The #NeverTrump forces are not going to let the absence of an independent candidate deter them — for now. On Tuesday they launched Better for America, a 501(c)(4) entity, which a news release describes as a “presidential ballot access campaign to ensure a pathway for an independent candidate to run for the President of the United States in 2016.”
This entity is operating under the same logic that the loosely organized conservatives had been following. With the two major-party candidates unprecedentedly unpopular, the chance for an alternative candidate is greater than in previous years. With polling suggesting considerable interest in a third choice, the new entity is setting up a formal structure and a website.
They entity already has staff and a major donor, John Kingston, behind the effort. Anne MacDonald, chief of staff to former first lady Laura Bush, is its executive director.
How, you ask, is this going to work, with no specific candidate? Remember that an independent candidate can get onto state ballots in multiple ways — as a true independent, as a nominee of an existing party (e.g., the Reform Party) or as the nominee of a brand-new party. The last option does not require a specific nominee as of now.
The group says it has a “national network of lawyers and ballot access professionals in place and ready to execute on our game plan immediately.” It is focusing for now on 10 states with the earliest ballot access deadlines. Of those states, the groups says six do not require a candidate right now, and for the other four it will “make immediate advance preparations in the other four states, providing a turnkey operation for an eventual candidate.”
It is also true that this effort may play into a potential convention-floor rebellion. If a month from now, Trump is trailing by double digits, an independent candidate has made it onto a dozen or so ballots and there is no sign that Trump’s campaign is coming together, it becomes more feasible to launch a convention fight (e.g., put in a conscience clause to release delegates from any obligation to vote for Trump on the first ballot), dump Trump and pull that independent candidate into the GOP fold as the new nominee.
Of course, the Better for America effort can go on only so long without an actual candidate. Previous names floated (Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Mitt Romney, former senator Tom Coburn of Texas) have begged off, and there is no indication any of them is changing his mind. Nevertheless, Trump is the best ally Better for America’s forces have. With each utterance, incoherent speech, new conspiracy theory and evidence he lacks any formal campaign structure, an alternative candidate becomes more desirable. One can imagine savvy retired military officers and senators with foreign policy gravitas, for example, tearing their hair out when Trump doubles down on his Muslim ban. Trump’s polling is already heading south, and with his ghastly performance Monday in response to the Orlando killing spree, we likely will see further decline.
It’s not clear that there are any candidates any closer to jumping into the race than there were in previous trial balloons. The underwhelming reaction to the potential candidacy of National Review writer David French was such, however, that only a “name” candidate would suffice to get the group off the ground. The chances of that happening remain slim, but not nonexistent.