WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said on Wednesday he expected the party to settle on a nominee for the 2016 presidential election by mid-April, playing down the possibility of a fight at its nominating convention next summer.
Priebus, in media interviews the morning after the latest Republican candidates' debate in Las Vegas, said he could not rule out the possibility that the party could face a brokered convention in July but that this was unlikely.
"I think most likely we'll have a presumptive nominee by mid-April," the party's top official told CBS's "This Morning" program. Asked if he expected a convention fight, he said: "I highly doubt it."
The Republican primary contest has drawn intense scrutiny as billionaire businessman Donald Trump has held onto a five-month lead over a large and fractured field. Tuesday night's Republican debate on CNN drew 18 million viewers, according to the network.
Speaking in Mesa, Arizona, Trump said he does not care if the rest of the Republican field gets behind his campaign if he is the nominee. He said an endorsement by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush could even by viewed as a "negative."
Trump bragged about contributing to the drop in Bush's poll numbers.
"Look what I did to Bush," Trump said. "I haven’t even started on Hillary [Clinton]."
Priebus rejected reports that surfaced last week citing Republican Party officials who saw the possibility of a convention fight since more than a dozen Republicans still are vying for the nomination.
Republicans are scheduled to gather in Cleveland on July 18-21 to nominate their candidate to face the Democratic Party's choice in the Nov. 8 election.
A nominee usually is determined before the convention by winning delegates in state primary elections and caucuses. But if no one garners enough delegates, Republicans would have to settle on a nominee by voting at the convention - something that has not happened in more than 60 years.
"The whole thing is nonsense," Priebus said of reports about the party trying to engineer a brokered convention, speaking from Las Vegas in an interview with MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
In an interview on NBC's "Today" show, Priebus also dismissed speculation that Trump could decide to seek the presidency as an independent.
"There isn't going to be any independent in the White House. They're either going to be a Republican or a Democrat," he said.
Trump, responding to questions during and immediately after the debate, reaffirmed earlier pledges he has made that he would not run as an independent if he loses the nominating race.
Clinton is leading the Democratic Party's three-person field in public opinion polls.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Trott, Jonathan Oatis and Andrew Hay)
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