Stoddard: Wanted in 2016: Another option

Stoddard: Wanted in 2016: Another option
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As Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpArizona GOP Senate candidate defends bus tour with far-right activist Alyssa Milano protests Kavanaugh in 'Handmaid's Tale' costume Bomb in deadly Yemen school bus attack was manufactured by US firm: report MORE descended on Washington, D.C., last week to bask in his party’s embrace as presumptive presidential nominee, many Republicans closed ranks to support him and openly dismissed the outliers still searching for a third-party candidate. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus dismissed an independent run as “a suicide mission.”

While new endorsements flooded in from party leaders throughout Congress and from Sheldon Adelson, casino mogul and GOP uber-donor, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThree scenarios for how leadership races could play out in the House New Dem ad uses Paterno, KKK, affair allegations to tar GOP leaders House Dem: Party's aging leaders is 'a problem' MORE (R-Wis.) declined again to endorse Trump after they met. But he too weighed in against a third-party candidate.

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Yet those #NeverTrump Republicans hoping for someone to run against Trump and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonArizona GOP Senate candidate defends bus tour with far-right activist Santorum: Mueller could avoid charges of McCarthyism by investigating DOJ, FBI Giuliani claims McGahn was a 'strong witness' for Trump MORE remain unbowed. 

Several factors continue to buoy them. Since clinching the nomination, Trump has flip-flopped, on issues such as tax cuts, tax returns and the minimum wage. He’s lied — see his previous confession to his alter ego John Barron that he’s now indignantly denying — he’s frightened, as regards his debt comments, he’s even conceded his ideas are just “suggestions” that are all “negotiable.”

And there are new reports that conservative delegates who oppose Trump are searching for ways to unbind themselves at the July convention in Cleveland and are being urged to consider using the release of Trump’s tax returns as a condition for supporting him.

A new Data Targeting poll shows 65 percent of respondents are willing to back a third-party candidate, 6 in 10 are dissatisfied with Trump and Clinton and 91 percent of voters age 28 or younger want someone else to run.

The most prominent of those who have searched for an alternative include 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney — once a 2016 option himself — Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, and Erick Erickson, writer and talk show host. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) could be a contender; Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Sen. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnThe real disease: Price transparency key to saving Medicare and lowering the debt Mr. President, let markets help save Medicare Pension insolvency crisis only grows as Congress sits on its hands MORE (R-Okla.) and retired Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis have all politely declined. Despite ballot restrictions in some states and a costly uphill climb, the Never Trumper Ever Hoper crowd insists it may have a candidate by early June as well as resources for a competitive campaign.

Sasse is certainly appealing, but at age 44, it may be too soon for him to risk hurling himself over a career cliff. Pat Buchanan, a political ancestor of Trumpism who once ran as a third-party candidate himself, predicts that should it fail, “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.”

The drafters maintain there are enough voters to prevail because more people voted against Trump in the primaries than voted for him and more than 60 percent of Republicans voted against him in 21 states. 

Quin Hillyer, a conservative writer, cites Ross Perot’s rise to 39 percent support in polling in June of 1992, saying Perot intentionally torpedoed his chances by starting “a crazy uncle routine, then literally dropped out of the race until well into September, and then, upon reentering, starting blathering outlandish nonsense about Bush supposedly trying to disrupt his daughter’s wedding. And he still got 20 percent of the vote.” 

Hilyer also argues a third option reduces the risk of Republicans sitting out the election and would boost turnout to help maintain GOP majorities in the House and Senate.

Some wonder if the risk of sabotage is worth it. A Clinton win against two candidates would allow Trump to blame his critics and would only strengthen the GOP divide. Pete Wehner, an outspoken Trump critic who would vote for a viable third-party candidate but hasn’t invested much hope in one, said, “The real battle, I think, will be after November. That is when the real reconstruction needs to take place.”

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.