Conservatives and the Never Trump movement are discouraged and rightfully so. Despite 60 percent of Republicans voting against Donald Trump this primary season, he is now the presumptive GOP nominee. A plurality of the voters have essentially allowed a stranger in our house.
The problem of conservatives staying home on Election Day is something that needs to be reversed. If it is not, Republicans will likely lose not just the White House but their majority in the Senate. Their fight to hold it is an uphill battle already, but conservatives staying home would result in a Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Already at risk are incumbents Kelly Ayotte, Mark Kirk, Ron Johnson, Rob Portman, Pat Toomey, Roy Blunt and John McCain, as well as the seat being vacated by Marco Rubio.
There are three ways to avoid conservatives being disenfranchised and not participating in November. First, the delegates at the Republican National Convention could stage some sort of coup that sees Trump lose the nomination. But this is not going to happen. Republicans are resigned to Trump as the nominee and delegates won’t rock the boat.
Next, Trump finds a way to connect with and energize those on the legions on the right that say they will not vote for him. His relationship with conservatives has always been tenuous. Trump has had more positions on conservative issues than there are in the Kama Sutra. From four different positions on abortion in less than four days to not being willing to raise the Social Security retirement age to even pushing for the individual mandate. He has said he hates Obamacare, but he wants to just replace it with a better version of it—of course, Trump says he will do so by making “great deals.”
Reconciliation is a long shot. It seems clear that the division within the Republican Party is vast and will not be repaired until, at the very earliest, after the election. Trump unifying the GOP is as likely as my going on a date with Jennifer Lawrence.
This leaves us with the third option: a viable third-party presidential candidate whom conservatives would be excited about. Were a Ben Sasse, Tom Coburn, James Mattis (who already declined once), even a Mitt Romney or other conservative would improve the odds for many Senate Republicans just by energizing the conservative base. Without this viable third-party candidate, House and Senate Republicans are going to lose.
Let’s not kid ourselves; we conservatives hold no illusion that a third-party candidate would be able to capture the 270 electoral votes required to win the presidency. The best this candidate could hope for would be no candidate hitting 270 and the election going to the House of Representatives, where skillful lobbying would secure the presidency. But the chances that the election turns to the House are minimal. We’re probably looking at President Hillary Clinton, and we know it.
Being the viable third-party presidential contender is a suicide mission of sorts. It is a form of self-sacrifice that demonstrates a willingness to endure the hardships of the campaign trail. Granted, it could also be argued that it is a sign of stupidity. From endless fundraisers and rubber chicken dinners to having every facet of your life picked apart by opponents and the press, it is not an enjoyable experience. In fact, it’s likely that what you will be remembered for will be some flaw that was exposed. Just ask Rick “Oops” Perry, “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz, John “Flip Flop” Kerry, Michael “Willie Horton” Dukakis, and numerous others.
If and when Trump loses in November, this third-party candidate would be scapegoated by Trump supporters as the reason that Trump lost. It would be pure fiction, as Trump will be the reason for his own loss. The misogyny, the xenophobia, the childish insults, the utter lack of actual policy and the paucity of understanding of the issues will be his downfall. Voters already know who Trump is and what he represents. Given the level of fanatical zeal with which Trump’s supporters attack opponents, especially online, this third-party candidate will face a vicious amount of backlash and harassment.
However, this candidate would be fondly remembered in conservative circles. After the general election, the Republican Party will begin to rebuild. The third-party candidate who ran to save vulnerable House and Senate Republicans would be an immediate leader whose voice would carry weight. On top of this, he or she would have endeared themself to these vulnerable Republicans whom they ran to save. Their campaign will have the benefit of being creating a lot of IOUs.
Conservative leaders have soul searching to do and conversations to have. They know that Donald Trump is imperiling Republican majorities in the House and Senate. They know that they need to coalesce behind a viable third-party candidate whose campaign would energize the depressed conservative base and ensure they vote to save vulnerable Republicans in November. They know that it is not too late to beat back the Trumpkins and give conservatives an energy boost that would have them out on the front lines fighting to save GOP candidates over the next six months.
The ball is in the court of Sen. Sasse, Gov. Romney, Gov. Haley, Sen. Coburn and others. Who is going to pick it up and run with it?