“I will be totally pledging my allegiance to the Republican Party,” Donald Trump said on Thursday, holding up a piece of paper with his signature and the wrong date for all of America to see.
The moment was one that Republican party establishment figures had been waiting for. With that pledge, Trump entered into a formal agreement with the Republican National Committee that he will not run for president as an independent if he doesn’t win the party’s nomination next year.
Trump had been threatening to do just that if he wasn’t “treated fairly” by the RNC, and the prospect was a little scary for Republicans. Trump is, after all, polling far ahead of every other GOP candidate. If he dropped out and ran as an independent, he’d surely derail support for the eventual Republican nominee and hand the election to a Democrat.
But now the pledge is signed. There’s even a couple with correct dates on them. So that’s the end of that story, right?
“Pledges like this just don’t mean anything,” said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics and managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball. “Anyone who thinks that this will someone preclude a Trump third party run is full of themselves.”
Trump’s pledge, Kondik explained, is not a legally enforceable contract. The Washington Post described it this way: “It’s like the sort of pledge you get your kids to sign that they will do their homework, make their beds and eat their vegetables before they can play with your iPhone. It’s a statement of intention, but not a binding one.”
It’s also not like Trump is well-known for keeping political promises. In fact, Trump’s changed his mind about his policy positions so much that Meet the Press was able to put together a two-minute montage of his flip-flops, titled Trump vs. Trump.
In other words, Kondick said, if there’s any politician that would back out of a non-binding agreement, it’s probably Donald Trump.
“Trump could just say, ‘The party’s betrayed me,'” he said. “There’s any number of excuses he could come up with to run as an independent.”
Whether the pledge will hurt or help him in the polls is a matter of debate. The most recent polling from Monmouth University put Trump way ahead of his challengers, with 30 percent of support nationally.
Kondick was inclined to believe it might help him temporarily, while National Journal speculated that some supporters may abandon him now that he’s lost a bit of of his anti-establishment cred.
Either way, the pledge of loyalty does mean at least one thing: that Trump’s continuing to make news. And that may have been his intention all along.
“If you believe that Trump’s rise has a lot to do with his media coverage, well, here’s another big story on Trump going into Labor Day,” Kondick said.