Third-party push gaining steam

Third-party push gaining steam
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Momentum is building in the conservative movement for a third-party alternative to Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says US has coronavirus 'totally under control' Senate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial Collins breaks with GOP on attempt to change impeachment rules resolution MORE and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSanders holds four-point lead on Biden in new California poll Gabbard knocks Clinton's jab at Sanders: 'This isn't high school' Hill.TV's Krystal Ball rips op-ed comparing Sanders supporters to those of Trump MORE.

The effort got a big boost from Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanWarren now also knocking Biden on Social Security Biden alleges Sanders campaign 'doctored video' to attack him on Social Security record Sanders campaign responds to Biden doctored video claims: Biden should 'stop trying to doctor' public record MORE (R-Wis.) on Thursday when he said he wasn’t yet ready to back Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.

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Ryan’s refusal to endorse Trump, at least for the time being, could provide tacit encouragement to the Republicans who are seeking to field another candidate.

Conservative activists led by Erick Erickson, a writer and radio host, and other well-connected strategists plan to hold at least two organizing conference calls before the weekend to figure out their strategy.

“A number of movement conservatives fiscal and social are actively now looking at third-party and independent options,” Erickson said Thursday. “We all find Trump unacceptable. We don’t think he can beat Hillary Clinton regardless of whether there’s a third party or not, so why not put an alternative out there.”

Time is of the essence.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial Collins breaks with GOP on attempt to change impeachment rules resolution Roberts admonishes House managers, Trump lawyers after heated exchange MORE (R-Ky.) have both backed Trump as the nominee, touting him as the candidate who can keep Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, out of the White House. Other Republicans could soon follow suit.

But the coronation of Trump appears to have been halted by Ryan, who has a strong following among conservative lawmakers and activists and was Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012.

“To be perfectly candid with you … I’m just not ready to do that at this point. I’m not there right now,” Ryan told CNN’s Jake Tapper when asked about backing Trump.

“I hope to though, and I want to. But what is required is to unify this party. And the bulk of the burden on unifying the party will have to come from our presumptive nominee.”

The clock is fast ticking down for a third-party run, at least when it comes to getting on the ballot in many states. Independent candidates running for president must file applications and petitions of support in Texas, which has 38 electoral votes, the second-most of any state, by May 9, according to the Texas secretary of state’s office.

“It’s an uphill climb, everybody recognizes that, regardless of the route we go, but there are a lot of Republican donors sitting on the sidelines who would rather fund a third party than fund Donald Trump,” said Erickson, who said campaign finance experts within the movement estimate it will cost a minimum of $250 million to fund a third-party bid.

But even if a third-party candidate failed to make the ballot in many states, the mere presence of a prominent alternative in the race could be enough to deny Trump the White House. 

Conservatives have floated several names as a potential Trump spoiler.

They include former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (R), who is poised to become the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee; former Sen. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Worries grow about political violence as midterms approach President Trump’s war on federal waste American patients face too many hurdles in regard to health-care access MORE (R-Okla.), who was long an outspoken conservative voice in Congress; and freshman Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who early Thursday morning posted on Facebook an open letter calling for a third-party option to Trump and Clinton. 

National Review, a leading conservative publication, published a piece Thursday afternoon making the case for Johnson, praising him as a self-made businessman and a fiscal conservative who favors free trade and gun rights.

“Everybody is looking at Gary Johnson right now to see where decides to settle on some of these issues,” Erickson said. 

He added that Kentucky Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulJuan Williams: Counting the votes to remove Trump Mitch McConnell may win the impeachment and lose the Senate GOP threatens to weaponize impeachment witnesses amid standoff MORE (R), who dropped his bid for the GOP nomination earlier this year, “would be viable” as well. 

Erickson said the key issue is abortion. Any candidate who will at least leave it to the states instead of the federal government to set abortion laws could draw strong support, he said.

The biggest task ahead is finding a candidate conservatives can rally behind and who has the stature needed to become a national candidate and take on Trump. 

So far Coburn and Sasse have not yet indicated publicly they want the job. Both declined requests for comment on Thursday.

The upcoming filing deadlines to get on the ballot in all 50 states give the dissident conservatives strong incentive to get behind someone like Johnson, who would be guaranteed ballot spots because of his affiliation with an established party.

Erickson, however, said there’s a compelling legal case for pushing back the state ballot deadlines until the Republican and Democratic nominating conventions in late July.

The situation gives conservatives plenty to talk about in the next 24 hours.  

“There will be two others before close of business on Friday,” Erickson said of the conference calls he and allies have had to plot strategy.