The Buzz

Graham wants Trump off debate stage until he signs state GOP pledge

Donald Trump (on left) and Lindsey Graham
Donald Trump (on left) and Lindsey Graham

The pledge that the South Carolina Republican Party currently requires of presidential primary candidates to support the party’s eventual nominee won’t stand up in court, according to a former state party chair.

Katon Dawson said the pledge language the state party employed when he was chair during the 2008 election cycle was much stronger, though he couldn’t produce the form with the earlier phrasing.

The current language has “no legal teeth in it,” he said.

Dawson said he examined the latest wording as part of his political consultant work for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, one of 17 Republicans running for president.

“I’ve had a lawyer look at it, and you can drive a dump truck through it,” Dawson said.

The issue of the pledge and its enforceability has taken on new importance since the candidate currently leading the Republican field, New York billionaire Donald Trump, has so far declined to rule out the possibility of mounting a third-party campaign in the event voters reject him as the GOP nominee.

Trump has until Sept. 30 to decide whether to sign the South Carolina pledge.

Matt Moore, current chairman of the state GOP, expressed confidence in the enforceability of the current pledge language.

If Trump or any other candidate mounted a third-party campaign after signing the pledge, the state party would sue to keep the “sore loser” off of state ballots during the general election, Moore said.

“We hope we’re not required to,” he said, adding that the state GOP has “excellent relations” with Trump’s campaign.

In addition to the threat of litigation, “There’s also the court of public opinion,” Moore said. “And if you violate a pledge, it’s not taken too kindly by our voters.”

Moore said he expects Trump to sign the pledge as other Republican presidential candidates have done.

Butch Bowers, attorney for the South Carolina GOP, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Trump declined an opportunity to rule out a third-party run during an Aug. 27 visit to Greenville, noting that he had until Sept. 30 to file the paperwork to compete in South Carolina’s first-in-the-South presidential preference primary.

On Tuesday, Hope Hicks, national spokesperson for the Trump campaign, declined to comment on the matter.

South Carolina Rep. Jim Merrill of Charleston, state director for Trump’s campaign, said the real estate magnate and reality television star hasn’t said he won’t sign the pledge “just that he isn’t willing to make that pledge now.”

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who signed the pledge Tuesday as part of filing to run in the Feb. 20 primary, said he doesn’t think Trump should be allowed to appear in the next televised debates for Republican White House hopefuls on Sept. 16 until he agrees to support the party’s eventual nominee.

“If I were in charge of the Republican Party, nobody would be appearing on a debate stage as a Republican until they committed to run as a Republican,” Graham told reporters during a campaign stop in Spartanburg on Monday.

Ali Pardo, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said it helped set the dates, times and locations for the GOP’s nine presidential debates in 2016 but other details were left to staging organizations, which in the case of the next debate is CNN.