Donald Trump's comments about John McCain over the weekend made plenty of headlines, but there was something else the Republican presidential candidate said at the same forum that may have a lasting impact.
An attendee asked Trump on Saturday, "Would you go on record today saying that, if you can't get the Republican nomination, you will not run as a third-party candidate?" Trump shook his head and replied
, "No. No, I won't go on record saying that."
It's a subject that comes up with surprising frequency. Two weeks ago, the candidate boasted
, "I've had many, many people ask me about running as an independent. My sole focus is to run as a Republican. I'm a conservative Republican.... It's something I'm not thinking about right now."
Two days later, the topic was still on Trump's mind. "So many people want me to run as an independent -- so many people. I have been asked by -- you have no idea, everybody wants me to do it," he told
the Washington Post
And in a new interview
with The Hill
, Trump's interest in a third-party candidacy almost sounded like a threat.
Donald Trump says the chances that he will launch a third-party White House run will "absolutely" increase if the Republican National Committee is unfair to him during the 2016 primary season. "The RNC has not been supportive. They were always supportive when I was a contributor. I was their fair-haired boy," the business mogul told The Hill in a 40-minute interview from his Manhattan office at Trump Tower on Wednesday. "The RNC has been, I think, very foolish."
He reportedly added, once again, that "so many people" want him to run an independent presidential bid. "I'll have to see how I'm being treated by the Republicans," Trump added. "Absolutely, if they're not fair, that would be a factor."
At this stage in the process, it's hard to say with confidence how serious to take rhetoric like this. Trump is no doubt aware of the consequences associated with splitting the far-right, which makes a third-party bid unlikely, but he also has an unquestionable thirst for attention -- and if his Republican campaign comes up short, an independent candidacy would guarantee months of time in the national spotlight, and quite possibly even a spot on the stage for the official presidential debates in the fall of 2016.
What's more, unlike most candidates who consider third-party candidacies, Trump is a billionaire, which means financial resources wouldn't be a concern.
It is, if nothing else, an angle worth watching.
As for the larger context, as Republican insiders tear their hair out
over Trump's dominant position, now seems like a fine time to remind the GOP establishment that this entire phenomenon is arguably the GOP's fault. Frank Rich had a good piece
on this yesterday.
The GOP can blame the media all it wants, but the party has no one to blame but itself for weaponizing Trump. It subsidized and encouraged the market for what Trump is now selling.
Not only did the Republican Party validate Trump for years during his ridiculous Birther conspiracy crusade, but it also convinced the GOP base that over-the-top vitriol towards immigrants, especially from Mexico, is entirely acceptable.
's Simon Maloy added
yesterday, "In the minds of voters and activists, candidates who freely and forcefully say crazy s**t are merely 'saying what needs to be said.' This veneration of the willingness to be 'un-PC' is a natural reaction to the many years of griping from conservative media and Republican officeholders that liberals and the mainstream press are trying to police their speech."
Trump recognized these attitudes, gave voice to the fury that GOP leaders have spent years cultivating, effectively hijacked the party's nominating contest, and propelled himself to the top of the polls.
Republican leaders are beside themselves. Funny, Dr. Frankenstein didn't care for the monster he created, either.