wee Herman.

  23. gVOR08 says:

    @bookdragon:

    whether you stood for or against Trump may be the equivalent of the Iraq war vote by the 2020 election.

    If he wins, I’ve come to very much fear not. It’s always been the case that the victors write the history. (Well, except the American Civil War, which was heavily influenced by Confederate memoirists.) I fear that if Trump wins, that might be the case in spades. Trump is already very good at manipulating the media, much of which is bent over eager to be manipulated. He’s bragged up Putin for his 80% or whatever approval. And that’s probably an honest number. Autarchy no longer depends on secret police and concentration camps. Modern autarchy depends on control of the media. I’m sure his buddies Putin and Ailes would be happy to instruct a President Trump in how to run a tightly controlled oligarchy.

  24. MBunge says:

    @Jen: I’m not sure why Priebus has decided to go to war on this issue in such a public way.

    Because there are likely a bunch of people in and associated with the GOP infrastructure who are absolutely livid that Trump is thisclose to beating Hillary and think people like Kasich will be the reason is doesn’t happen.

    There’s also the little matter that he got all of these guys to sign an oath to support the eventual nominee and they are publicly spitting in his face by breaking that oath.

    Mike

  25. An Interested Party says:

    There’s also the little matter that he got all of these guys to sign an oath to support the eventual nominee and they are publicly spitting in his face by breaking that oath.

    They’re just following Trump’s lead

  26. Andrew says:

    @KM:

    Yes, of course there is a better way.
    Priebus lost control a while ago of the party he is supposed to sheep dog. All of this comes across as desperate, as Priebus certainly is. Seeing as there is definitely division in the ranks and Squeak here needs to issue empty threats as if he is still in control.

  27. Jen says:

    @MBunge: I understand that–I still think that dragging this out into the open doesn’t do Priebus any favors.

    Candidate support of a nominee is sort of inside baseball–I’d bet that few voters really care or pay attention to this, *unless* it is brought to their attention. Which is precisely what Priebus has done by going onto television and making it an issue. It wouldn’t really register with most, but now voters have been reminded that the GOP nominee has at least three former rivals who haven’t come around and endorsed him AND this provided Kasich a platform to respond, which meant he was in the news cycle, getting attention. From a publicity angle alone, this seems like a bad move–Priebus could have made this point (that those who don’t support the nominee will be shut out of the running (somehow) in 2020) through back channels, particularly by contacting major donors and state party officials.

    It does to me seem like this GOP split is going to get worse before it gets better. George H. W. Bush is voting for Clinton, and the Freedom Caucus is digging in their heels and not paying dues to NRCC.

  28. Rick DeMent says:

    Is there any thing from keeping the republicans from impeaching Trump for any number of “trumped” up charges and letting Pence run the show? (given the practice they have had from Clinton this should be easy).