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Report: Romney Wooing Non-Trump Independent Candidate to Enter Race

This Washington Post story published yesterday underscores two realities: First, a subset of conservatives still have no appetite to reconcile themselves to Trump as the 2016 Republican standard-bearer, even after the billionaire's remaining rivals dropped out of the GOP primary. (For what it's worth, Slate has compiled a tracking list of right-of-center commentators' various stances on Trump, myself and Katie Pavlich included).  Second, eleventh-hour efforts to draft a third-party candidate into the general election race appear to be running into a series of brick walls -- likely rendering the #NeverTrump scramble quixotic.  Details:


A band of exasperated Republicans — including 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, a handful of veteran consultants and members of the conservative intelligentsia — is actively plotting to draft an independent presidential candidate who could keep Donald Trump from the White House. These GOP figures are commissioning private polling, lining up major funding sources­ and courting potential contenders, according to interviews with more than a dozen Republicans involved in the discussions. The effort has been sporadic all spring but has intensified significantly in the 10 days since Trump effectively locked up the Republican nomination.

Those involved concede that an independent campaign at this late stage is probably futile, and they think they have only a couple of weeks to launch a credible bid. But these Republicans — including commentators William Kristol and Erick Erickson and strategists Mike Murphy, Stuart Stevens and Rick Wilson — are so repulsed by the prospect of Trump as commander in chief that they are desperate to take action. Their top recruiting prospects are freshman Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a conservative who has become one of Trump’s sharpest critics, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who withdrew from the Republican presidential race May 4. Romney is among those who have made personal overtures to both men in recent days, according to several people with knowledge of the former Massachusetts governor’s activities.


With private polling commissioned, donors lining up, and recruitment lobbying underway, this push certainly sounds serious.  But as the story unfolds, every single name floated as the possible face of this endeavor appears to explicitly rule out running -- from Kasich, to Sasse, to Mark Cuban, to various military figures.  Romney has been a persistent Trump critic for months, most recently slamming the controversial mogul's announcement that he will not release his tax records (likely opening up another attack line for Democrats) as "disqualifying."  Trump had previously pledged to make those records public.  Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is ramping up her criticisms of Trump on the issue, which is more than a bit rich, given her own ongoing rejection of calls for transparency.  As the 'Never Trump' contingent casts about for any plausible path forward -- filing deadlines are approaching -- much of the Republican establishment and party apparatus is beginning to circle the wagons around the nominee-in-waiting.  In addition to collecting a flurry of endorsements from erstwhile thermonuclear critics, Trump is being defended by party officials who are seeking to "crush" conservative insurgencies against him.  It's increasingly clear that Trump and his allies are the establishment:

Republican activists chose party unity over “never Trump” resistance Saturday, with party leaders in one state after another pressuring their members to fall in line behind the presumptive nominee — and even punishing those who refused. Eleven states held annual Republican conventions or party leadership meetings Saturday, offering a platform for those who still object to Donald Trump as their party’s standard-bearer a prime opportunity to make mischief. But at almost every turn, they slammed into state leaders who closed ranks around a candidate who many once said they’d never support. In Nebraska, that meant overwhelming passage of a resolution that indirectly scolded conservative Sen. Ben Sasse for leading the #NeverTrump movement and scuttling a countermeasure to condemn “degrading remarks toward women, minorities and other individuals” by presidential candidates...Across the country, party leaders encouraged, coaxed and even browbeat their rank and file into a message of unity.

In addition to his much-ballyhooed huddle with House Speaker Paul Ryan, the candidate engaged in a listening session with a group of Republican Senators, including members leadership, late last week. Post-meeting rhetoric pointed to signs of a thaw:

The Republican senators that met with Donald Trump on Thursday were united by a shared concern: Trump’s tone and rhetoric. Several lawmakers gently told him that what he says and how he says it matters, both for Trump’s general election campaign and their own chances of keeping the Senate. Trump was in “listening mode,” attendees at the meeting told POLITICO, but gave them the answer that they wanted to hear. “I get that,” Trump told the nearly dozen senators in attendance. Most of them were relieved to hear it. Trump also told senators that he would help raise money in the battle to retain the Senate, which further buoyed Republicans worried about whether he will be a down-ballot drag. In other words, it was a major step forward for the divided party, senators said...

In the meeting between senators and the GOP nominee, lawmakers mixed policy with politics as Trump sat back and listened — one attendee said that Trump spoke less than half the time during the meeting with senators. “It was better than expected … he was not just listening he was responding,” said one attendee. “It was not antagonistic. It was positive. There was a discussion of differences of some issues.” All the Senate Republicans who attended the meeting also took turns taking a photo with Trump, with the presumptive nominee giving a thumbs-up in all the pictures, another source familiar with the meeting said...Republican senators who attended the meeting: McConnell; Cornyn; Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota; Policy Chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming; Conference Vice-Chair Roy Blunt of Missouri; NRSC Chair Roger Wicker of Mississippi; Senate President Pro Tem Hatch; Rob Portman of Ohio; Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia; and Fischer [plus early Trump endorser Jeff Sessions]."


Even still, Trump's conservative detractors are freshly alarmed by the wealthy provocateur's recent pronouncement that all of his campaign promises are mere "suggestions," with some lamenting that his propensity to endlessly shift on issue stances is vexing and worrisome.  I'll leave you with a top Trump ally dismissing the principle that words have meaning as "ridiculous late last week, followed by the RNC chairman ripping Romney and company yesterday morning:"

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