Conservatives unhappy with the prospect of a choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in November have been teased with the promise of an alternative candidate for months now. There was Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol’s attempt to draft retired Marine General James Mattis. Then his attempt to get conservative pundit David French to throw his hat in the ring. Both failed.
In fact, the list of people Kristol has approached and been unable to convince to run against Trump as an alternative conservative candidate is rather long. So for frustrated conservatives hearing this week that a new organization, Better for America, has promised to announce the name of a new and “recognizable” alternative to Trump, the reaction is predictable:
Really? No. Really, really? Because we’ve heard this before.
However, according to the conservative website The Federalist, and an op-ed written by Better for America founder John Kingston III, there will be a third-party candidate and the announcement is coming soon.
Few, if any, serious analysts believe that an independent presidential candidate, particularly one launching a bid this close to a general election, has a path to victory. But for presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump, the worry isn’t that he’ll lose to a late-arriving conservative challenger so much as it is that he’ll lose because of one.
Given the demographic disadvantage Republicans have faced in recent years, if an independent candidate were able to siphon off even a relatively small percentage of the vote, the results would be fatal to even a strong GOP standard-bearer. And polling suggests that Trump, well, isn’t particularly strong.
Kingston, an early supporter of the presidential ambitions of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, wrote Wednesday, “[I]n May I declined my invitation to be a delegate to the Republican National Convention. I could not support a candidate like Donald Trump, whose behavior disqualifies him to be a PTA member, let alone president.”
In his time of despair about a Trump candidacy, Kingston writes, “I discovered a remarkable grassroots coalition of lawyers, pollsters, ballot access professionals and others who shared the belief that something had to be done.
“That nonpartisan coalition, Better For America, arises from the belief that we can, and must, offer Americans hope for a more qualified candidate in 2016. We are preparing a path to the presidency for one of the best among us to stand up and give this country what it desperately wants — a better choice for president.”
In his CNN piece, Kingston didn’t explicitly guarantee that a credible candidate would take up his group’s invitation and run against Trump. But writing for the Federalist on Thursday, Bethany Mandel and David Marcus -- suggesting they had access to a meeting of Better for America supporters earlier in the week -- appeared convinced.
They wrote, “The group, comprised of religious leaders and political operatives, is in the process of selecting that candidate, and its chief strategist Joel Searby has confirmed that three recognizable names have already committed to run if asked. At an off-the-record dinner in New York City on Tuesday night, Better For America laid out its plan and the considerable talent and resources behind it.”
One of the most significant challenges to a third-party run will be getting a candidate on the ballot in the first place. Many states have strict rules about what a candidate must do to have his or her name appear on the ballot, and some have deadlines that have already passed.
Mandel and Marcus, however, seem convinced that won’t be a problem either.
“This may sound a bit pie in the sky, but Better For America has already mobilized to establish access in the states with the earliest deadlines,” they write. “Should a compelling new candidate enter the race and show some legs, the group is ready to pounce on the opportunity to put him or her on the ballots.”
How realistic the Better for America challenge will be is unclear at this point. But for Team Trump, there is serious risk involved if there is any challenger at all.