State-Level Republicans Looking At Ways To Keep Trump Off The Ballot

Republican officials in three states are looking at ways to keep Donald Trump off the primary ballot unless he pledges to support the eventual GOP nominee.

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Republican Party officials in some states are considering moves that would bar Donald Trump from appearing on their state’s primary ballot unless he pledges to support the eventual nominee of the Republican Party regardless of who it may end up being:

Amid mounting concerns about Donald Trump’s candidacy from the GOP establishment, Republican leaders in at least two states have found a way to make life a lot harder for him.

The Virginia and North Carolina parties are in discussions about implementing a new requirement for candidates to qualify for their primary ballots: that they pledge to support the Republican presidential nominee — and not run as a third-party candidate — in the general election.

The procedural moves are clearly aimed at Trump, who pointedly refused to rule out a third-party run during the first GOP debate.

They come amid Republican fears that the real estate mogul is gaining strength in the primary contest, and that his jeremiads against undocumented immigrants will alienate Hispanic voters. Despite coming under a hail of criticism in recent weeks, Trump has held steady atop state and national polls.

John Whitbeck, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, said the proposal was among many that the organization was considering as it sketches out its ballot access requirements for the 2016 GOP primary. The ultimate decision, he said, would be made by the 84 members who make up the state party’s central committee, which is slated to meet on Sept. 19. The requirements must be submitted to the Republican National Committee by Oct. 1.

If implemented, Whitbeck said, the provision would be similar to ones the party adopted for statewide races held in 2013 and 2014.

“It happens to be one of the things that we are discussing for the 2016 primary,” said Whitbeck, who expressed confidence that Trump would eventually commit to supporting the GOP nominee. He said the aim of the proposal is to unify the party and “isn’t about any single candidate.”

The Virginia proposal has earned the support of Ken Cuccinelli, the state’s former attorney general and 2013 gubernatorial nominee, who has been promoting the idea to members of the state party central committee. He has also been in touch with Whitbeck.

“Anybody who wants to seek the Republican nomination should have to commit to supporting the ultimate Republican nominee,” Cuccinelli said in a Monday interview. “I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

(…)

In North Carolina, Republican Party officials are considering a similar move, and are already in talks with lawyers about how best to implement it.

The topic recently came up during a meeting of state party staffers and is expected to be discussed more extensively on conference calls during the coming weeks. One state party official said a lawyer would soon be drafting language for a provision asking each candidate to support the nominee.

A final decision is expected to be made by the party next month ahead of the Oct 1. deadline.

“Everything is on the table,” the official said.

In both states, organizers said, the goal was the same — to compel Trump, who has cultivated a passionate following of conservative supporters, into offering his full support to the party.

After news of the discussion going on among Virginia and North Carolina became news, it was reported that South Carolina Republicans are considering a similar requirement for their primary, which occurs just eleven days after the New Hampshire primary:

The South Carolina Republican Party is joining the push to tie Donald Trump’s hands.

The state party announced on Tuesday that for presidential candidates to qualify for the South Carolina primary, they must pledge to support the Republican presidential nominee — and not run as a third-party candidate — in the general election.

The move comes as two other state parties, North Carolina and Virginia, ponder similar loyalty pledges. It’s an offensive that is implicitly aimed at Trump, who has repeatedly refused to rule out a third-party run.

It comes amid mounting frustration in Republican establishment circles over Trump’s candidacy. Despite coming under a hail of criticism in recent weeks, Trump has gained strength in the contest, holding steady atop state and national polls.

To qualify for the South Carolina primary — a critical early-state contest that has traditionally played a key role in shaping the Republican nomination battle — Republican candidates are being asked to sign a pledge saying they “hereby affirm that” they “generally believe in and intend to support the nominees and platform of the Republican Party in the November 8, 2016 general election.”

The state party said that four candidates — Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, John Kasich and Jeb Bush — have signed the pledge, and that three others — Scott Walker, Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham — are expected to in the coming days.

The proposals being discussed here aren’t all that different form some of the ideas that have been proposed for trying to nail Trump down on the issue of whether he’d run as a third-party candidate at the risk of being excluded from Republican debates. Under the applicable Federal Election Commission rules, it would theoretically be acceptable for the RNC or any sponsoring organization to exclude Trump from a debate if he refused to rule out running against the eventual party nominee if he lost the nomination. As I argued at the time that this issue was being discussed in the run up to the first debate, though, it seems clear that barring Trump from debates, especially while he was the frontrunner, is something that would just end up backfiring on the GOP and working to Trump’s advantage.

