A close associate tells POLITICO that Donald Trump plans to sign a loyalty pledge Thursday that would bind him to endorse the Republican nominee, and would preclude a third-party run. Trump made the stunning decision, which he has long resisted, to avoid complications in getting listed on primary ballots, and to take away an attack line in the next debate, the associate said.
Republican Party insiders do not want Donald Trump to win their party's presidential nomination, but they can imagine an even worse scenario: Trump coming up short in the GOP primaries and then running on a third-party ticket.
For a few months, the New York developer has made no secret of his willingness to consider a third-party campaign, even toying with the idea at the recent GOP debate on Fox News. The chatter has led to quite a bit of consternation among party officials, some of whom have even begun exploring possible constraints to force Trump's hand.
As of this morning, however, the need for Republican handwringing appears to be over. Politico reported:
I should note that Trump's decision has not yet been confirmed by MSNBC or NBC News, though multiple news organizations, including the Washington Post and Bloomberg Politics, are reporting the same thing.
It's an unexpected development. Trump has gone out of his way to position himself as the candidate who isn't, and can never be, pushed around, but this appears to be an important exception. Republican officials have taken every step they can think of to corral Trump into committing to the party's nominating process, and by this reasoning, the frontrunner appears to have cried, "Uncle."
Indeed, it's a move that comes with a series of risks.
As Rachel noted on the show last night, Trump has enjoyed great leverage over GOP insiders, effectively telling them that if he's unsatisfied by how he's treated by Republicans, he'll simply exit through the side door and make their lives miserable.
By signing the party's pledge and committing himself to the process and the eventual Republican nominee, Trump is giving away this leverage in exchange for very little.
There is one additional angle to keep in mind, though. Party pledges are more symbolic gestures than legal contracts, and there's no obvious enforcement mechanism. Candidates are supposed to feel bound by the agreements, knowing that they risk a public backlash if they abandon their pledge.
But as Trump likes to remind audiences all the time, he considers himself something of an expert when it comes to deal-making and working agreements to his own advantage. Yes, Trump will reportedly sign the Republican National Committee's agreement, but will he actually honor it? Or will he say America needs him to run, by any means necessary?
Sore-loser laws would complicate Trump's future if he tries to jump ship next year and launch an independent bid anyway, but if his standing falters, and a third-party option emerges next spring or summer, I'm not entirely convinced he'll see the RNC's pledge as an insurmountable hurdle.
For now, however, Trump appears to be committing himself to Republicans -- their party, their process, and their 2016 ticket. If the published reports are correct, he'll sign the document in just a few minutes and hold a press conference at 2 p.m. eastern to talk about his decision.