Who's The Third-Party Conservative Candidate?

Republicans who oppose Donald Trump have spent the better part of a month trying to draft a third-party presidential candidate, and they may have succeeded. Conservative writer Bill Kristol, one of the leading members of the #NeverTrump movement, said Monday that “there will be an independent candidate” in the 2016 race. So, who is Kristol’s third-party candidate? Update: On Tuesday, it was reported that Kristol's candidate was conservative lawyer David French.

Kristol didn’t say, revealing only that they’re “impressive” and will have “a strong team and a real chance.” But we can certainly speculate. The most obvious draftee is Mitt Romney. The 2012 Republican nominee has been one of the most forceful voices against Trump from within the GOP, and helped launch the effort to recruit a third-party challenger after Trump clinched the nomination. He had a one-on-one meeting with Kristol in early May, and Kristol all but admitted that he tried to convince Romney to run during this meeting.

Romney has ruled out a 2016 candidacy on many occasions, but according to Kristol, he may be reconsidering.

“The real last chance here is with Mitt Romney, who has said ‘no’ but who I think is thinking seriously about it,” Kristol said on May 26th. “He is a very serious person, he really knows that Trump should not be president of the United States. He strongly believes that Hillary Clinton should not be president of the United States.”

Still, Romney has said he won't run as a third-party candidate. That doesn't mean he definitely won't do it — plenty of politicians have ruled out running for president before ultimately running — but let’s consider who else Kristol’s mystery candidate might be.

It could be Ben Sasse, the freshman Nebraska senator who’s spoken vehemently against Trump on many occasions and has endorsed the idea of a third-party challenger. Sasse is fresh-faced, charismatic and quite eloquent, and while his accomplishments in the Senate are somewhat slim, he’d arguably be one of the more appealing recruits to take on Trump and Hillary Clinton. Alas, Sasse has said that he will “absolutely not” run for president this year, citing family obligations.

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Perhaps it’s Ted Cruz, the Republican runner-up? He’s got the conservative bona fides and an existing campaign infrastructure, so it’s not a completely crazy idea. But running against the GOP in 2016 would make it a lot harder for him to win a Republican primary in 2020, and it definitely seems like Cruz wants to run in 2020. Oh, and he’s already ruled out an independent run.

Other names that frequently get mentioned include former Sen. Tom Coburn, retired four-star General James Mattis, and former National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice. Coburn has already denied that he’ll run, but Mattis left the door open and Rice has been tight-lipped.

Not surprisingly, Trump responded to Kristol’s announcement by going on a tirade against him on Twitter, referring to him a “dummy” and a “loser.” Given that a third-party conservative candidate would almost certainly split the Republican vote and hand the White House to Democrats, it’s understandable that Trump would be worried.