Changing ballot access rules to require anyone who wanted to appear on the ballot to agree to support the party nominee no matter who it might be has the potential to have the same negative impact. As it is, Trump is succeeding in no small part because he has managed to grab the mantle of the outsider candidate running against the establishment. The image of party officials changing the rules just to keep Trump off the ballot is a troubling one regardless of who the candidate might happen to be. If this “party loyalty” rule were something that had already been in effect for some time, it would possibly be a different story, but the fact that Republican officials in these states clearly seem to be considering this idea because of Donald Trump is the kind of heavy handed action that would inure to his benefit and put the legitimacy of the result of a primary without Trump on the ballot into doubt. The fact that North Carolina and Virginia in particular are both open primaries in which anyone is allowed to participate would just seem to make the effort to exclude a specific candidate from the ballot more egregious.

As I think I’ve made very clear here over the past two months, I have no sympathy at all for Donald Trump. In addition to being the loudmouthed vulgar person who is famous for being famous and nothing else, his campaign has proven him to be something of a bottom feeder who has succeeded largely by appeals to nativism, resentments against immigrants, and a campaign style that bears a strong resemblance to politicians of the past like George Wallace who sought to profit out off of resentment and fear. That being said, he is a candidate for President and these efforts to undermine him through legal technicalities and other means don’t really strike me as being effective, or being the right way to go about beating him. Turning Donald Trump into a victim of the Republican establishment is only going to make him stronger, whether as a Republican candidate or an independent. If Republican leaders really want to defeat Trump, they are going to have to confront him directly and call him out for his ideas and his rhetoric. So far, very few of them have had the courage to do so.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, 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. grumpy realist says:

    Trump signs such a pledge, doesn’t become the Republican candidate, and decides to run third-party anyway, claiming that he was forced to sign something against his conscience and therefore it didn’t count. You think his band of yahoos are going to care? Ha!

  2. fromSC says:

    SC is also a open primary, and this pledge was already included as a part of ballot access prior to Trump-mania. May be an issue for him, but is not a reaction to his popularity.

  3. gVOR08 says:

    Gawd this is funny. Do they realize Trump may be their best chance of winning?

  4. James Pearce says:

    If Republican leaders really want to defeat Trump, they are going to have to confront him directly and call him out for his ideas and his rhetoric. So far, very few of them have had the courage to do so.

    They’re not going to confront him on his ideas and rhetoric……

    The GOP is bold, but they are also spineless. They’ll confront anybody…..except the reflection in the mirror.

  5. al-Ameda says:

    Republicans are expert in voter or ballot suppression, so this ought to be right in their wheel house, right?

    Normally, I might advocate having the United Nations oversee the primary elections in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina’s, however, this … is … just … too … good … to interfere with..

  6. J-Dub says:

    Would these pledges be legally binding in some way?

  7. Todd says:

    If you’re not thrilled about the likely outcome of an upcoming election, change the rules. Isn’t that pretty much the standard Republican MO by this point?

  8. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    I was going to say that this was a bad move and that state parties need to trust the voters. Then, I realized that this move is specifically because they trust the voters and know what they will do. Oops!

  9. Frustrated says:

    Mr. James Joyner,

    This is the poster who usually signs as–

    K-Y-L-O-P-O-D

    Over the last few days, every time I have tried to post here, my post has been caught in the filter. Please take me off the spam list so that I may continue to post here.

  10. de stijl says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker:

    Then, I realized that this move is specifically because they trust the voters and know what they will do.

    Remember when the 2012 debate audience booed the gay soldier skyping in from Afghanistan?

    That is the Republican voter. That’s what they do. They’ve been trained to do it.

    Remember when the 2004 Republican conventioneers wore purple band-aids to tweak Kerry?

    Remember when Perry got pummelled not for his Oops moment but for having the temerity to defend his state’s version of the DREAM Act that allowed the sons and daughters of illegal immigrants to attend college?

    We now have an establishment that is embarrassed by, and fearful of, its own constituency. They fear that their base will behave in a manner that will be off-putting to the larger public.They need those guys to win now, but they also need new and other voters to win in the future.

