Amid mounting concerns about Donald Trump's candidacy from the GOP establishment, Republican leaders in at least two states have found a way to make life a lot harder for him. The Virginia and North Carolina parties are in discussions about implementing a new requirement for candidates to qualify for their primary ballots: that they pledge to support the Republican presidential nominee -- and not run as a third-party candidate -- in the general election.
We've seen some reports this week noting that Donald Trump, who's repeatedly refused to rule out a third-party presidential bid, may no longer have a choice. CNN, for example, said the Republican frontrunner "must rule out a third-party bid before October if he wants to compete in South Carolina's Republican primary, a crucial test in the nominating contest."
Strictly speaking, that may not be entirely right. South Carolina's GOP does, in fact, require Republican presidential hopefuls to sign something akin to a loyalty oath, but the wording is almost comically weak: "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."
Could Trump sign the document about his "general beliefs" and then later change his mind? Maybe. Enforcing loyalty oaths is inherently tricky, so it's difficult to say with confidence what would happen if a candidate "intends" to support the party's nominee and then later changes his or her intentions.
Still, while the Republican National Committee has very little influence over Trump's chances, Politico reported this week that some state parties are starting to see loyalty oaths as a worthwhile tool aimed at the New York developer.
The move probably wouldn't cost Trump support within the party, but that's obviously not the point -- these GOP officials are worried about Trump bolting the party and splitting the right in the general election. They're looking for mechanisms to tie the candidates' hands, forcing them to commit to the party's process.
The idea is not without risks. The Washington Post, focusing primarily on the Virginia state party, noted this week that the idea of new loyalty oaths "is being debated cautiously by Republicans who worry that it could backfire and breed resentment among activists who are suspicious of attempts by the GOP establishment to control the party."
At a minimum, it's a development worth keeping an eye on. We don't yet know what the wording of Virginia and/or North Carolina oaths would look like -- presumably, officials would want something stronger than South Carolina's, if party lawyers sign off -- but according to the Politico report, any changes "must be submitted to the Republican National Committee by Oct. 1."