Could A Third-Party GOP Candidate Stop Donald Trump? The Republicans Are Trapped Between A Rock And A Hard Place

With Donald Trump’s march to the Republican nomination continuing unimpeded, some members of the conservative intelligentsia are plotting to stop him short of the White House by any means necessary — including a third-party run by an actual conservative candidate in November. It’s a cute idea, and if successful, it could limit Republicans’ losses on down-ballot races in November. It would also guarantee the election of Hillary Clinton as the next president.

One of the people who’s organizing this effort is conservative radio host Erick Erickson, and he’s laid out the thinking on his podcast and elsewhere. The theory of the case is this: Polling shows Donald Trump losing decisively in a head-to-head matchup with Hillary Clinton, so if he gets the nomination, a Clinton victory is inevitable. Therefore, conservatives should run a third-party candidate — not to defeat Clinton, but to ensure that conservative voters come to the polls on election day and help Republican Senators, congressmen, and gubernatorial candidates win their races.

The logic here is more or less sound. I don’t believe it’s absolutely a given that Clinton will beat Trump in November, but both history and polls suggest that this is overwhelmingly the most likely scenario. For conservatives who view Trump as a “moral cretin,” as Erickson does, the prospect of him winning the White House as a Republican, and thus redefining what the GOP stands, for may indeed be a less desirable outcome than a Clinton presidency.

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In this case, it makes sense to run a third-party conservative candidate (the identify of whom, by the way, is to-be-determined). Sure, they couldn’t win, because they’d split the Republican vote with Trump — but if Trump is already going to lose, that’s not much of a sacrifice. In exchange, anti-Trump Republicans who would otherwise stay home in November will have a reason to make it to the polls, and that could help Republicans, say, retain control of the Senate.

But here’s the thing. This entire idea relies on two premises: that Trump will lose to Hillary regardless, and that he wouldn’t govern as a conservative president. And I’m just not sure either of those are true. While history does suggest that an extremist like Trump would lose to a relative moderate like Clinton, history also suggested that Trump wouldn’t win the nomination at all. Yet he is well on his way.

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As for how he would govern, this is a bit of a mystery, as it’s hard to predict anything about what Trump will or won’t do. It’s worth noting, however, that Trump has already pledged to support conservative Supreme Court justices, including those who would undo Roe v. Wade. His health care proposal is exactly in line with Republican orthodoxy on the issue, as are his views on climate change and tax policy. It’s true that he’s deviated from core Republican beliefs on some issues, most notably trade and eminent domain, but to conclude that he wouldn’t be a conservative president seems a bit premature.

The long and short of it, though, is that conservatives have two options: Get behind Trump and roll the dice, or accept that Clinton will be the next president. For Republicans, neither is very appealing.