What about the pledge? Ex-rivals still split on endorsing Trump despite debate vow

Donald Trump took considerable heat when, during the first Republican primary debate in August 2015, he initially declined to pledge support for the party’s eventual presidential nominee.

But now that Trump is that nominee, his former primary foes are the ones who have split on honoring the pledge.

While several ex-rivals now are unabashedly Team Trump – and others have reluctantly backed him as the better of the two major-party candidates – a couple of GOP primary contenders still refuse to endorse the nominee.

The holdouts are:

John Kasich

The Ohio governor is the most defiant anti-Trump politician who was at that initial debate.

The governor has been at odds with Trump ever since bowing out of the race, declining to show his support for the nominee even when his state hosted the Republican National Convention and Trump’s nomination acceptance address.

Fox News confirmed late Monday that Kasich did not vote for Trump, either.

The governor wrote in Arizona Sen. John McCain on his absentee ballot. (According to The Plain Dealer, that vote technically will not count, since McCain is not among the approved write-in candidates in the state.)

Striking is that Kasich made the nominee pledge twice.

During the Fox News primary debate in Cleveland last August, Trump was the only one to raise his hand when asked which candidates would not pledge support for the eventual nominee. (Trump later reversed course, for a time.) Then, at another Fox News-hosted debate in March, Kasich joined Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz in pledging to support the eventual nominee.

Kasich, though, has voiced deep concerns all along about Trump’s rhetoric and readiness. Demonstrating how fluid those pledges really were, Kasich, Trump and Cruz backed away from the same vow at a March debate weeks later.

Jeb Bush

The former Florida governor went from front-runner to also-ran in a matter of months after Trump stormed into the primary race, frequently making Bush a subject of his debate-stage attacks. Bush has not forgotten.

Bush, after dropping out, endorsed Cruz in March. He later congratulated Trump on securing the nomination in May, but said he will not vote for Trump or Hillary Clinton.

He wrote on Facebook: “Donald Trump has not demonstrated that temperament or strength of character. He has not displayed a respect for the Constitution. And, he is not a consistent conservative. These are all reasons why I cannot support his candidacy.”

The rest of the GOP primary field has come around, some enthusiastically – others, with considerable prodding and months after the race ended.

The supporters are:

Ted Cruz

Cruz stunned the GOP convention crowd by withholding an endorsement of Trump during his Cleveland address. But while this renewed weeks of feuding between the Texas senator and the billionaire businessman, Cruz eventually announced – in September – he would vote for Trump and urged others to do the same.

“Like many other voters, I have struggled to determine the right course of action in this general election,” Cruz said on Facebook. He said that after “many months of careful consideration, of prayer and searching my own conscience, I have decided that on Election Day, I will vote for the Republican nominee, Donald Trump.”

He also referenced the pledge, saying he wanted to keep his word to support the Republican nominee – and he finds Clinton “wholly unacceptable.”

Marco Rubio

The Florida senator now running for re-election has taken the most nuanced stance on Trump. He is supporting the nominee, but told The Weekly Standard in June he would continue to stand by his criticism of Trump from the primary campaign. He later delivered a video message to the GOP convention urging voters to elect Trump and reminding delegates that the “time for fighting” is over.

He continues to stand by his primary campaign criticism of Trump.

Scott Walker

The Wisconsin governor initially backed Cruz after dropping out of the race himself. He later indicated he would be supporting Trump and in July told Fox News he would in fact endorse Trump, while acknowledging he wasn’t his “first choice.”

Rand Paul

The Kentucky senator, despite his libertarian leanings and tough criticism of Trump during the primary, eventually told WDRB News he’ll back the billionaire. He, too, cited his pledge – a written one, not to run as a third-party candidate – in explaining his support.

Chris Christie

The New Jersey governor, while mired in controversy at home, enthusiastically embraced Trump’s candidacy back in February and campaigned for him. He had been considered for running mate, but the job ultimately went to Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

Ben Carson

The retired neurosurgeon endorsed Trump in March and continues to speak out on the nominee’s behalf.

Mike Huckabee

The former Arkansas governor announced he was “all in” for Trump back in May, and has continued to be a strong supporter of the now-nominee.