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|U.S. News & World Report||-|
Citing unfair treatment, the front-runner now says he will not support the Republican nominee if it isn't him. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump takes part in a town hall event moderated by Anderson Cooper.
On Tuesday night, the GOP front-runner said the pledge he once signed to back the eventual nominee had been made null and void, thanks to unfair treatment from the Republican National Committee.
Fielding questions from CNN's Anderson Cooper at a town hall in Milwaukee, Trump said recent events had him reconsidering the promise he made months ago.
"Do you continue to pledge [to support] whoever the Republican nominee is?" Cooper asked.
"No, I don't anymore," Trump replied.
Trump indicated his decision came after months of open efforts by "the RNC, the Republican Party, the establishment" to undermine his candidacy and prevent him from securing the nomination.
"You have a guy like [2012 Republican nominee] Mitt Romney who lost miserably, who did a terrible job ... I helped him. I raised him a million dollars" for his campaign, Trump said. "He ought to sit back and root for us instead of being a negative force."
Trump was initially hesitant to make any promises to support the nominee of a party he had only recently joined.
At the first debate of the 2016 election cycle back in August, the Fox News moderators asked all of the Republican candidates if they would pledge not to run a third-party campaign if they failed to win the GOP nomination; everyone on stage but Trump raised his hand.
A month later, the billionaire real estate mogul announced he had signed a document "totally pledging my allegiance to the Republican party and to the conservative principles for which it stands."
But now that Trump has the nomination in his sights, conservatives fretting that he could inflict long-lasting damage to the Republican Party have begun searching for an escape hatch.
Plan A is still to deny Trump the delegates to prevail at the convention in July, giving an opening to his chief rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, to sway enough delegates to his side to snatch the nomination away on the convention floor. If that fails, those aligned with the #NeverTrump movement have hinted at finding a conservative to run as an independent, knowingly handing the presidency to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton if it means keeping Trump out.
None of the other candidates, current or former, have explicitly said they would refuse to support Trump if he wins the nomination, but several have joined forces with those actively working against him.
Cruz, whose support has swelled as the once-sprawling field of candidates has narrowed to three, has been the greatest beneficiary of the #NeverTrump efforts. He's scored endorsements from several of his former rivals, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the latter of which came just a week before the Badger State holds its primaries.
Trump's attacks on his rivals turned increasingly nasty after Cruz won caucuses in Utah and Idaho earlier this month, prompting the front-runner to target Cruz's wife, Heidi.
Asked Tuesday by Cooper if he could support a Trump nomination, given the attacks on his family, Cruz still avoided saying outright that he would refuse to support Trump as the nominee.
Instead, he stuck to an answer that has become a staple of his campaign trail appearances: It won't matter, since Trump won't win.
"Donald is not going to be the GOP nominee. We're going to beat him," Cruz said.
Still, he left the possibility open that he doesn't plan to fall in line should Trump prevail in July.
"I'm not in the habit of supporting someone who attacks my wife and attacks my family," Cruz said. "I want this race to stay focused on policy and issues and solutions to the real problems facing America … But if other candidates don't, I think that's beyond the pale."
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the third candidate to sit down with Cooper Tuesday, also dodged the Trump question, instead lamenting that the pledge existed at all.
"Frankly, all of us shouldn't have even answered that question," he said, "but it was the first debate, and – you know? What the heck, sometimes you answer questions – you ought to just say I'm not answering it."
Kasich, who trails far behind Trump and Cruz in the delegate hunt but hopes to rack up enough support in upcoming northeastern states to stay relevant, said he was wary coming down on one side of the issue or the other.
"I've been disturbed by some of the things that I've seen," he said. "I have to think about what my word and endorsement would mean in a presidential campaign."
The danger for those trying to take Trump down lies in the strength of his base.
Even though he has yet to crack a majority in any state that has voted so far, his supporters have stuck with him through controversies and gaffes. And a majority of Republicans say the party should rally behind him if he has the most delegates, according to several recent polls.
Trump has suggested in the past that he would consider running as an independent if the party maneuvers to deny him the nomination, and has warned that "riots" could take place if he's undermined at the convention in July.
"I have tremendous support right now from the people. I'm way over 2 million votes more than [Cruz]. I have many, many, more delegates than him. Like, many, many more delegates," he said Tuesday. "We'll see what happens, but I think you'd have a lot of very upset people if that happened."