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Donald Trump Signs Loyalty Pledge Ruling Out 3rd Party Run

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Donald Trump promised today that he will not run as an Independent and he will support the Republican nomination for president, whoever that may be. Meanwhile, Jeb Bush, who has been damaged by Trump's campaign, has decided to take Trump on directly in what's become a high-profile fight between the two contenders.

NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea has been following the back-and-forth, and he joins us now from Manchester, N.H. Don, let's start with Trump. He met with RNC chair Reince Priebus to discuss this loyalty pledge. That's a pretty big deal.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: It is, certainly, for the party, which does not want Donald Trump launching an Independent run next year. But it also represents a reversal for Trump. Recall, almost a month ago, that first big Republican debate. The Fox News moderators started by asking the candidates if they would each pledge to support the GOP nominee in 2016. Trump and only Trump refused that night to make that pledge, and he's refused ever since. But today, at Trump Tower in Manhattan, he met with Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus. Afterward, Trump held a news conference and said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: So I will be totally pledging my allegiance to the Republican Party and the conservative principles for which it stands. And we will go out, and we will fight hard. And we will win.

SIEGEL: Don, why did Trump say this today? Why now?

GONYEA: A couple of things are at play here. First, here's Trump's answer. He says he's become the clear frontrunner in this race and that the party is finally showing him more respect as a candidate. And you know, he says he's confident that he is going to be the nominee. But mostly, it sounds like it's about respect.

But here's a more practical answer. Individual states were beginning to look at loyalty pledges as a condition for getting on the ballot in those states. South Carolina, third of the four early states to vote, already has one. And the deadline to sign the pledge for South Carolina was the end of this month. Trump did not want to be left off the ballot in that state. Also, I should add, Virginia, North Carolina - again, two important states - have also been considering this same sort of pledge as a condition for getting on the ballot.

SIEGEL: So is it a done deal - no Independent bid by Donald Trump next year?

GONYEA: OK. Nothing that he signed today is legally binding, right? And he could always change his mind, you know, based on that respect question - right? - if he feels the party's not treating him fairly. He did say, though, that he cannot foresee any circumstances under which he'd tear up the pledge.

SIEGEL: Now, Donald Trump has been mocking Jeb Bush, the man who was considered the likely frontrunner at the beginning. Bush is starting to push back. What's he doing?

GONYEA: Right, after a period where he was just kind of letting Trump have his space. But he was in Hampton, N.H., this morning, and during his opening remarks at this town hall, he went after Trump directly. Here's Bush.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEB BUSH: Donald Trump's view is that the end is near. His pessimistic view is, let's close the borders; let's create tariffs. Let's do this; let's do that - all based on negativity. And the net result is that all of us will suffer if that philosophy gains favor.

GONYEA: So he's taking the gloves off there, but you can also kind of tell he doesn't feel really comfortable doing it. You know, he's out of his comfort zone, but the campaign feels he needs to do it to try to contrast himself with Trump in Trump's style. And they're counting on there being a significant anti-Trump vote out there, and maybe they can coalesce that.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Don Gonyea reporting for us from Manchester, N.H. Thanks, Don.

GONYEA: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.