Inside The Conservative Effort To Woo A Third Party Challenger

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Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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The race to recruit a credible third party challenger to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is on. But the hang up at this point: who will actually run?

All sorts of names — some more serious than others — have been floated by disaffected conservatives after Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee this week.

There are lawmakers: Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, former Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn and Arkansas Sen. [crscore]Tom Cotton[/crscore].

There are generals: retired United States Marine Corps General James Mattis, retired Army General Ray Odierno and retired Army General Stanley McChrystal.

And there are some former Republican presidential candidates, including 2012 nominee Mitt Romney and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (though the buzz for Perry died down after he endorsed Trump Thursday).

None of these potential candidates have publicly expressed interest so far.

But there are vocal supporters of them. Among the most active in pushing for a third party alternative: Sasse, who penned a Facebook post this week calling for a third party candidate (while denying he wants to be drafted himself); Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, who made the cable news rounds this week pushing for a candidate like Sasse or Mattis; and the “Conservatives Against Trump” group that held a conference call Thursday evening to discuss third party options.

According to one participant in that group’s conference call, the activists are confident some prominent person will agree to run. “Absolutely,” one person said. “It’s a wide open opportunity.”

For now, the group wants to show potential candidates that there is a framework to help them. The source inside the group said the “fundraising” would be there for a candidate, but declined to cite specific donors.

“A candidate is going to need to know that there is a serious effort behind it,” the participant said. “Our job, which we have made great strides in doing, is figuring out how it can work and marshaling the experienced talents to make it work.”

The hope is that a third party candidate would win enough states to prevent either Clinton or Trump from winning the necessary 270 electoral votes. Under that scenario, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives would choose the president, and these activists hope the body would choose their third-party candidate.

“This is 1824 all over again,” the group source said, citing the election where the House chose John Quincy Adams for president even though Andrew Jackson actually won the most electoral votes.

Inside the Conservatives Against Trump group, they believe the ordinary red/blue electoral map is out the window with Trump and Clinton as the nominees. They also think Ross Perot’s 1992 run proves a third candidate could be competitive. “If the third candidate doesn’t pull a crazy uncle routine,” like Perot did that year by briefly dropping out and re-entering the race, the person said, a third candidate could be competitive.

While these conservatives, up against filing deadlines, are pushing for someone else to jump in, there is already one third party candidate that has been getting attention: former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is running again for the Libertarian Party nomination. And that party’s nominee will already be on every state’s ballot.

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