    By their behavior, the current voters prevent them from acquiring the new voters they need.

    So they’re stuck in a bind of their own making.

    The phrase ‘hoist on his own petard” has stuck around our usage despite the obscure origin and archaic and antiquated language just for cases like this.

  11. de stijl says:

    @Frustrated:

    I’m not having your issue, but the edit box seems to not be able load my comment for editing.

    Seeing “to” when you want it be “too” is just mortifiyingly embarrassing.

  12. de stijl says:

    @Frustrated:

    Now that you mention this I had a thing like this about a week ago.

    Try commenting with Kylpod as your nym and scroll down to the “Post Comment” at the bottom and see if there is a “Current ye@r” anti-spam I-am-not-a-robot fill-box at the bottom of the page. (Obviously put in 2015 if you see it.)

    I’m not sure what triggers it, but it seems to happen if you try to comment with an IP address that hasn’t been seen before. If you’ve had a power outage, your IP address may have been re-assigned / re-set and OTB sees you as a new commenter and gives you the “Current ye@r’ thang where you can’t comment until you’ve answered it correctly. HTH.

    Good luck.

  13. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    Sorry. The edit box won’t load my comment for editing.

    By “Kylpod” I meant Kylopod. Folks choose nyms carefully and I hate it when folks mess ’em up. Apologies.

  14. Peacewood says:

    Wait. Wouldn’t such an action actually hasten an independent Trump run, by leaving him with no alternative?

    How would this be effective? I’m genuinely lost here.

  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Funny, I don’t see this as an attempt to keep Trump off the ballot. I see it as an attempt to enforce some party discipline. What is wrong with that? Oh, wait a minute, we are talking about Republican voters here. The single largest group of victims since WW II.

  16. sam says:

    They have met the enemy, and they is them.

    (To Walt Kelly in Heaven.)

  17. KM says:

    That being said, he is a candidate for President and these efforts to undermine him through legal technicalities and other means don’t really strike me as being effective, or being the right way to go about beating him.

    Not to mention being fundamentally undemocratic to its core. A basic idea behind democracy is choice; for better or for worse, the voting public (or representatives thereof) chooses from those who run and decides who deserves the office. By artificially narrowing the field to those approved of by the Powers That Be, you are essentially stealing that choice from the electorate. Originally the Constitution’s election system was designed for multiple runners BECAUSE this is what the Founders wanted – choices and options. Democracies and republics doesn’t guarantee a good outcome to elections, only that there’s a chance you need to strive for.

  18. Franklin says:

    John Whitbeck, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia …

    In the context of an article about Trump, I actually misread this guy’s last name.

  19. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @KM:

    Not to mention being fundamentally undemocratic to its core.

    This is not undemocratic in any way shape or form. This is about a political party being able to control their party and not allow it to be hijacked by just any rich blowhard.

    A basic idea behind democracy is choice; for better or for worse, the voting public (or representatives thereof) chooses from those who run and decides who deserves the office.

    Trump is free to run on his own and people are free to vote for him whether he runs or not.

  20. Pinky says:

    It doesn’t seem like this is a way to keep Trump off the ballot, but a way to force him to, at minimum, claim that he’ll support the Republican nominee.

  21. michael reynolds says:

    Be afraid, GOP, be very afraid.

    The Money wing has lost control of the Jesus wing of the party. In a lovely irony, the Money boys lost control thanks in part to a billionaire. Kudos as well to Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, two more rich a-holes who sold their lies in service to Money and are now reaping their just reward. Hey, Koch boys, how’s that investment on Scott Walker working out for you? How about you, Sheldon, everything good with your investment in assholery?

    It’s a pity I love my country, because I could be having so much more fun with all this.

  22. Grewgills says:

    This moves us one step closer to Trump running as an independent.
    I don’t think he’ll win the republican nomination regardless of machinations of party leaders and I don’t think he’ll run as an independent unless he gets really butt hurt about perceived unfairness. Something like this could get him to run against the eventual r candidate out of spite. I keep hoping for more stupid out of the republicans running he primaries and they have yet to disappoint.

  23. HarvardLaw92 says:

    This is blatantly unconstitutional.

  24. linda says:

    sign a pledge to fully support the winner caused the Trojan War