You may remember, early in the campaign, Donald Trump said he would like to run for president as a Republican, but he ran into GOP establishment resistance. So, he said, fine, he would run as an independent. Then, the GOP said he would be allowed to run for the nomination, but only if he promised to support the eventual candidate.

All the candidates took the “pledge,” but now, we’re finding that “rules were meant for other people.” According to The Wrap, Kasich and Rubio are going back on their word:

Donald Trump’s rivals have begun to hedge in their responses to questions about whether they would support the GOP frontrunner if he were to become the Republican Party’s nominee for president.

Speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Sunday morning, Ohio Gov. John Kasich said of Trump, “I would like to support the nominee. But he’s not going to be the nominee. That’s just not going to happen.

[Then, there’s Rubio]. . .the Republican establishment favorite said that he is starting to question his own pledge to support Trump as the party’s nominee.

“It’s getting harder every day to justify that statement to myself, to my children, to my family, and to the people that support me,” Rubio said. “This country deserves better. At some point, people have to wake up here. This is really going to do damage to America.”

But wait! There’s more! Not only are candidates refusing to support the party’s candidate—now, Politico reports that the GOP is planning to run as. . .third party??

PLAYBOOK FACTS OF LIFE: If someone told you [two months] ago that a GOP candidate would finish second in Iowa and [then] easily win in N.H., S.C. and Nevada, you would call that person the Republican nominee-in-waiting. This explains why most donors are throwing in the towel on a dump Trump campaign. . .

Cue stories on whether an establishment figure runs as third-party conservative — a prospect now more likely than Trump bolting the GOP for an independent run, and perhaps more likely than a brokered convention. Please send Playbook your list of conservatives most likely to do this: [email protected] and [email protected]

THAT SAID … This goes on for a long time because there are now three Republican parties: the Pissed Off (Trump), the Purists (Cruz) and the Realists (Rubio). Trump owns the angry and a slice of both other camps, which gives him his decisive edge in a three-way. But the other two would be insane to buckle before the bitter end. So expect a lot of 40-25-25 outcomes.

So the Republican establishment is trying to figure out how it can run a candidate it CAN control. Why not just destroy the party, they ask? It wouldn’t be the first time. Abraham Lincoln and a group of other dissenters killed the Whig Party and established the GOP in 1854.

And in 1912, Former President Theodore Roosevelt bolted from the Republican Party to form the Progressive (“Bull Moose”) Party. The irony is that, unlike today’s GOP, both Roosevelt and Taft were “progressives,” and that the split came because Roosevelt thought the Republican candidate William Howard Taft was not liberal enough.

What’s different this time is that it’s not individuals leaving a party. It’s the party leaving its loyal followers. There is no question that Republican voters overwhelmingly prefer Donald Trump this year. But he is too independent. He won’t follow orders, so the establishment wants to run it’s own candidate against its own party, as this New York Times article shows:

Spurred by Donald J. Trump’s mounting victories, a small but influential — and growing — group of conservative leaders are calling for a third-party option. . .

William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard magazine, said he would work actively to put forward an “independent Republican” ticket if Mr. Trump was the nominee, and floated Mr. Sasse as a recruit.

We do have a recent example of this kind of activity. In 2006, Joe Lieberman was seen as disloyal to Bill Clinton; lackluster in his support for his Al Gore, when he was Gore’s running mate in 2000; and way too supportive of the George Bush war in Iraq. Therefore, a little-known teacher named Ned Lamont won the Democratic Party’s nomination for US Senator in Connecticut. Lieberman ran as an independent and held onto his own seat, following an inept and amateur campaign by Lamont.

But even that was not the same. The party did support its own candidate. Lieberman had to appeal to his former supporters to bolt the party.

So let’s recap. . .

We have a party telling Trump he would have to SWEAR to support the eventual candidate in order to run as a Republican. All the candidates swore. Trump then pulled in record numbers of people who had never voted before, and built a juggernaut toward the nomination. THEN, suddenly, all these people who demanded that Trump support the nominee, refused to support him if HE won. And now, after demanding that Trump NOT run third-party, the GOP establishment is plotting to run a candidate against itself.

Technically speaking, is this a smart political move for the GOP? Or is it disingenuous, hypocritical, or just insane?