There is growing talk on the right of replacing Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee for president, and even chatter about a possible alternative.
As Trump has floundered over the past week after questioning a federal judge’s impartiality because of his Mexican ancestry, Trump’s critics within the GOP have stepped up their efforts to thwart him. Some anti-Trump conservatives, who have tried for months to recruit an independent candidate, have begun looking more closely at attempting to persuade delegates at next month’s GOP convention to nominate someone other than Trump.
“There is a rapidly moving train toward the convention to try to obstruct it at the convention. Trump in the last 72 hours has given hope to people who think it’s now possible,” said Erick Erickson, a conservative radio talk show host and one of Trump’s most resolute critics.
“He’s starting to give everybody hope that he should be stopped at the convention,” Erickson said, though he cautioned that if Trump “cleans up his act then I think that hope will go away.”
One of the central players inside the movement to recruit an independent conservative candidate also said Monday that an anti-Trump group was “actively recruiting and setting a convention strategy.”
And David French, a conservative writer who considered running as an anti-Trump independent candidate, told Yahoo News that Trump shouldn’t take his convention nomination for granted. “If Trump continues to be cocky, saying, ‘I can do whatever I want and do whatever I want because I own these people, there’s a limit to that,” French said. “I’m sorry, but there is.”
Public calls for Republicans to replace Trump grew Wednesday.
“I want to support the nominee of the party, but I think the party ought to change the nominee. Because we’re going to get killed with this nominee,” Hugh Hewitt, a nationally syndicated conservative radio talk show host, said. “They ought to get together and let the convention decide. And if Donald Trump pulls over a makeover in the next four to five weeks, great, they can keep him.”
And the same day, Steve Deace, a conservative activist and radio talk show host from Iowa, reviewed Trump’s most recent missteps on his radio show and urged the 2,500 delegates to the Republican convention to “make this stop.”
“History is calling you to step up to the plate. You have not a choice but an obligation. You must save the country,” Deace said to the delegates.
A.J. Spiker, a former Iowa Republican Party chairman, tweeted on Tuesday, “The Republican Party needs a patriot to step forward, challenge Trump, work delegates and win the GOP nomination for president in Cleveland.”
Prominent Republican politicians have also started to distance themselves from Trump. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., said Tuesday he would not vote for Trump despite having pledged previously to support the party’s nominee. And Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who also has said he won’t support Trump, told an Arizona radio station that there is “fear and loathing” of the party’s nominee.
“There’s not a lot of enthusiasm. There’s some resignation and some mixture of fear and loathing to think about what the next couple months will bring given the statements that he has made,” Flake said.
Amid this agitation for a Trump alternative, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s name has been increasingly mentioned as a possible replacement. Walker was an early frontrunner in the GOP primary, but he suspended his campaign last summer in the face of sagging fundraising and poll numbers.
Walker previously said he would ultimately support the GOP nominee. But on Tuesday, Walker backed away from supporting Trump, pointedly saying, “He’s not yet the nominee.”
The conservative site RedState reported Wednesday that there are “rumors” that Walker is “open” to such an outcome. And one source who has been involved in the effort to recruit an independent candidate said Walker has told those working to find an alternative that he would be willing to serve as an alternative at the convention if Trump continues to implode.
Rick Wilson, a Florida-based Republican operative involved in the stop-Trump effort, said Walker’s potential entry into the race was “speculative but widely discussed.”
For his part, Walker dismissed the speculation in a statement to Yahoo News: “Let me be clear: I am focused entirely on being governor. If there’s any campaign in the future, it’s going to be running for reelection in 2018, which is a decision that we’ll make in the months ahead following the next state budget.”
Not every anti-Trump conservative thinks the convention discussion is wise. “People have scenarios of the convention. I think they are a waste of time,” said Michael P. Farris, president of Patrick Henry College. “Not that I wouldn’t wish it. I wish it every day.”
Nevertheless, many have argued that the delegates to the convention are technically free to nominate whomever they want, despite the impression that they are bound by the results of the primary votes in each state. Every convention votes on its own rules, so if this year’s GOP delegates wanted to unbind themselves, the argument goes, nothing would stop them. Numerous judicial rulings have found that even state laws, which purport to bind approximately one-third of the delegates, cannot govern the internal affairs of a national political party — such as how delegates vote at a convention.
Deace wrote in a column on Saturday that the convention rules allowing delegates to follow their consciences “are in place to protect the system from just such a leader” as Trump.
French pointed out that many of the delegates to the convention are “people who loathe [Trump], and that hasn’t changed.”
In the past few days, Trump found himself in a new firestorm after he repeatedly brought up the Mexican heritage of U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel in order to question the judge’s impartiality in a case involving Trump University.
In February, Trump linked Curiel’s heritage to the judge’s supposed hostility in his rulings so far in a lawsuit brought by people who say they were defrauded by Trump University. But the Manhattan developer began escalating that claim last week. Curiel was born in Indiana and is an American citizen.
Trump argued that Curiel had a “conflict of interest” because he is “of Mexican heritage.” Trump said that because he wants to build a wall across the U.S.-Mexico border, Curiel is inherently predisposed to rule against him. As a result, Trump said Curiel should recuse himself from the case involving Trump University, a now-shuttered for-profit school focused on real estate training.
A wave of Republicans rebuked Trump’s argument. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, an enthusiastic Trump supporter, said Sunday that it “was one of the worst mistakes Trump has made.” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who endorsed Trump just last week, said Monday that Trump’s comments were “a textbook definition of a racist comment.”
Trump went into damage control mode Tuesday afternoon and evening, issuing a long statement defending Trump University and his complaints about Curiel. Trump further insisted he would no longer talk about the case.
At an election night press conference celebrating more primary wins, Trump implicitly acknowledged his recent struggles by promising to do better.
“You’ve given me the honor to lead the Republican Party to victory this fall,” Trump said, reading from a teleprompter. “I understand the responsibility of carrying the mantle and I will never, ever let you down.”
Many believe Trump is incapable of showing more discipline.
“Every pivot of Trump’s is a 360,” Wilson said. “There’s no better version of Donald Trump. There’s no good Donald Trump.”