Throughout my time campaigning for public office, over the course of several Republican Party primaries I ran against an incumbent, as an incumbent, and for an open seat. The last GOP primary I contested was for our party’s nomination for Michigan’s 11th Congressional District in 2002. Fortunately, I was successful in every one of these primaries and, later, in the ensuing general elections. What helped make these latter general election victories possible was the grace and magnanimity of my defeated GOP primary rivals, each of whom supported my campaigns against Democrat opponents.
The reason seems straightforward: as fellow Republicans we knew that whatever our differences, they paled before our mutual aversion to the Democrats’ agenda. But nothing is ever “straightforward” in politics. Intense emotion is involved, especially in the aftermath of the heated, internecine warfare of a party primary.
Admittedly, following my early primary victories I was not as appreciative as I should have been for my defeated rivals’ support. But as I aged, I did find the empathy to put myself in their shoes; and to realize that I had to do everything I could to make it easier for my defeated GOP rivals to support me. This included expressing my need for their general election support and my immense gratitude for their tendering it. As Churchill once said: “magnanimity in victory, defiance in defeat.” Luckily for me, my defeated GOP rivals saved their defiance for our mutual opponents in the Democrat Party, rather than for me.
Today, in the odd, unwanted moments when I hear the “mystic chords of memory” from past campaigns, my grateful appreciation remains for the willingness of my unsuccessful GOP rivals to support my general election efforts. It took an incredible amount of intellectual and emotional strength for them to do it; and, though I was never in their position, I hoped I would have had the same courage to set aside my ego and disappointment and endorse my victorious rival for the sake of my party, my community, and my country.
The reason for this nostalgic vignette is not to honor the past but to instruct the present. To wit: former president Donald Trump has declined to sign the Republican National Committee’s colloquially termed “Beat Biden pledge.” The pledge would commit Mr. Trump to endorse the ultimate GOP 2024 presidential nominee. Signing the pledge also is required to participate in the GOP’s presidential debates. This is likely not a factor in Mr. Trump’s decision, as he has announced he will eschew the first debate. What, then, are some factors in Mr. Trump’s thinking? Per the New York Post:
“I wouldn’t sign the pledge. Why would I sign a pledge? There are people on there that I wouldn’t have. I wouldn’t have certain people as, you know, somebody that I’d endorse,” Trump, 77, told Newsmax host Eric Bolling during an interview.
“I can name three or four people that I wouldn’t support for president. So right there, there’s a problem,” Trump said of the Republican National Committee’s loyalty pledge requirement.
Presently, Mr. Trump holds a significant lead over his GOP rivals for the presidential nomination. If his lead holds and Mr. Trump wins the GOP nomination, his signing the “Beat Biden pledge” would put his opponents on the defensive. It would make it harder, though not impossible, for them to renege on their pledged support for Mr. Trump in the general election campaign. So, why did he not sign?
Again, the RNC requires Mr. Trump’s GOP rivals to commit to endorsing the 2024 nominee to participate in the debates. Consequently, if Mr. Trump’s wins, everyone on the stage in Milwaukee has already committed to supporting him. Declining to be in the debate, Mr. Trump has no need to sign the pledge for that purpose. In fact, in expressing his refusal to sign the pledge, he has another opportunity to trash his GOP rivals as being unworthy of the debate. (And, in refraining from naming the “three or four” rivals he would not support, he casts all his rival under suspicion).
One would think this is political deftness. One would be mistaken.
While Mr. Trump has a lead in a primary election – a segment of a segment of the overall electorate – he is in deep trouble in a general election. Again, per the New York Post, an AP-NORC Center survey found that 53% of Americans say they will “definitely not” vote for Mr. Trump, and 11% more say they “probably will not” vote for Mr. Trump. In sum, then, Mr. Trump should be leveraging his large primary lead not to denigrate and humiliate his GOP rivals, but rather to unite the Republican Party behind his candidacy.
This is a point not lost upon the more politically savvy of his supporters. “There isn’t a real Republican Primary as President Trump continues to dominate the GOP primary in both national polls and early-state polls,” Republican House Conference Chair, Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), told Breitbart News. “All patriots should and must rally behind President Trump’s campaign to Save America and defeat the corrupt Deep State.”
True, to a point. While Mr. Trump has a large lead over each of his individual GOP opponents, the combined opposition to him is around 40%. As his rivals drop out, their voters are unlikely to go to Mr. Trump. Instead, they will go to other candidates until one challenger is left standing. This would be Mr. Trump’s nightmare scenario: one GOP rival left, who has garnered all the anti-Trump party support; and, should Mr. Biden not be the Democrat nominee, all bets could be off for Mr. Trump. Obviously, Mr. Trump wants to avoid this scenario. Further, as do all candidates, he wants to sew up the primary as soon as possible to stanch the loss of precious campaign resources in a drawn out primary. Nonetheless, presently the GOP is far from united behind Mr. Trump; and there is little to suggest this is going to change any time soon.
After all, should Mr. Trump somehow lose the primary, by his own admission he will not be patriotic enough to rally behind another GOP nominee and “Save America and defeat the corrupt deep state.” If Mr. Trump does win the primary, his failure to sign the pledge will be the pretense his GOP rivals, their supporters, and the Never-Trumpers will use to not endorse Mr. Trump in the general election. Given the poll numbers of the AP-NORC Center and others, and the continuing efforts of the Democrats to tilt the electoral playing field for their advantage – including by weaponizing government against their political opponents and all dissenters – it is imperative for Mr. Trump to be doing everything in his power to unite the GOP behind his candidacy, which he will absolutely need in a general election campaign.
But Mr. Trump is Mr. Trump. Entreaties from his supporters to declare the primary over before a vote is cast and rally around Mr. Trump or else be deemed unpatriotic are of minimal efficacy in uniting his rivals and their supporters behind him when Mr. Trump, himself, is refusing to reciprocate. On the contrary, Mr. Trump is continuing to insult, impugn, and alienate his rivals and the roughly 40% of Republicans supporting them. Simply, if the stakes for our free republic are as great as the GOP claims – and they are – Mr. Trump should prioritize party unity over his desire to dump on his competitors. And really, if Mr. Trump contends that anyone on the stage in Milwaukee would be worse president than Mr. Biden or any other prospective 2024 Democrat nominee, Mr. Trump will prove himself the leader of a faction, but not a party; and to be unfit to be the standard bearer of the party of Lincoln.
There is time. Mr. Trump said his supporters “want a smart president. They want somebody that’s going to be smart. So, we have to do the smart thing.” Well, then, the ball is in Mr. Trump’s court. Let us hope he smartly recognizes the stakes for our nation; and stops his cloying posturing that, if he loses the primary, he will take his ball and go home; and abet a Democrat win in 2024.
On my part, thrice have I voted for Mr. Trump; and, should he be the 2024 GOP nominee, I will do so again. Why? Because, I abide the wisdom employed by my long-ago GOP rivals, when they chose to support me: as a Republican, I truly believe the Democrats’ radical, extreme, and dangerous agenda is anathema to the preservation of our free republic, and I will act and vote accordingly.
Will a defeated Mr. Trump do the same? The GOP deserves to know; and they deserve a smarter answer than Mr. Trump has given to date. After all, if Mr. Trump cannot unite the party, how can he unite the country?
An American Greatness contributor, the Hon. Thaddeus G. McCotter (M.C., Ret.) represented Michigan’s 11th Congressional district from 2003-2012, and served as Chair of the Republican House Policy Committee. Not a lobbyist, he is a frequent public speaker and moderator for public policy seminars; and a Monday co-host of the “John Batchelor Radio Show,” among sundry media appearances.