Donald Trump sparks GOP establishment panic: State parties plot to derail surging campaign

State leaders' plans are the latest sign that the Trump phenomenon is no flash in the pan

Published August 25, 2015 2:55PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Brian Snyder)
(Reuters/Brian Snyder)

"Is there anyone on stage, and can I see hands, who is unwilling tonight to pledge your support to the eventual nominee of the Republican party and pledge to not run an independent campaign against that person?"

Two seconds of hesitation and then Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump shot his hand up in response to debate moderator Bret Baier's opening question at the first Fox News debate last month, indicating that he would make no such pledge. Trump had previously threatened a third party bid if the Republican National Committee continued to behave "foolishly."

"Experts say an independent run would almost certainly hand the race over to Democrats and likely another Clinton," Baier informed the real-estate mogul, giving him a chance to not be the only candidate who would not rule out such a gamble. Trump stood firm, receiving applause in the arena and enjoying a resilient standing atop all of the polls weeks later. But now, as Trump's campaign continues to dominate the crowded field six months ahead of the first primary vote, some state Republicans leaders are plotting to punish him for his refusal to pledge allegiance to the Republican Party.

Politico reports that GOP leaders in two states, North Carolina and Virginia, are looking to demand 2016 candidates pledge not to run third party if beaten in the Republican primary in order to qualify for their state's primary ballot:

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 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.

Cuccinelli's involvement in this push "to tie Trump’s hands" is notable given his role as president of Jim Demint's tea party-aligned Senate Conservatives Fund. The group has previously found common cause with Trump, spearheading an effort to defeat Sen. John McCain in next year's Arizona primary and promoting Sen. Ted Cruz's epic rant against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last month. But it appears as though Cuccinelli, who previously called on Trump to apologize for his sexist remarks against Fox News host Megyn Kelly, is actually no fan of The Donald.

Politico explains that in Virginia, the ultimate decision on the ballot qualification requirements is made by the 84 members who make up the state party’s central committee, which is slated to meet on Sept. 19 and then the requirements must be submitted to the RNC by Oct. 1. However, “ballot access usually is regarded as party function,”  Tom Josefiak, a former RNC chief counsel, explained to Politico. “It definitely would be left up to the state party to decide how it’s going to operate.”

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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