Whether Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was serious or not when he hinted the party might take action against NeverTrumpers wishing to make future presidential bids, it will be the voters the anti-Trump GOP holdouts have most to fear.
Priebus hinted on “Face the Nation” that Republicans with presidential dreams could not reject 2016 nominee Donald Trump without penalty.
“It’s encouraging for starters that you have Priebus standing up to presidential candidates who did not live up to their word.”
“Those people need to get on board,” he said. “And if they’re thinking they’re going to run again someday, I think that we’re going to evaluate the process — of the nomination process and I don’t think it’s going to be that easy for them.”
Priebus was speaking specifically about Ohio Gov. John Kasich. The remarks sparked a public feud with the Kasich camp. Adviser John Weaver fired off a response on campaign letterhead to Politico, arguing that the governor puts “principles before politics” and bashing Priebus.
“The idea of a greater purpose beyond oneself may be alien to political party bosses like Reince Priebus, but it is at the center of everything Governor Kasich does,” Weaver wrote.
Despite an unusual number of holdout elected leaders and neoconservative thought leaders, however, the party’s voters appear no more conflicted about Trump than Democrats are about Hillary Clinton. In a CBS News/New York Times poll this month, Clinton had the support of 81 percent of Democrats, while Trump claimed the backing of 82 percent of Republicans.
Some grassroots activists said Priebus is right to crack down on losing GOP primary candidates who signed a pledge to support the party’s nominee — an agreement designed, ironically, to box in Trump should he have been tempted to launch an independent bid.
“It’s encouraging for starters that you have Priebus standing up to presidential candidates who did not live up to their word,” said Michael Johns, a founder of the Tea Party movement who leads the group Tea Party Community. “That was an ironclad agreement. There was no ambiguity.”
Johns, a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush, said the candidates received valuable data in exchange for signing that pledge. He said he hopes Preibus takes a consistent and hard line against Sen. Ted Cruz and other former candidates who have not gotten behind Trump.
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As to other NeverTrumpers among the party’s elected ranks, Johns said it is a “less significant offense” since they did not sign a pledge.
Representatives of Cruz and Sens. Ben Sasse and Jeff Flake did not return calls seeking comment. An RNC spokeswoman also did not respond to questions about whether Priebus intended to punish other politicians.
It is unclear what steps the national party could take against Senate candidates.
The Arizona Republican Party has no loyalty clause, party spokesman Tim Sifert told LifeZette.
“The sole ability to determine the nominees rests with voters in the primary,” he said. “It’s really up to the voters to decide.”
Sifert noted that several county Republican committees have voted to censure Sen. John McCain to express displeasure over certain votes and positions.
“It had no teeth to it,” he said. “It didn’t really mean anything.”
It could be a different story for any Republican who wants a future in national politics, however.
“I’m hoping there’s still time for [Cruz] to come forward or I think he and all the other people you named will be left in the rear-view mirror of the Republican Party moving forward,” Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Monday on “The Laura Ingraham Show.”
Johns, the Tea Party activist, agreed Cruz is hurting himself.
“Cruz definitely has lost a lot of credibility as a person of his word,” Johns said.