What The GOP Loyalty Pledge Backtracks Say About The Current Race Is Anything But Hopeful

Much has changed since the Republican presidential candidates took a loyalty pledge in the fall of last year, stating that they'd support whomever eventually nabs their party's nomination. Way back when the field was crowded with over a dozen candidates, every single one signed off on the RNC document presented to them. At the time, only frontrunner Donald Trump appeared to be doing so skeptically, appearing to be fairly open to an independent run. Less than half a year later, the loyalty pledge is dead and the GOP is falling apart. Just three candidates remain, and every single one disavowed the pledge during a CNN town hall on Tuesday night — some more boisterously than others.

Trump flat-out stated that he no longer will support a Republican nominee, presumably unless it's The Donald himself. Every candidate was asked about the pledge. Cruz was asked three times. Though initially somewhat evasive, he indicated that he's "not in the habit of supporting someone who attacks my wife and my family." The Texas senator went even further, explicitly stating that a Trump nomination would be "an absolute train wreck" for the party and would all but guarantee a loss to a Democratic candidate. Kasich scoffed at the question, which had initially been presented at one of the first GOP debates and was once again a matter of discussion. He said:

Frankly, all of us shouldn't have even answered that question [back then]. I've got to see what happens. If the nominee is somebody that I think is really hurting the country, and dividing the country, I can't stand behind him.

That somebody sure sounds an awful lot like Trump, especially given the fact that Kasich's last-ditch effort to nab the nomination depends on a contested convention. Though Kasich didn't name his fellow candidate, Cruz took it upon himself to do so. As the second-place candidate, the Texas senator may still have a fighting chance to beat The Donald through delegate support. Whereas Kasich's chances are mathematically impossible, Cruz can hit the required 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination if he's able to land at least 86 percent of those still up for grabs. Such momentum remains to be seen, though Cruz did recently earn a high-profile endorsement from Scott Walker, which may help his chances.

Candidates appear to be doing everything in their power to thwart Trump's nomination. Even a former presidential hopeful has unleashed an unusual tactic meant to force a contested convention. Marco Rubio's bid to keep his delegates potentially eliminates as many as 171 delegates from being on the table for other candidates to claim at the convention. This means Rubio is so committed to stopping The Donald that he's written to all 21 states where he's received delegates, requesting that they continue to support a politician who's suspended his campaign rather than pledge themselves to any of the three remaining candidates.

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In another election — perhaps even the last contest in 2012 — Rubio's move would draw condemnation from the party, harsh scrutiny from pundits, and a legitimately befuddled Republican voting population far more focused on defeating a Democratic challenger than perpetuating party infighting. Not so with this election. The fact that Alaskan Republican Party Chairman Peter Goldberg has already indicated that he'll comply with Rubio's request points to a GOP in free fall, as no candidate feels comfortable with what the future holds. Rubio's move certainly echoes the apprehensions of Kasich and Cruz.

The future looks grim for the Republicans, and the backtracks on the loyalty pledge only reaffirm the party's uncertainty about its own candidates as it looks toward its convention in the summer.