Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are both rather unpopular. How unpopular? According to one recent poll, 52 percent of the public views Clinton unfavorably, and 55 percent views Trump unfavorably.
Because of this disaffection, a large sector of the electorate is eager for an independent candidate. According to a survey by the firm Data Targeting, more than half of voters are in favor of seeing an independent on the November ballot, and the firm estimates that an independent would start off the general election with 21 percent of the popular vote.
Looking to offer another option is the #NeverTrump movement, led by conservative intellectuals, media personalities, and strategists who are looking to recruit and run a third party or independent candidate.
While the movement does not anticipate winning the election outright, it hopes to deprive the other candidates of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to clinch the presidency and thus turn the decision over to the House of Representatives. There, each state delegation would submit a single vote for one of the top three presidential candidates – a scenario that, given the likely composition of the House in 2017, could result in the selection of the prospective conservative challenger.
Yet in recent weeks, several leaders of the movement — including The Weekly Standard founder and editor Bill Kristol and radio host and commentator Erick Erickson — have struggled in their search for a candidate.
Early potential recruits included Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis and billionaire businessman Mark Cuban, but both decided not to run. Cuban, explaining his hesitance to the Washington Post, argued, “There isn’t enough time.”
Indeed, a major challenge for an independent or third party late-comer is time — especially when it comes to ballot access. The deadline for filing the requisite number of signatures to appear on the Texas ballot passed earlier this month: a candidate who wishes to appear on the remaining ballots would need to collect and submit approximately 800,000 signatures.
But in an article in The Weekly Standard on May 16, Kristol sounded optimistic about the prospects of making the movement’s eventual candidate a viable option for all voters.
“Getting an independent candidate on the ballot in all 50 states is less difficult than conventional wisdom has it,” he wrote, adding that any missed filing deadlines “are susceptible to legal challenges that are being drawn up.”
And according to Mike Murphy, one of the strategists behind the movement, the candidate would not need to appear on every ballot to be effective — only enough ballots to prevent a candidate from reaching 270 Electoral College votes. Murphy has stated he wants to focus on battleground states that have lax ballot access laws, such as Colorado, New Hampshire, and Ohio.
To facilitate these efforts, the movement’s leaders have formed a new party. On May 17, Kristol announced on Twitter the creation of the Renegade Party — replete with a website and Twitter account. In his tweet, Kristol added, “All that’s needed now: a candidate.”
But unfortunately for the movement, in recent days, several prospective candidates have declared that they are not interested in taking up the mantle.
Former GOP candidate and current Ohio Gov. John Kasich stated he is not interested, as has Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska — one of the leaders of the #NeverTrump movement. Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has also decided against running, and dittoformer Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
The ongoing search for a candidate is delaying the movement’s momentum. A source associated with the Renegade Party, who spoke on condition of remaining anonymous, told IVN that the party will be starting specific ballot access efforts in the coming weeks and is first concentrating on recruiting a candidate.
In the meantime, some conservatives are considering backing other candidates in the race. Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Matt Welch called the Libertarian Party the #NeverTrump movement’s “last hope.”
Though the party has not yet settled on a candidate, former Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson has reached double digits in mock general election polls alongside Clinton and Trump, and Johnson is reportedly expected to receive a major fundraising boost from David Koch.
A Libertarian Party candidate could appeal not just to libertarians and conservatives, but also to fiscal conservatives and social liberals more broadly — and perhaps some Bernie Sanders supporters.
Whichever way the movement goes, and especially if it splits, activists and organizers will need to mobilize quickly. With the first presidential debate scheduled for September 26, candidates only have a few more months to reach the 15 percent “level of support” threshold needed to be included in the debates.