#NeverTrump Conservatives Hunt for Third-Party Candidate to Rival Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton

(Photo: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)Republican U.S. presidential candidate and businessman Donald Trump pauses as he speaks to supporters after his rival, Senator Ted Cruz, dropped out of the race for the Republican nomintion following the results of the Indiana state primary, at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, U.S., May 3, 2016.

A number of prominent conservatives, who vow that they will not vote for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, are on the search for a viable third-party candidate to give voters a true conservative option this November.

With both Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich dropping their bids for the Republican nomination this week, quite a few staunch conservatives are refusing to unite behind Trump and are calling on a viable individual to run as a third-party or independent candidate.

"I would like to have a conservative to vote for," Bill Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard and a prominent #NeverTrump conservative, told NBC's Andrea Mitchell this afternoon. "I think an awful lot of people in the country would, including a lot of moderates and conservatives ... We have two candidates who are viewed by considerable majorities in an unfavorable way, not a favorable way, as the major party nominees."

"Can't we do better?" Kristol asked? "I think we can and I hope a serious, independent candidate steps forward and I think that candidate can surprise, that candidate can do well."

Talk of a third-party run has its critics, who argue that launching a third-party or independent run would only steal votes away from the Republican nominee and help the Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton win the election.

But at least two political pundits — Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin and Thomas Sowell, senior fellow at Stanford's public policy think tank, Hoover Institution — believe that a third-party or independent run could be a viable option, given the state of the 2016 election and the growing public animus toward Trump and Clinton.

"If a third-party candidate could divide the vote enough to prevent anyone from getting an electoral-college majority, that would throw the election into the House of Representatives, where any semblance of sanity could produce a better president than these two," Sowell wrote in an op-ed for National Review.

"Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are two of the most unlikable, flawed candidates in moderate presidential political history," Rubin wrote in an op-ed published Thursday. "With an optimistic, down-to-earth candidate with some crossover appeal, a third candidate could well pick off states including Arizona, Utah and Texas from Trump and challenge Clinton in states like Ohio, Colorado, Iowa and Nevada that she needs to get to 270. Let's also remember that Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson may be in the race, further dividing the vote."

Rubin reports that several groups with access to funding are communicating with each other to orchestrate a third-party run.

Although many believe it is too late for third-party candidates to get on the ballot in many states, Rubin quotes longtime GOP operative Rick Wilson in pointing out that it is not necessarily the case.

"The process is complex but not hard," Rubin quotes Wilson as explaining. "All the steps are explicable, and the lawyers know how to get it home. Even in ballot access states due in May, there are legal hacks around it."

Even though some believe that a third-party candidacy is viable, what candidate capable of stealing the votes away from both Clinton and Trump?

Erick Erickson, another prominent #NeverTrump leader, told The Hill on Thursday that former GOP candidate Rand Paul would be a "viable" contender if he decided to jump back in the presidential hunt.

According to Carla Howell, political director of the National Libertarian Party, it's "not too late" for Paul to win the Libertarian nomination.

As for Kristol, he has floated the name of Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., as a possible third party candidate.

"I think Ben Sasse, a young senator, a conservative senator, but who's really an independent-minded conservative senator," Kristol told MSNBC. "[I]f he can launch, there will be a lot of money, a lot of operatives, a lot of legal services volunteered to get him on the ballot across the country,"

In a Facebook post titled, "An Open Letter to the Majority of America," Sasse showed Wednesday that he is open to the idea of a third-party option.

"I've ignored my phone most of today, but the voicemail is overflowing with party bosses and politicos telling me that 'although Trump is terrible,' we 'have to support him,' 'because the only choice is Trump or Hillary,'" Sasse wrote. "This open letter aims simply to ask 'WHY is that the only choice?'"

Rubin writes that a number of other names have been tossed around as viable third-party options, such as former Texas Gov. and former presidential candidate Rick Perry, former Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and retired Gen. Ray Odierno.

Now that Trump has seemingly become the face of the Republican Party, Federalist writer Robert Tracinski explains that a third party run would do more than just give American conservatives another presidential option. It could also serve as a "new home" for Republican leadership.

"What I am proposing, in short, is a third party that will serve as a Republican leadership in exile, waiting to either reclaim our occupied homeland or to build a new home for our band of ideological refugees," Tracinski wrote. "A properly constructed third party would give us someone and something to talk about in a positive way. I don't mean this just as a Full Employment Act for Disgruntled Pundits. I mean this as a way that we can continue to advocate for our political principles in a year when ideas and principles have gone AWOL."

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith