Priebus pleads for unity in the GOP

·Chief National Correspondent

It was an odd start to the Republican presidential primary debate in Miami, as Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, made what sounded like something between an argument for party unity and a plea right before the candidates took the stage.

On the one hand, it sounded as if he was asking the party to unite behind whoever is the GOP’s eventual nominee.

On the other hand, Priebus also appeared to be trying to reassure frontrunner Donald Trump and his supporters that the party will back him, staving off any move by Trump to run as a third-party candidate.

“I want to get something completely clear, because there’s been a lot of talk about this. This party is going to support the nominee — whoever that is — 100 percent,” Priebus said. “There’s no question about that.”

In fact, there are not only many questions about this — there is outright revolt in many quarters of the GOP against Trump, with growing numbers of Republicans vowing to never vote for him.

The nominee of the party just four years ago, Mitt Romney, gave a high-profile speech a week ago calling on Republicans to stop Trump and to aim for a contested convention by depriving Trump of the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination.

Priebus said that Republicans are “going to come together and unify in Cleveland and get behind that nominee.”

“That’s what we do as Republicans,” Priebus said.

But the prospect of a contested convention in Cleveland this July would be the kind of intraparty warfare that has not been seen in any party for decades.

Priebus ended his comments with an entreaty that sounded almost desperate.

“Can you at least agree with me without question that any one of these four gentlemen would be a world better than Hillary Clinton or a socialist in Bernie Sanders?” he said.

The audience at the University of Miami responded with half-hearted applause.

(Cover tile photo: Carlo Allegri /Reuters)