In September, the Republican National Committee, fearing the rise of Donald Trump, made him sign a loyalty pledge. The party was sure at the time Mr. Trump would make some sort of gaff, dooming his own campaign, and the contest would be handed it over to their favored nominee.
But the party needed Mr. Trump’s supporters — and him — to fall in line. It couldn’t risk a third-party run, which would surely give the White House to Hillary Clinton. So the loyalty pledge became the way they were going to control Mr. Trump.
Now on Wednesday, after Mr. Trump’s double-digit win in Arizona and his path to the nomination clear, a top RNC official, who is overseeing the party’s convention preparations, conducted several private meetings with anti-Trump conservatives, who are hell bent on stopping Mr. Trump from getting the 1,237 delegates he needs to become the presumed nominee.
“Sean Cairncross, the RNC’s chief operating officer, addressed a trio of exclusive, off-the-record gatherings that will bring together many of the party’s most prominent hard-right voices, including the Conservative Action Project breakfast, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist’s Wednesday meeting, and what’s known as the Paul Weyrich lunch, named after the late conservative activist,” Alex Isenstadt of Politico wrote.
“Many of those there to hear Cairncross are seeking out ways to defeat Trump at a potentially contested Republican National Convention in Cleveland, going so far as to consider imposing rule changes at the convention that would hamper Trump’s ability to secure the nomination,” Mr. Isenstadt reported.
How rich. And what a double standard.
At this exact time four years ago, Mitt Romney had a 295 delegate lead over Rick Santorum — a slightly larger advance than Mr. Trump’s 275 delegate lead over Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. With the exception of Wisconsin, however, the electoral map favors Mr. Trump, with many contests in the northeast.
In March 2012, the political class was already starting to circle their wagons around Mr. Romney, despite him not having the number of delegates necessary to clinch the nomination. Only Newt Gingrich vowed to take his candidacy all the way to the convention, while at the same time he was scaling back his campaign and lightening up his criticisms of Mr. Romney on the trail.
“Officially, there are still four active candidates for the Republican presidential nomination,” John King reported on CNN on March 28, 2012. “But tonight’s truth is an acknowledgment of today’s new math. This is a two-man race, a Romney/Santorum race, and Governor Romney has to be considered the solid frontrunner.”
That same week, Mr. Romney picked up the official endorsement of former President George H.W. Bush, and told Jay Leno, the longer the nomination battle, the longer the odds for a Republican to take the White House.
“I think if we would have waited until the end of August to have a nominee, it would make it a lot tougher to be successful in replacing our president,” Mr. Romney told Mr. Leno.
By the end of April, 2012 — although Mr. Romney had still yet to nab the number of delegates he needed to win the nomination outright — the RNC endorsed him as the presumptive nominee and coordinated their financial and media resources behind him.
After the endorsement, Mr. Romney started winning Republican primaries by more than a 70 percent margin, compared to the average 43 percent he was winning beforehand.
This situation will not be repeated with Mr. Trump — he’s going to have to win every delegate he needs on his own, with his own money, or face a contested convention in July.
The RNC is banking on it.