Florida GOP drops loyalty pledge requirement for primary ballot access

September 16, 2023
Ben Marquis

In May, the Florida Republican Party imposed a loyalty pledge on all GOP presidential candidates as a requirement in order to gain access to the Sunshine State's Republican primary ballot.

Now, in what some political observers are calling a win for former President Donald Trump, the Florida GOP has dropped the loyalty pledge as a prerequisite for primary ballot access, according to The Hill.

Trump has made it pretty clear that he is not a fan of such loyalty pledges that presume to bind a candidate to fully support the party's eventual nominee, no matter who it is and even if that nominee is a strenuously opposed and bitter rival. Indeed, he skipped the first GOP primary debate in part due to the Republican National Committee's inclusion of such an oath as a requirement for participation.

Florida GOP loyalty pledge dropped after just four months

The Associated Press reported that the Florida Republican Party voted on Friday to nix the loyalty pledge requirement for primary ballot access that it had initially voted to impose just four months ago in May, which would have forced candidates to agree to support the eventual nominee or be excluded from the ballot in the upcoming primary election.

The change was requested during a Friday meeting of the state GOP by its former chairman and State Sen. Joe Gruters, a staunch Trump supporter, who argued that the requirement had the appearance of favoring certain candidates over others and may run afoul of RNC rules against altering the nomination process within two years of an election.

"By putting this in place, whether it was intentional or not, the party looks like it was favoring a certain candidate," Gruters explained. "This has turned into a proxy battle -- the Trump world versus the DeSantis world."

"When people say, 'Well, Trump doesn’t want to sign the loyalty oath,' it’s not about that," he added. "It’s about the party putting up artificial roadblocks that didn’t exist four months ago."

Loyalty pledge was intended to bolster party "unity"

The Hill reported previously in July that both former President Trump and his chief rival for the GOP nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have both expressed misgivings or been noncommittal about the loyalty pledge, as it would seemingly lock either of the two bitter rivals into supporting whoever emerged victorious from an increasingly hard-fought primary campaign.

Nor are they alone in rejecting the idea of being bound to support the eventual winner, as explicitly anti-Trump candidates like former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Texas Rep. Will Hurd have expressed their opposition to a pledge that might mandate their support of Trump if he should ultimately prevail.

At that time, however, Florida GOP Chair Christian Ziegler touted the loyalty pledge requirement as a good thing and told The Hill, "The pledge -- which is the word-for-word the same language as the RNC pledge -- was requested and passed by our members to ensure maximum unity heading into the General Election."

"The days of party grifters such as [former Reps.] Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger using Republican Party resources to secure a title and then weaponize that title against our own team must end," he added. "Contested primaries are part of the process, but we must always remember that the Democrats are the true threat to the America we love, and we must be unified to defeat every single one of them."

Florida GOP voted to require loyalty pledge in May

Politico was the first to report in July about the revelation that the Florida GOP had quietly voted in mid-May to include the loyalty pledge as a requirement to gain ballot access for the state's vitally important winner-take-all primary election that is scheduled for March 19.

The pledge, which had to be signed, notarized, and turned in no later than November 22 in order to be included on the primary ballot, would have mandated that losing candidates proactively "endorse" the party's nominee and agree to refrain from mounting an independent or third-party bid for the presidency in the general election.

Another alteration to the Florida GOP's nomination process made at that time -- which appears to still remain in effect -- was a reduction of the ballot access fee from $100,000 to $25,000 for candidates who attend the Florida Freedom Summit in November, though the fees would be waived for candidates who collect 56,000 signatures from Florida Republican voters, up from just 3,375 total signatures that were required during the last competitive GOP primary in 2015.

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