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Is The RNC's Party Loyalty Pledge Unconstitutional?

Created: 03 September, 2015
Updated: 16 October, 2022
3 min read

The Republican National Committee on Wednesday contacted a couple of campaigns about their willingness to sign a loyalty pledge, promising to support whoever the GOP nominee ends up being in 2016 and pledging not to run on a third-party or independent ticket. As indicated during the first Republican debate, all the candidates except one were willing to swear their unconditional loyalty to the party.

In fact, the reason the pledge made headlines nationwide is because Donald Trump had threatened on a number of occasions to run for president on a separate ticket if he did not win the GOP nomination. Media talking heads speculated on whether or not Trump would swear his allegiance to the Republican Party if the RNC applied enough pressure, and they got their answer on Thursday when Trump signed the pledge.

The RNC Pledge:

“I affirm that if I do not win the 2016 Republican nomination for president of the United States I will endorse the 2016 Republican presidential nominee regardless of who it is. I further pledge that I will not seek to run as an independent or write-in candidate nor will I seek or accept the nomination for president of any other party.”

While the pundits debate Trump's sincerity, the question that is getting overlooked is: why are candidates being forced to pledge their allegiance to a party or its nominee in the first place? And, why are people not outraged by the very idea of party loyalty pledges?

Yes, Trump and 16 other major candidates are running to be the Republican nominee, but whoever ends up winning the presidential election in 2016 is not being elected to serve their party -- they are being elected to serve the American people.

The problem with political pledges -- whether we are talking about a tax pledge or a party loyalty pledge -- is they are founded on the notion that the interests of one particular group or party should come before the interests of the electorate and the country. Party loyalty pledges tell candidates that the document they are signing is more important than the oath they take to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States.

And it is not just candidates either. From delegates at a party convention to the electors who choose the next President of the United States, the current election system is controlled by people who first and foremost pledge their loyalty to either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party.

In California, for instance, the two major parties have their own method of selecting the state's 55 electors. For the Democratic Party, the party's congressional and U.S. Senate nominees (determined by the last two elections) designate one elector. For the Republican Party, the party nominees for the state's executive branch, the party leadership in the legislature, and elected officers for the party's state and county central committees are chosen to be electors and any remaining vacancies are appointed by the chair of the Republican State Central Committee.

This is not what the Founders had in mind. Electors were supposed to be chosen due to their wisdom, knowledge of politics, and temperament -- not their loyalty to a private group of like-minded individuals, as explained in Federalist Paper #68. Federalist #68 further says "o senator, representative, or other person holding a place of trust or profit under the United States, can be of the number of the electors." Yet, our electors are often state officials, party leaders, or people who pledge their loyalty to the party nominees.

Likewise, presidential candidates are not elected to serve the interests of a private organization or special interest group. They are elected to serve the country as a whole.

Party loyalty pledges, like the one the RNC circulated among the party's 2016 field, highlight an extremely disturbing realty about elections in the United States: They more often serve the interests of private political parties than the interests of voters, and the result is the election of policymakers and officials who listen more to party leaders than their constituents.

What the parties are telling candidates is that their oath to stay loyal to the party is more important than the oath they take on Inauguration Day.

Photo Source: AP