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Ronna McDaniel
Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Over the weekend, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel—recently reelected to her position after a challenge from the far right—made a remarkable statement.

She indicated on CNN’s State of the Union all Republicans seeking the party’s nomination for president would be required to sign a pledge to support whoever ultimately is the party’s nominee, and that pledge would be a precondition to participating in the GOP primary debates.

“I suspect that a pledge will be a part of it,” McDaniel said to CNN’s Dana Bash, reminding her they had this requirement back in 2016, too.

“I think it’s a no-brainer."
"If you’re going to be on the Republican National Committee debate stage, asking supporters to support you, you should say, ‘I will support the voters and who they choose as the nominee'.”

It’s only been eight years, but McDaniel is ignoring the party’s history with the very person this is all aimed at: Donald Trump.

Let’s take a look at why McDaniel is maneuvering to secure this pledge at this moment and then review the history behind such pledges. You’ll see why those of us who remember that history are left wondering why it is Republicans didn’t learn their lesson.

Donald Trump already isn’t keen on making the pledge.

Trump was on conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt’s show recently, and he was asked about whether he would support someone like Ron DeSantis as the nominee. “It would depend. I would give you the same answer I have in 2016 during the debate," Trump said.

“It would have to depend on who the nominee was.”

Asked about McDaniel’s threat of a required pledge, a Trump campaign spokesperson shot back:

“President Trump will support the Republican nominee because it will be him.”

Hoo boy. McDaniel and the rest of the GOP leadership understand that there are likely only two outcomes here.

Either Trump gets the nomination, or he sets about to destroy whoever actually does get it by, say, running as a third party candidate and taking his 30 percent of MAGA voters with him. Biden of course would cruise to victory in such a situation.

But what about the pledge? Couldn’t that work? Let’s look back at 2015 for a moment.

Reince Priebus tried this before.

Both the Trump campaign and those more familiar with how Trump operates are laughing at the idea of a signed pledge requirement.

Back in 2015, then RNC chair Reince Priebus went to then candidate Trump with precisely such a document and emerged triumphantly from Trump Tower with a promise in writing to support the party’s eventual nominee, whoever it would be, and not to run as a third party candidate.

The fact that Priebus (and soon, it seems, McDaniel) felt so self-satisfied about securing that pledge proves how readily the GOP wrongly believes it can appease a determined bully. This delivered some real Neville Chamberlain vibes, TBH.

Erstwhile GOP strategist turned chief Republican critic Rick Wilson wrote about Priebus’s supposed triumph in his book, Everything Trump Touches Dies.

Wilson recounted:

"Not long after Trump entered the race, Priebus feared Trump would bolt the party, run as an independent, and wreck the GOP’s chances against Hillary Clinton."
"He absurdly believed if he convinced Trump to sign a GOP loyalty pledge, Trump would support the party after he lost the primary and that the oath would moderate some of Red Hat Don’s more grotesque excesses."
"So Priebus went to Trump Tower with a cheesy parchment that looked like it was extracted from a bin of discount award certificates at Office Depot and run through a knockoff-brand inkjet printer and had Trump sign it."
"The chairman of the party of Lincoln got rolled like a rube off the cheap bus to Atlantic City on a Friday night. What Reince saw as a solemn oath, Trump saw as a reality-TV stunt."

The ruse of course was clear once the GOP primary debates actually got going.

There was this unforgettable moment in 2015, which McDaniel apparently still somehow forgot, when Trump was the sole candidate to raise his hand saying he would not pledge to support the eventual GOP nominee, whoever it was.

But wait!

Trump signed the pledge! How could he go back on his word? What a liar!

Anyone who thinks Trump honors actual legally binding contracts, let alone non-binding pledges, really ought not to be negotiating anything with him on behalf of the GOP or anyone for that matter.

This is the same guy who said, over and over, that he would release his taxes, that he would build the wall and get Mexico to pay for it, and that it was going to be infrastructure week any time now.

None of it was true. Trump could sign anything he’d like with McDaniel, but the minute he’s on that stage, it’s worthless.

The only possible reason I’ve seen anyone propose for why Trump might ultimately support the GOP candidate other than himself is if Trump were facing federal criminal charges or has been convicted of them and would like to angle for a presidential pardon.

And that raises one more rather insane but quite possible scenario next year in the upside down of the GOP: The most likely nominee of that increasingly broken party in 2024 is an ex-President facing multiple indictments for his criminal efforts to try and remain president by overturning the 2020 election.

In other words, the GOP will most likely nominate a criminal rather than risk him taking his voter base for himself.

And with that, the GOP will have reached yet another new bottom in its there-is-no-bottom universe.