A group of prominent conservative activists and operatives from across the country gathered Thursday morning to discuss building a conservative "unity ticket" to stop Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump from winning the GOP nomination. The group also examined the plausibility of a third-party candidacy should Trump become the nominee.
Led by conservative radio host and blogger Erick Erickson, South Dakota businessman Bob Fischer and President George W. Bush's conservative liaison Bill Wichterman, the couple dozen activist huddled at The Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C. for several hours and came to the conclusion that a "real conservative" needs to be the next president and Trump does not fit that description.
"We are committed to ensuring a real conservative candidate is elected. We believe that neither [Democratic frontrunner] Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump, a Hillary Clinton donor, is that person," Erickson wrote in a statement posted to TheResurgent.com. "We believe that the issue of Donald Trump is greater than an issue of party. It is an issue of morals and character that all Americans, not just those of us in the conservative movement, must confront."
"We encourage all former Republican candidates not currently supporting Trump to unite against him and encourage all candidates to hold their delegates on the first ballot," Erickson added.
Even though Trump now leads Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the Republican presidential race by over 250 delegates, the conservatives agreed that there is still a chance to stop Trump and win the majority of delegates at the Republican National Convention in July. However, Trump must not reach the 1,237 delegates needed to formally claim the nomination at the end of the primary process.
"There is a definite feeling that there is still a way to for a non-Trump candidate to get a clear majority of delegates at the national convention — straight-forward, out in the open, no trickery," the group's spokesman Quin Hillyer, a veteran conservative columnist, told The Christian Post.
Hillyer wouldn't say whether the group was going to coalesce around one particular conservative candidate, like Cruz, who still has a shot to reach the 1,237 delegate mark.
"What we call for is a unity ticket and we leave to the candidates how they want to do their unity," he stated, reiterating that the group is pulling for a "non-Trump candidate."
Although much was reported leading up to the event about how there would be some talks about a possible third-party run if Trump is elected, Hillyer stated that the main focus of the meeting was on how to defeat Trump at the convention, not a third-party run.
But in an interview with Fox News on Thursday, Erickson explained that a third-party run was discussed at the meeting as a "final fallback option," adding, "the consensus was, everyone would rather settle this on the convention floor."
The Washington Post shared a memo that was passed around to attendees addressing the viability of a third-party run at this stage of the election cycle.
The form featured a table that outlines state filing deadlines, whether states allow for a person who lost a party primary to run again in the general election under another party and the amount of signatures needed in each state to put a candidate on the ballot.
It also addressed the which states do and don't have ballot access for Constitution Party, Green Party and Libertarian Party candidates.
"We intend to keep our options open as to other avenues to oppose Donald Trump," Erickson concluded in his statement. "Our multiple decades of work in the conservative movement for free markets, limited government, national defense, religious liberty, life, and marriage are about ideas, not necessarily parties."
The meeting was also attended by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., who said it is "certainly not too late" to get another party on the ballot with a candidate being picked as late as August. However, Franks added that the candidate "would have to be a movement conservative."
"I am worried about the kind of damage that Trump could cause to our party," Franks, a Cruz supporter, said. "As a conservative, I can't trust Donald Trump to do the right thing. However, I can trust Mrs. Clinton to do the exact wrong thing. Therefore, if it comes down to a one-on-one contest, I would vote for Trump."
Many Republicans, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, have been critical of talks to establish a third-party candidacy and argue that it would only help Clinton win the general election.
Trump said on Wednesday that a third-party run pretty much "guarantees" that a Democrat will win the presidency.
"But just let me tell you, a third party guarantees — not 90 percent or 99 percent, 100 percent — that Democrats will win," Trump said. "Probably Hillary, I guess it's Hillary, looks like it if she gets to the starting gate, which she probably will, frankly,"