White House spokesman Josh Earnest took the opportunity of yesterday’s press briefing to go on one tirade after another against Donald Trump. Prompted repeatedly by reporters, whose questions could be paraphrased as “Isn’t Trump awful?”, Earnest ripped Trump’s hair, denounced his “outright lies,” called his Muslim immigration proposal hateful and offensive, derided it as unconstitutional (which it isn’t) and un-American, said Trump was headed for the dustbin of history, and on and on. It was like two minutes of hate, extended to a half hour.
Beyond the general insults directed at Trump, Earnest pressed a more serious point. He demanded a total of 11 times, by my count, that the other Republican candidates denounce Trump and say that they will not support him if he is the Republican nominee. The insistence with which Earnest returned to this theme was striking. Here is a sample:
I think the question for other members of — other candidates for president is simply this: Do they have the courage of their convictions to stand up to Mr. Trump’s supporters and say that they are going to side with the Constitution over Mr. Trump even if Mr. Trump is the Republican nominee.
And if they don’t, if they don’t have that much courage, if they are so cowed by Mr. Trump and his supporters that they’re not willing to stand by the values enshrined in the Constitution, then they have no business serving as president of the United States themselves.
[W]hat we need to hear from the other Republican candidates for president is whether or not they could vote for Mr. Trump. What he has said is entirely disqualifying from serving as President of the United States. And to continue to stand by him and pledge your support to him if he were to become the Republican nominee is, in and of itself, disqualifying.
Earnest’s insistence on this point was so apparent that it made me wonder whether it had a purpose beyond the usual denunciations of Republicans. On reflection, I think it did. I think that by pressuring the other GOP candidates to disavow Trump and revoke their pledges to support the eventual nominee, the administration hopes to increase the likelihood of Trump making a third-party run.
Trump probably won’t get the Republican nomination–that’s my opinion, and no doubt that of the Obama White House–but he can be of infinite service to the Democratic Party, virtually ensuring Hillary’s election, if he enters the race as a third-party candidate. What would cause him to do that? Obviously, if the other candidates revoke their loyalty pledges and say they can’t support Trump, he would be free to change his own mind and abandon the party if he doesn’t get its nomination.
Which is why I hope none of the Republican presidential candidates, including the second and third tier groups, take the bait.