WASHINGTON - In what would be a nightmare scenario for the GOP, presidential candidate Ben Carson threatened Friday to leave the Republican Party amid reports of deepening concerns from GOP officials about the splintered 2016 electorate.
The retired neurosurgeon lashed out at party leaders who discussed the possibility of a "brokered convention" during a recent private dinner in Washington. The Washington Post first reported Thursday that the group, including Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, addressed the sustained strength of billionaire Donald Trump and the possibility that a consensus nominee might not emerge before the party's mid-July national convention in Cleveland.
"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," Carson said in a statement referencing Trump's repeated threats to leave the GOP if treated "unfairly."
"I pray that the report in the Post this morning was incorrect," Carson added. "If it is correct, every voter who is standing for change must know they are being betrayed. I won't stand for it."
RNC spokesman Sean Spicer responded, "His prayers have been answered," adding that it's ultimately the voters who will decide on the nominee.
A third-party run by Carson or Trump would be a worst-case scenario for the GOP. While Carson is slipping in recent polls, an independent bid that siphoned even a few points away from the party's nominee could make it all but impossible for the Republican nominee to win the general election.
Spokesman Doug Watts acknowledged that Carson, like Trump and the rest of Republican field, signed a pledge not to launch a third-party bid. "The pledge isn't meaningless," Watts said. "But he signed the pledge based on everybody playing by the rules."
While unlikely, the possibility of a brokered convention is a common topic of conversation for political operatives examining the 2016 election season.
Such a scenario would play out if none of the Republican candidates accumulate the necessary number of delegates in the state-based primaries by the time the GOP holds its national convention in mid-July. The last that happened was in 1976.