The common wisdom has usually been that Democrats struggle to agree on a candidate, while Republicans fall in line. I think that’s because, since FDR, the Democratic Party has been the majority party, pulling together disparate (and sometimes, desperate) coalition partners. Until the election of Goldwater, Republicans just fell in line behind their pre-selected candidate. Not any more.


Republicans are divided between the extreme Ted Cruz wing, and the more centrist Donald Trump wing. Democrats are divided between the extreme Bernie Sanders wing, and the more centrist Hillary Clinton wing. Or, if you prefer, between establishment and reformist wings.

And, in addition, for the first time, an established third party is apparently being taken seriously—with a prospect that it could gain in future years. (Most third-party efforts are one-time or short term protests, and often dominated by a personality, such as the parties of Ross Perot, John Anderson, George Wallace, Henry Wallace, and Strom Thurmond.)

This year, the split of the Republican Party was, basically, between establishment candidates (Ted Cruz is an irritant, but still part of the establishment); and Donald Trump, who has his own set of ideals. At first, his campaign was considered a joke. He had never held public office, and he was a shameless self-promoter, so his efforts were seen as simply a way to get media attention for his business ventures.

Trump also said that if he were not treated fairly, and with respect, he would make an independent run—which he could self-fund, as Ross Perot did in 1992. The party thought it could back him into a corner, by demanding a “loyalty pledge” from all candidates—that each would back the eventual nominee. That was in September.

At first, Trump was booed when he was the only candidate refusing to take “the pledge.” Later, he realized his chances had improved, he decided to go along.

The language of the draft pledge speaks directly to the issue vexing Republicans – the possibility that the billionaire could choose to wage a third party bid if he fails to win the GOP nomination, a prospect that could seriously damage the GOP’s prospects of reclaiming the White House. Tapping into deep anti-establishment animosity among the conservative grassroots, Trump has surged to the lead of the deepest presidential field in recent memory. If Trump were to pull just a fraction of the vote as an independent, write-in or third party candidate, it could be enough to sink the eventual Republican nominee.

The irony is that Trump did soon agree to honor the pledge, but it’s the establishment candidates who have gone back on their word. Marco Rubio has said that Trump will be a horrible president, but would vote for him, anyway. Lindsay Graham said his party had gone batsh*t crazy, and did take time, but finally agreed to vote for and support Trump.

And while Chris Christie and Ben Carson have become strong supporters of Trump, others say they won’t even vote for Trump, much less support him, most notably, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Ted Cruz.

The pledge is really quite straightforward, according to Politifact:

“I (name) affirm that if I do not win the 2016 Republican nomination for president of the United States I will endorse the 2016 Republican presidential nominee regardless of who it is. I further pledge that I will not seek to run as an independent or write-in candidate nor will I seek or accept the nomination for president of any other party.”

Obviously, Kasich wouldn’t even attend his own state’s hosting of the convention. But did Cruz’ speech violate the pledge? Trump tweeted, “Wow, Ted Cruz got booed off the stage, didn’t honor the pledge!” But did Cruz even sign the pledge?

So did Cruz sign the pledge?

We couldn’t find a copy of the pledge itself and didn’t hear back from spokespersons for Cruz or the RNC Wednesday night. . .

Another pledge was put forward by the South Carolina Republican Party, which required candidates to sign a pledge and submit it with $40,000 by Sept. 30 to qualify for the state primary ballot in February. The pledge stated “I hereby affirm that I generally believe in and intend to support the nominees and platform of the Republican Party in the November 8, 2016, general election.”

We didn’t find a signed pledge by Cruz online Wednesday night. However, state party officials announced on Sept. 30 that 15 candidates including Cruz had qualified for the state’s ballot.

So it’s possible that Cruz never actually signed the pledge. On the other hand, he gave his word:

On March 12, three days before the Florida primary, Cruz said he would support the nominee. . . “I committed at the outset, I will support the Republican nominee, whoever it is.” Cruz told reporters at a suburban St. Louis high school.

A day later, he made a similar comment to MSNBC’s Chuck Todd:

Todd: “You’ve said some tough things on Trump. Why are you comfortable supporting him as the nominee if he ends up the nominee.”

Cruz: “Well, listen, I pledged at the outset I will support the Republican nominee, whoever it is … when I give my word for something, I follow through and do what I said.”

Of course, “the pledge” was not a binding, legal document. It’s surprising that none of the former candidates have not simply said—at the time of signing—that was their intent.

“The pledge is no more binding than any other politician’s promise: It is enforceable through the public’s future support or lack thereof for the person making the pledge,” said Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California.

Emory University law professor Michael Kang said the oaths create political pressure but not much more. “I don’t think there are meaningful legal sanctions under these oaths for failing to do so at this point,” he said.

The real irony is that “the pledge” was designed to control Trump, but is now an embarrassment for others.

“Of course, Trump has a telling point here,” [Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute] said. “The only reason the pledge was raised was to jawbone and bludgeon Trump into staying as a Republican. So there is plenty of hypocrisy on the part of other candidates. But this whole exercise, including Trump’s outlandish notion that this is a question of honor, given his own past statements, makes them all look foolish.”

Technically speaking, not only is the pledge not legally binding, there is also no deadline for offering support for the nominee. Cruz and Kasich could wait until October or November, and if it looks as if Trump will win, they could say that they held their endorsement in order to have the maximum effect, just before the election. You’d believe that, right?

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Goethe Behr is a Contributing Editor and Moderator at Election Central. He started out posting during the 2008 election, became more active during 2012, and very active in 2016. He has been a political junkie since the 1950s and enjoys adding a historical perspective.

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