It turns out that two can play the leverage game. With the Republican National Committee making noises about limiting participation in future debates to candidates willing to commit to not running as an independent, and with it having said it will withhold data on Republican voters from candidates unwilling to make that commitment, Donald Trump reportedly is now considering taking the pledge.
The RNC does have some leverage. However, I suspect that Trump’s decision will be based mainly on two other factors.
First, how well is he holding up in the polls after the debate and his post-debate attack on Megyn Kelly, which struck most people (probably correctly) as offensive and sexist? If poll results continue to support Trump’s conviction that he has a good shot at the Republican nomination, then he’ll have more reason to go “all in” with the Republicans and forget about running as an independent.
However, strong polling might cut the other way. If he’s still doing well without taking the pledge, why take it?
Whichever way they cut, polls will very likely help drive Trump’s decision on whether to take the pledge.
Second, how realistic would an independent candidacy be for Trump. According to Mike Allen at Politico, Trump’s team doubts that it would be realistic because of ballot complications at the state level.
Trump’s team probably also senses that he couldn’t win the presidency as an independent. Running that way would only make him a spoiler. This role, Trump may believe, is for losers.
Unless his poll numbers begin to crater, the smart move might be for Trump to keep his options open. In other words, don’t take the pledge now but be prepared to take it later if circumstances so warrant.