Many Republicans are conspiring to launch a third-party race against Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The “Never Trump” movement may have lost a great deal of steam when Ted Cruz dropped out of the race, but many leaders know there is a large constituency of people who cannot vote for Trump or Clinton.
Some possible candidates have ruled out the idea as too quixotic, but a Saturday report from the Washington Post‘s Philip Rucker and Robert Costa names the top planners and their best options. 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, the Weekly Standard‘s William Kristol, RedState’s Erick Erickson, and strategists Mike Murphy, Stuart Stevens, and Rick Wilson, are leading the charge behind closed doors.
The top candidates to lead the “Never Trump” movement are Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, a conservative who sharply criticizes The Donald, and Ohio Governor John Kasich, who withdrew from the Republican presidential race but had strong cross-over appeal. Romney made personal overtures to both men in recent days, as reported by Rucker and Costa.
Former Senator Tom Coburn has declined to run, due to health concerns, as has retired Marine Corps General and Obama critic James N. Mattis, who reportedly would not risk politicizing his reputation on a campaign with little hope for success. Former U.S. commander in Afghanistan Stanley A. McChrystal declared, “I’m not entertaining any candidacy,” after his name had been bandied about.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was also considered a potential candidate, but he told the Washington Post, “I don’t see it happening.” Like Trump, Cuban has a strong reality television following from the ABC show “Shark Tank,” and he is not afraid to make blustering attacks on The Donald. But recently, Cuban played with the idea of running alongside Hillary Clinton.
Many political professionals utterly dismiss the idea of winning the presidency on a third-party ticket. When former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent a great deal of time and money studying his chances for an independent run, he eventually decided that there was no path forward. That was after focus group guru Frank Luntz declared that he saw a path to victory for Bloomberg.
Even worse, a strong third-party candidate could end up being vilified for splitting the conservative vote and handing the election to Hillary Clinton. “The career of the individual would come to an end, and he would have a difficult spot in history for being responsible for putting Hillary Clinton in the White House,” Patrick Buchanan, a conservative who ran for president in 2000 on the Reform Party ticket, told the Washington Post.
Nevertheless, there is a glimmer of hope. If the third-party candidate splits the vote, and prevents both Clinton and Trump from gaining a majority in the electoral college, the presidential election would fall to the House of Representatives, as per the 12th Amendment to the Constitution. In 1824, this scenario gave John Quincy Adams the presidency. The danger, of course, is that Trump — and Clinton, for that matter — would likely condemn the result as a “corrupt bargain,” as Andrew Jackson did.
Even to achieve these questionable victories, the candidate would have to clear significant logistical problems. Organizers say they can pose a legal challenge to get on the ballot in Texas, even though the deadline has passed. Other state deadlines are fast approaching, and some require thousands of petitioners to sign them.
Next Page: A state-by-state challenge? The problems with Sasse and Kasich.
Mike Murphy, who ran a super PAC for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush this cycle, is downsizing his ambitions for a third-party race. Murphy pointed out that Colorado, New Hampshire, and Ohio have lax ballot-access rules, and could prove pivotal to the outcome in November. “Running an anti-Trump protest candidate in a handful of swing states really appeals to me,” Murphy said.
This plan could improve voter turnout and give Republicans in House and Senate races — and more local elections — a real shot even if Trump loses big in November. “You could deny Trump the presidency and perhaps help important Senate and other down-ballot races by giving another choice to Republican voters who abhor Hillary Clinton and can’t cross the moral line to vote for Trump.”
The two greatest hopes for this third-party movement have their own problems. Advisers for John Kasich have dismissed the idea. “The governor is not entertaining nor will he run as an independent,” spokesman Chris Schrimpf told the Washington Post. Kasich’s chief strategist, John Weaver, noted that “Never Trump” conservatives “had plenty of time and opportunity to influence the [GOP] nomination battle in a constructive way, and they didn’t for whatever reason.”
Ben Sasse publicly emerged as a conservative opponent to The Donald after Cruz dropped out of the race. But support for Sasse seems rather limited. A “Draft Sasse” Twitter account has only garnered 686 followers and 5,784 “likes,” and a companion Facebook account only found a paltry 75 “likes.”
Furthermore, the official “answer is no,” Sasse spokesman James Wegmann told the Washington Post. Some Republicans who have discussed the possibility with him think he has not closed the door entirely, and he certainly has pulled no punches in denouncing The Donald.
Many Republicans have not joined the Sasse fight, however, and are instead evolving to support Trump.
Despite the struggles of this draft campaign, William Kristol was still able to joke about it: “These conspiracies for the public good are time and labor intensive!”
“In any case, things are at a delicate stage now, so I really should keep mum. Suffice it to say that serious discussions and real planning are ongoing.”