Promise to support the Republican nominee, or get off the stage.
by The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, February 27, 2023
Republican party chair Ronna McDaniel said this weekend that to get access to the GOP’s 2024 debate stage, presidential contenders will likely have to pledge to support the eventual primary winner. This is a good move, even if it’s unenforceable.
Donald Trump signed a similar oath in late 2015. Months later he was asked if he stood by his promise to back the GOP nominee. “No. I don’t anymore,” he said. “We’ll see who it is.” Perhaps Mr. Trump will do the same bait and switch this year. Maybe he will refuse to sign, point to his polling, and pressure the party to let him debate anyway. In any case, Ms. McDaniel is putting down a useful marker.
A correlation that’s difficult not to notice is that politics has become more dysfunctional as traditional party power has withered, partially due to campaign-finance laws that shift money to outside players like Super Pacs. A case in point was the Republican Party’s impotent response to Mr. Trump’s takeover in 2016. Democrats barely fended off a hostile takeover by socialist Bernie Sanders.
Political parties have ideological and institutional interests that are worth defending. For the GOP, there’s also a potential 2024 disaster to be averted. Will Mr. Trump support the Republican ticket next year? “I would give you the same answer I gave in 2016,” he said recently. “It would have to depend on who the nominee was.” This attitude from the former President, who retains a significant following, is a clear and present danger for the party.
That’s especially true given that Mr. Trump’s 2024 campaign looks at least partly motivated by his personal legal trouble. Last week a grand juror in Georgia hinted that she and her colleagues might have recommended indicting Mr. Trump for trying to reverse his 2020 loss. Maybe cooler heads will prevail in the DA’s office. But if a charge is coming his way, Mr. Trump would rather face it as a presidential candidate, so he can call it a political prosecution.
If primary voters pick somebody else, it’s not hard to imagine Mr. Trump soldiering on as an independent candidate. He might go to war against a GOP nominee he doesn’t like, or he might torch the party’s 2024 chances to show he is the only Republican who could win. Who knows how many voters would stick with him? Throwing the election wouldn’t take much in this closely divided electorate.