Imagine that it’s October 2016. Republican presidential nominee George Pataki (amazing, right?) is striking a delicate balance between aggressive pandering to Hispanic and Asian voters and soothing the resentments of the tea party, whose loyalists are once again grumbling that their guy didn’t win the nomination.
Meanwhile, across Spanish-language radio and TV, and in glossy direct mail flooding into Hispanic and Asian households, Democratic groups are sending the following message:
“Even after Donald Trump called Mexicans ‘rapists’ and ‘murderers,’ vowed to deport 11 million hard-working immigrants in the U.S. and ran a campaign of intolerance and hate, George Pataki said he would support Trump if Trump became the Republican nominee. Pataki even put it in writing. We can’t afford a Trump supporter in the White House.”
Republicans had a chance to avoid this fate. And they recognized it at the time. In the wake of President Barack Obama’s 2012 victory, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, issued a report that practically begged Republicans to pass comprehensive immigration reform and recruit Hispanics and Asians into the Republican coalition.
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Instead, with Trump’s pledge this week to back the eventual Republican nominee, Priebus is lashing every one of his party’s presidential candidates to the anti-immigrant bigotry of Trump.
That’s not how it’s being played, of course. The whole reciprocal pledge idea was to keep Trump within the party and to prevent him from running an independent campaign that could undermine the Republican nominee. Over at Bloomberg Politics, the always shrewd Joshua Green wrote that Trump signed his “political death warrant.”
But if Trump doesn’t like being hemmed in by the pledge, he can probably break it. The point of his campaign is precisely to defy such conventions. It will be far more difficult for any Republican nominee to wash away the stain of his de facto endorsement of Trump. The Democrats’ direct-mail campaign almost writes itself.
Trump, in effect, can still leave the party in a huff. But with all 17 candidates signing the pledge, the party can no longer leave Trump. And that is a very risky proposition.
Francis Wilkinson is a Bloomberg View columnist. Readers may send him email at email@example.com