- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 3, 2015

Donald Trump pledged support Thursday for the GOP’s eventual presidential nominee and agreed to forgo an independent bid for the White House should he not be Republicans’ pick, calming party leaders’ fears the maverick businessman could play spoiler next year.

Appearing after a meeting with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus at the Trump Tower in New York, Mr. Trump signed the pledge, vowed to be a conservative Republican and insisted he will lead the party to victory against whomever the Democrats nominate.

“The best way for the Republicans to win is if I win the nomination and go directly against whoever [the Democrats] put up, and for that reason I have signed the pledge,” Mr. Trump said, sparking applause from the crowd. “So, I will be totally pledging my allegiance to the Republican Party and the conservative principles for which it stands, and we will go out and we will fight hard and we will win. We will win, and most importantly we will make our country great again.”

The announcement is welcome news for the Republican National Committee, which has sought more control over the nomination race and called on all major candidates to sign the loyalty pledge after Mr. Trump suggested on multiple occasions that he was wary of forgoing an independent or third-party bid should the GOP reject him.

The front-runner for the GOP nomination, Mr. Trump last month was the only one of 10 candidates on the main stage in the first presidential debate to refuse to pledge to back the eventual nominee.

But he changed his tune after the meeting with Mr. Priebus on Thursday, the same day a new Monmouth University poll showed Mr. Trump leading with support from 30 percent of Republicans.

“If I’m the nominee, I will pledge I will not run as an independent,” the 69-year-old billionaire businessman said.

The RNC pledge asks candidates to promise to endorse the 2016 Republican presidential nominee regardless of who it is. It also asks them to pledge not to run as an independent or write-in candidate, and to reject the nomination of any other party if offered.

Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, said that Mr. Trump’s decision is good news for the GOP — as long as he doesn’t change his mind.

“All along it’s felt like Trump has had a gun to the head of Republicans basically saying, ‘Vote for me or I’ll kill the GOP,’” Mr. Fehrnstrom said. “By signing the pledge, Trump loses his extortionate power over the party. But at the end of the day, I don’t think the pledge is worth much because Trump can always invent a reason for backing out of it by claiming the party violated its pledge to him to be fair.”

For his part, Mr. Trump said he has “no intention” of changing his mind.

“I see no circumstances under which I would tear up that pledge,” he said.

Over the last month he had said he was waiting to see if the party would treat him fairly — and he said the signs so far have been that it has.

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, has been trading punches with his rivals, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whom Mr. Trump has pushed from the top of the candidate list.

Mr. Bush has argued that Mr. Trump’s past stances in favor of abortion rights, and his support for Democrats, make him the wrong choice to lead Republicans into next year’s elections.

Mr. Bush tried to draw contrast with Mr. Trump again on Thursday, releasing a photo on Twitter that read: “Voted Republican Since 1972. Jeb Bush.”

Mr. Bush has said he also will sign the loyalty pledge. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed it during an on-air appearance Thursday on Fox News.

“I think if you are running for the Republican nomination for president, you should be able to support the Republican nominee,” Mr. Christie said. “I think there should be a ‘sore loser’ rule. If you run, you can’t be a sore loser and then run as an independent if you don’t win the nomination.”

For now, though, the race has been dominated by a war of words between Mr. Bush and Mr. Trump, with Mr. Trump landing the more pointed blows.

“Don’t forget, he was supposed to win. And he just doesn’t have the energy,” Mr. Trump said Thursday, going on to attack Mr. Bush as being controlled by donors and lobbyists.

“I will tell you this, nobody’s putting up millions of dollars for me,” he said. “I’m putting up my own money.”

Fear of Mr. Trump as an independent had consumed some GOP leaders, who see his popularity and his antipathy toward the establishment as dangers.

Republicans also want to avoid a repeat of the 1992 election where billionaire businessman Ross Perot ran. GOP leaders believe Mr. Perot siphoned votes from President George H.W. Bush — father of the current candidate — and delivered victory to Bill Clinton.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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