Ever since it became a distinct possibility that Donald Trump might win the Republican presidential nomination, there have been calls from members of the Republican Party who do not consider the billionaire a real conservative for an alternative candidate.
Those calls seemed certain to reach a new crescendo following Trump’s triumph in the Indiana primary. His top competitor, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, withdrew from the race after the results came in on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday the only other remaining candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, was expected to do the same.
With Trump the last man standing, some Republicans still hope a conservative running as a third-party candidate could fight a sort of rear-guard action, preventing an electoral massacre in down-ballot races by giving Republicans appalled by Trump a reason to come to the polls in November.
Others spin a more optimistic scenario, in which a popular third-party candidate wins enough states to prevent either Trump or Clinton from amassing 270 electoral votes. In that unlikely event, the election would be thrown to the House of Representatives, which would presumably elect the third-party candidate.
But for either scenario to play out, the key ingredient is a compelling figure willing to be the third-party candidate. In a Washington Post op-ed Wednesday, Eliot A. Cohen, a former official in both the George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush administrations, put out the call.
“A third candidate could lay the groundwork for a new political party,” he wrote. “The Republican Party may right itself after this moral disaster, led by men and women of the caliber of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.). But the sad truth is that although the speaker has the qualities of a statesman, two of his Republican predecessors have indicated that they would vote for Trump without qualms, while a third is too preoccupied with his upcoming jail term to say much of anything.”
He added, “The hour is late, the task is urgent, and the cause is great. Let us hope that some politicians will summon the courage that their country requires, and act.”
The problem is that right now there doesn’t appear to be anyone with the necessary credentials willing to step up and take the job.
Last week, retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis declined to step into the role of presidential candidate, leaving anti-Trump diehards grasping for a savior. But experts said it was becoming increasingly difficult to see how a third-party attempt could get off the ground.
“There are some generic rumblings about it from [Weekly Standard editor] William Kristol or others, but I have not heard anything that’s remotely concrete,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “It seems clear that the Republican National Committee will rally around Trump. A third-party Republican would end up as a true insurgent. I wouldn’t rule anything out but the clock is ticking to get on the ballot.”
Republican political consultant Ford O’Connell said that while he understands why many Republicans would like another option in November. However, asked if he thought a third-party bid could be successfully launched at this point, he said, “Not if you can’t tell me who that third party candidate is.”
Just “having a candidate for the sake of having a candidate” would be pointless, he said. And unless the anti-Trump movement can produce someone highly qualified and with enormous name recognition right away, any time and money spent advancing the candidate would be wasted.
As this election has repeatedly demonstrated, anything is possible. Right now, though, there doesn’t appear to be a white knight riding to the GOP’s rescue.