RICHMOND — The Virginia Republican Party is considering requiring a loyalty oath from presidential primary contenders — a move widely considered an early sign of GOP skittishness about Donald Trump’s campaign.
State party officials are debating whether to require candidates to pledge their support to the eventual nominee and promise not to run as a third-party candidate — as Trump has hinted he might do.
The development could be an early sign of trouble for Trump, particularly if other state parties consider similar ideas. But it also is being debated cautiously by Republicans who worry that it could backfire and breed resentment among activists who are suspicious of attempts by the GOP establishment to control the party.
Most of all, the idea — which began to circulate the morning after the first GOP debate, when Trump indicated that he wouldn’t rule out an independent run — signals growing concern about the businessman, who has electrified the Republican field with his flamboyant and controversial candidacy.
Particularly in the key swing state of Virginia, which most Republicans think they must win to take the White House, Trump’s potential as a third-party spoiler should he not win the nomination makes some leaders nervous.
John Whitbeck, chairman of the Virginia GOP, said the loyalty oath is not directed at Trump specifically but is intended to motivate activists.