Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus insists that he doesn’t think Donald Trump or any other GOP presidential candidate will make a third-party run if he loses the nomination. But if someone does, the GOP will be ready.
On a marathon Sunday that saw him appear on five television news shows, Mr. Priebus moved diplomatically to steer Mr. Trump away from an independent bid, offering more details on the pledges signed by Republican candidates to support the nominee and suggesting that statements to the contrary have “consequences.”
“Those kinds of comments, I think, have consequences,” said Mr. Priebus on ABC’s “This Week.” “And so when you make those kinds of comments and you want people to fall in line for you, it makes it more difficult.”
Mr. Priebus said the pledges signed by primary candidates was not “some sort of magical paper,” but an agreement. In exchange for their pledge, he said, candidates received RNC voter data and other resources worth as much as $100 million.
Would he enforce the agreement with a lawsuit, asked host Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”
“I’m not going to get into every detail of the agreement. But it’s a data exchange agreement with the RNC and among the things that they can use at the RNC,” Mr. Priebus said.
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“One of the things that we say is, ‘Look, we’ll give you these things. But you have to agree that you’re going to support the party and the eventual nominee.’ They’ve all agreed to that. And we’ll see what happens,” Mr. Priebus said.
Moments earlier, the billionaire businessman once again refused to rule out the possibility of an independent run if he loses the Republican nomination.
“I’m going to have to see how I was treated. Very simple,” Mr. Trump said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I just want to be treated — it’s not a question of win or lose. It’s a question of treatment. I want to be treated fair.”
At the same time, both Mr. Priebus and Mr. Trump made it clear that they don’t expect a third-party scenario to unfold. Mr. Priebus dismissed it as “just a bunch of talk at this point” by candidates who may be “posturing” in order to gain “leverage.”
“No one has broken the pledge,” Mr. Priebus said, adding, “But certainly, we expect that when candidates make commitments, that they keep them. And that’s about what I’m going to say about it.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Trump said that he fully expects to win the Republican nomination. He currently leads the three-candidate field in delegates entering Tuesday’s Wisconsin “winner take most” primary.
“Look, I’m by far the front-runner as a Republican,” said Mr. Trump. “I want to run as a Republican. I will beat Hillary Clinton.”
Even with his 736 delegates, however, there remains a path for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to capture the nomination. Polls show Mr. Cruz leading in Wisconsin and gaining momentum in other states as conservatives intensify their anti-Trump push.
Mr. Priebus acknowledged that Republicans are increasingly eyeing the scenario of an open or brokered convention if no candidate amasses the necessary 1,237 delegates before the July 18 gathering at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
“We will know where everyone stands on delegates on June 8 after the June 7 primaries,” said Mr. Priebus. “There will be no mystery over who has the majority, or if someone doesn’t whether it’s going to be an open convention.”
He rebutted suggestions that the party may “steal” the nomination, saying the process would be “clear, open and transparent.” Trump ally Roger Stone said Friday that “Trump nation” would organize “days of rage” at the convention if the party tries anything fishy.
“Nothing can get stolen from anyone,” Mr. Priebus said. “We have rules in place that if a candidate gets to 1,237 delegates, those delegates are bound and they will vote that way on the floor. And if they don’t vote that way on the floor, which they will, but if they don’t, the secretary will read the vote as if they were bound regardless.”
GOP strategist Karl Rove has promoted the idea of a “white knight” nominee, in which a Republican from outside the primary field such as House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin would be nominated at the convention, but Mr. Priebus discounted the possibility.
“If anything like that were to happen, which I think is highly, highly unlikely, I think our candidate is someone who’s running, okay?” Mr. Priebus said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
But Ohio Gov. John Kasich, one of the last three men standing disagreed on both counts Sunday — both predicting Sunday that Republicans would wind up with an open convention in July and calling such a scenario “fun” and “cool.”
“It’s going to be so much fun. Kids will spend less time focusing on [Justin] Bieber and [Kim] Kardashian, and more time focusing on how we elect presidents,” Mr. Kasich said on ABC’s This Week. “It will be so cool.”
In that case, Mr. Kasich said he thinks he would emerge from the convention as the GOP nominee, even though he lags far behind both Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz in delegates.
Currently Mr. Kasich’s only path to the GOP nomination rests with an open convention. Under the RNC’s rule 40(b), only candidates who have garnered a majority in at least eight states may be nominated on the floor, and Mr. Kasich has won just one state, Ohio.
Based on his experience in economic and record, however, Mr. Kasich said, “I believe that a convention will look at somebody like me, and that’s why I think I’m going to be the nominee. We just have to keep going. And we’re going to have an open convention.”
Lost amid the talk of a brokered Republican convention is the very real possibility on the Democratic side, he said, if FBI Director James Comey’s investigation into the email scandal dogging Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton produces an indictment.
“I mean, I understand that we’ve got some drama on our side of the aisle that we’re going to have to contend with, and we’ll be prepared to like never before, but I think if you look at the Democrats, I think they’re in for a fiasco,” Mr. Priebus said on CBS’s Face the Nation.
“Especially if Comey comes in and indicts Hillary Clinton and they have an open convention and who knows — I’ve heard people talking about [Vice President] Joe Biden coming back into the fold,” he said.