Donald Trump may have come in second in the Iowa caucuses, but the presidential candidate scored a victory in Virginia on Thursday when the state Board of Elections formalized the state GOP’s plans to scrap the loyalty pledge. The board repealed the party’s earlier decision to have voters who want to participate in the March 1 GOP presidential primary sign a statement affirming they were Republicans. Elections officials say the party bowed to pressure from Trump and voters upset by the pledge; the party says it objected to the wording of the statement. Trump put the issue on the national radar in December when he publicly rebuked the state Republican Party on Twitter for making what he called a “suicidal mistake” in requiring the pledge. Some feared the pledge could have put off voters disenchanted with party politics who are attracted to Trump’s unorthodox candidacy. Activists responded, calling on the party to rescind the pledge in blog posts, letters and an unsuccessful federal lawsuit. On Saturday, the state party held a special meeting, where the governing board reversed its earlier decision to institute the pledge, and unanimously called for its repeal.
But Virginia Elections Commissioner Edgardo Cortés on Thursday blasted the state GOP and said the reversal was a result of voter backlash. “It’s really frustrating for me to hear you all not accepting responsibility that your decision was to move forward with requiring the statement,” Cortés said. “Now because you see that voters are unhappy with it and you have gotten bad publicity, you have chosen to rescind it and suggest it’s because of some action on our part.”
John Findlay, executive director of the state Republican Party, said the party decided to rescind the pledge because some of the language differed from what was first submitted to the state. “I really wish the changes that we asked to be made were implemented,” he said. He added that it’s unlikely the party would revert to its earlier position and again require the pledge: “I think that the likelihood of that is exceedingly small, as in 0.00 percent.”