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.
Earlier prospects included former senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and retired Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis. Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and retired Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal have been bandied about as potentially potent political outsiders.
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.