Donald Trump has offered his strongest hint yet that he will not run as an independent in the 2016 US presidential election, saying “it’s not something I want to do” should he fail to win the Republican nomination.
The prospect of a third-party run by Trump has hung over the 18-strong GOP field since the real-estate mogul launched his campaign in June, stirring memories of the billionaire Ross Perot’s effect on the election of 1992, in which Democrat Bill Clintonunseated a sitting Republican, George HW Bush.
Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor generally regarded as the establishment favourite, was tied for third with two senators,Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. Bush’s 7% return was his lowest since November 2013.
On Wednesday, Trump was asked by the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt if he was still considering an independent run.
“It’s not something I want to do and at some point I will actually totally commit,” he said.
The Huffington Post, meanwhile, reported that Trump had told “several top Republicans” he would swear off an independent run. It also reported a “top Republican source” as saying the party would not necessarily regard such a move as the end of the matter, given the impulsive nature of Trump’s campaign.
In the first Republican debate, in Cleveland on 6 August, Trump caused controversy by raising his hand in answer to a question about whether any candidate would not guarantee not to run as an independent.
“I will not make the pledge at this time,” said Trump, the only one of 10 candidates to raise his hand.
“If I’m the nominee, I will pledge I will not run as an independent. But – and I am discussing it with everybody – I’m, you know, talking about a lot of leverage.”
On Wednesday, asked by Hewitt why he had reacted in such fashion, he said: “I didn’t think it was appropriate to commit during the debate. You know, I was a little surprised they even asked me at the debate but that was OK.
“But at some point, look, I want to run, I’m leading in the polls by a lot, I want to run as a Republican. I want to get the nomination and I want to beat the Democrats.”
Trump’s poll lead has grown despite a succession of controversies, including calling Mexican immigrants to the US “ rapists ”,questioning the Vietnam war record of Senator John McCain, and appearing to suggest Fox host Megyn Kelly asked him tough questions in the debate because she was menstruating.
This week his criticism of Kelly – and thus a reported “feud” with the influential Fox News chief Roger Ailes – flared up againwhen Trump retweeted a message that called Kelly a “bimbo”.
He has released only one substantial policy paper, on immigration. Trump wants a wall to be built between Mexico and the US at the former’s expense, and demands the deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants.
On Thursday an Emmy-winning journalist from the Spanish-language network Univision, Jorge Ramos, was ejected from a Trump press conference in Iowa.
Speaking afterwards to Kelly on Fox News, Ramos compared Trump to a dictator and said: “His words are dangerous and his ideas are extreme.”
This week, experts told the Guardian that Trump’s economic policies, as yet uncollected into anything as substantial as a paper, would threaten among other things a trade war with China.
As well as pouring fire on the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, Trump has singled out his closest Republican rivals for criticism and insult. Such targets have included Wisconsin governor Scott Walker – whose much-trumpeted record on budgetary matters and jobs Trump has ridiculed – and Bush.
At a town hall event on Wednesday in Pensacola, Florida, an audience member mentioned Trump’s name.
After sighing audibly, Bush asked: “Do we have to talk about this guy?”