Republican Party leaders are breathing easier after presidential frontrunner Donald Trump signed a party pledge Thursday to support the eventual Republican presidential nominee and not to run as a third party candidate.
Trump signed the pledge at his Trump Tower in New York during a meeting with party chairman Reince Priebus, and later explained his decision at a news conference. “The best way forward to win is if I win the nomination and go direct against whoever [the Democrats] happen to put up. So for that reason I have signed the pledge.”
Trump added that he will be “totally pledging my allegiance to the Republican Party and the conservative principles for which it stands, and we will go out and we will fight hard and we will win.”
In the first Republican debate last month, Trump was the only contender on stage who refused to pledge to support the eventual nominee, and the only one not to rule out a third party bid, saying it depended on how the party treated him. Trump now says he believes the party has treated him "fairly."
Third Party Threat
Some Republicans believe the threat of a Trump third party bid should he lose the Republican nomination would be a boon to the Democrats and could kill the party’s hopes of taking back the White House in 2016.
Trump leads the Republican field in the latest Monmouth University poll with 30 percent support, followed by retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson at 18 percent and former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, both tied with 8 percent each.
At his news conference, Trump noted the poll results and said several of his rivals who had attacked him had “gone down the tubes.”
The Trump-Bush Spat
News of Trump signing the pledge came in the midst of an intensifying spat between the real estate mogul and Jeb Bush that has featured an increasing number of personal attacks on both sides.
While Trump continues to lead in national and state polls, Bush has seen his poll numbers plummet in recent weeks. Bush has ramped up his criticism of Trump in recent days, including a Thursday appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” program where he said Trump is trying to “insult his way to the presidency.”
Bush added that Trump’s attacks on illegal immigrants and his criticism of Bush for speaking Spanish on the campaign trail are hurting the Republican Party. “This is a diverse country,” Bush told GMA. “We should celebrate that diversity and embrace a set of shared values, and Mr. Trump doesn’t believe in those shared values. He wants to tear us down. He doesn’t believe in tolerance. He doesn’t believe in things that have created the greatness of this country.”
The Bush and Trump campaigns also traded attack videos this week, with Bush trying to highlight Trump’s previous Democratic views and Trump going after Bush for his stand on illegal immigration.
Trump Fires Back
Trump’s attacks on Bush are often personal, including his latest shot that Bush should speak English on the campaign trail and not Spanish, as he often does with Hispanic audiences and reporters.
Trump also likes to point out he is independently wealthy and does not need to raise campaign funds, while Bush has set records lining up big donors since the beginning of his presidential campaign earlier this year. “Well, Jeb Bush is a puppet to his donors, there is no question about it,” Trump told spectators recently at the Iowa State Fair. “He has got lobbyists, and I know them, he’s got lobbyists and you know, he made statements over the last couple of days that are incredible, trying to justify the war in Iraq, which can’t be justified.”
Other Rivals Hesitant to Attack Trump
Many of Trump’s Republican rivals are careful not to go after Trump directly, so the Bush approach is different, said analyst Stuart Rothenberg. “Jeb Bush is one of the few Republicans who is really trying to take on Donald Trump. I think most people in the party are scared of Trump still. It’s not that they respect him, it’s not that they think he is going to be the presidential nominee, but they know if they antagonize him he could run as a third party candidate and there is a huge chunk of the party that finds him very appealing.”
The Trump-Bush feud is also preventing other Republican contenders from breaking through. “He is still leading in surveys and he seems to be defining, dictating the discussion. You know when Donald Trump talks, everybody listens, and he talks a lot, and so it is hard for the other candidates to get through,” said Rothenberg.
The next opportunity to change that dynamic will come with the second Republican debate on September 16.