The South Carolina Republican Party sent out a message this week “reaffirming” to all presidential campaigns that any candidate who officially files for next year’s primary must pledge to support the party’s eventual nominee. That includes no run as an independent candidate in the general election.
SCGOP Chairman Matt Moore said the language is not specifically targeting any candidate, although it comes as frontrunner Donald Trump has not ruled out a petition campaign, saying he would do so if party leaders “interfere” with his campaign. “It’s not about politics. It’s about the integrity of the voting process,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “People who claim to be Republican should support the nominee. And that applies to every candidate.”
Moore said the language is already in place for Republican candidates who are seeking state and local offices. But party leaders are doing everything they can to avoid a third-party run by Trump or any other candidate who could take away badly-needed conservative votes in November.
Only four Republicans (Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, John Kasich, and Marco Rubio) have formally filed their candidacies in South Carolina so far. Although the Palmetto State primary is third among the early state votes next year, it has the earliest filing deadline on September 30. Candidates must pay a $40,000 fee and sign the pledge by that date in order to be listed on the party ballot next February.
The campaigns of Ted Cruz and Scott Walker also plan to file this week.
Moore admitted the GOP could do little to stop a candidate from breaking the pledge, but said he thought there would still be ramifications. “I think the court of opinion can really affect a candidate’s prospects,” he said. “I don’t think Republican voters in South Carolina take too kindly to candidates violating any kind of pledge. But I think we would seek legal remedies too.” He also said the party could take legal action.
The pledge candidates must sign states they “hereby affirm that” they “generally believe in and intend to support the nominees and platform of the Republican Party in the November 8, 2016 general election.”
Moore said state Republican leaders have been in discussions with Trump’s camp over when he will file, but no date has been set. Observers are eyeing that September 30 deadline to see if Trump is going to stick it out in the GOP race. However, a former Trump adviser warned on Twitter that Tuesday’s announcement leaders may cause the very thing they want to avoid with.
“The kind of thing that could make @realDonaldTrump bolt the GOP and run 3rd party or Indy,” Roger Stone tweeted in response to the news.