WASHINGTON — Ben Carson on Friday took a page from Donald Trump’s playbook by threatening to depart the Republican Party.
Ahead of Tuesday’s GOP presidential debate, the retired neurosurgeon slammed the party after reports emerged that Republican insiders were discussing the possibility of deal-making to decide the eventual nominee at the Republican National Convention.
“If the leaders of the Republican Party want to destroy the party, they should continue to hold meetings like the one described in the Washington Post this morning,” Carson said in a statement. “If this was the beginning of a plan to subvert the will of the voters and replace it with the will of the political elite, I assure you Donald Trump will not be the only one leaving the party.”
It’s the first time Carson has suggested the possibility of bucking the GOP — though he has previously stood with Trump in pressuring the party to meet demands, including on debate structure.
Carson was responding to accounts that surfaced Thursday, first reported by The Washington Post, that Republican Party officials at a monthly dinner meeting this week discussed plans for a brokered convention, which would be triggered if no candidate secures enough delegates to win the nomination outright. Then delegates could be given up to support a consensus nominee.
According to sources at the dinner, a brokered convention was not the primary focus, but it was a topic of conversation. It appears to be the first active planning by the party for the possibility.
Carson was deploying a tactic that Trump has repeatedly used on the trail. The mogul has left the door open to an independent bid since the beginning of his campaign, and recently warned the GOP that if it doesn’t treat him “fairly,” he would consider it.
Sean Spicer, RNC chief strategist and communications director, sought to reassure Carson on Friday.
“I say to Dr. Carson, ‘Don’t worry, your prayers have been answered,'” Spicer told CNN’s Kate Bolduan. “it was a dinner where the subject was how the delegate selection process works. … At the end of that dinner, there were a lot of questions asked.”
He called the hubbub “quite silly.”
The RNC made all candidates sign a pledge early on that they would support whoever the eventual Republican nominee turns out to be, but Trump has continued his independent run talk by putting the burden on the GOP to uphold its end of the deal.
Other candidates have been asked about their loyalty to the pledge in recent days as they repudiate Trump’s proposal to ban entry to the U.S. to all foreign Muslims. But most have maintained they will support the eventual nominee. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, has been the only one to openly say he would never support Trump for president.