WASHINGTON, May 14 (UPI) -- Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is leading a group of conservatives in trying to draft a third-party candidate who would run in an effort to deny Donald Trump the White House.
The effort, first reported by the Washington Post, includes several top conservatives including Weekly Standard editor William Kristol and blogger and radio host Erick Erickson, along with longtime GOP strategist Mike Murphy and others.
The group is said to be targeting several potential candidates, including Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse among others, but they have yet to find a candidate willing to hop into the race at this late stage.
The deadline for ballot access in Texas, home to the second-largest trove of electoral college votes, has already passed. Deadlines are quickly approaching in other states where thousands of signatures would need to be collected to register a candidate for the election. Members of the "stop Trump" movement said they believe a legal challenge to gain entrance on the Texas ballot would be successful.
What has so far proven a more practical challenge than ballot access for the stop Trump group is identifying a willing candidate. Though according to NBC News Kasich has not decided whether he will endorse Trump, a spokesman told the Post Kasich had flatly ruled out running as a third-party or independent candidate.
Sasse, a conservative first-term senator who has publicly said he will not support Trump, has also thus far batted away calls for him to enter the race.
The potential political blowback for a Republican who ran as an independent candidate could be huge. The presence of the party's official nominee and a stalking horse siphoning away votes would almost certainly give Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton an easier path to victory. If Clinton were to win the general election thanks to the efforts of a conservative also-ran, that candidate would immediately achieve pariah status within the Republican Party.
Murphy told the Post if Trump is a fatally flawed general election candidate, as members of the group believe, there is no risk in running another conservative who is less polarizing than Trump or Clinton as a third option for voters. He and Romney, who did not respond to a Post interview request, believe that a positive, issues-oriented conservative could stand a chance in a three-way presidential campaign because of the unusually high dislike for the two likely major party nominees.
Clinton's disapproval rating has hovered in the mid-50s and Trump's is approaching 60 percent among general election voters, leaving the door open, the stop Trumpers said, to the potential for a independent to win over voters who don't like either of their other options.
The group is also said to have contacted retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal and retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis. The group also explored the possibility of finding a candidate who could match Trump's resume: reality television host and billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team Mark Cuban.
All three turned down the overtures, the Post reported.