For months, Donald Trump has kept the third-party embers burning, hinting that if he decided Republican officials were treating him "unfairly," he'd abandon the GOP's nominating process and explore an independent bid for the presidency. What few considered is the inverse: Republicans launching a third-party effort against Trump.
At the most recent debate, held two weeks ago, the GOP frontrunner seemed to nearly rule out the possibility of an independent campaign. Asked, "Are you ready to assure Republicans tonight that you will run as a Republican and abide by the decision of the Republicans?" Trump replied, "I really am. I'll be honest, I really am.... I am totally committed to the Republican Party."
Whether Republicans are totally committed to him is an entirely different question.
In some cases, GOP officials and even rival presidential candidates have hedged on whether they're ready to support Trump if he were to win the Republican nomination. Bill Kristol, "a member of the Republican firmament," took this sentiment to Twitter last week, asking what to name the new political party insiders will have to create if Trump is the Republican nominee.
ABC News asked Kristol if he was serious.
ABC: Would you leave the Republican Party if he does win the nomination?KRISTOL: I was semi-serious. I don't think Trump will be the nominee, so I don't expect it to be an issue. But since I don't think I could support Trump, and I'd like to have someone to vote for, if Trump were to be the nominee, I'd be open to a new party, probably for 2016 only -- but you never know.
Note, the Weekly Standard editor wasn't predicting the creation of a separate Republican Party to take on a possible Trump-led ticket, which is important -- because everything Kristol predicts is invariably proven wrong.
Rather, this was a GOP insider kicking around the idea -- in public, on the record, more than once -- of leaving his party, temporarily, in order to take on the Republican nominee, in the event Trump prevails in the primary process.
Let's be very clear: Trump may be the frontrunner, but we're not even close to the point where anyone can characterize him as the likely nominee. Before anyone starts talking that way, actual Republican voters will have to start, you know, voting.
But even putting this aside for now, consider the related question: how severe is the panic inside the GOP establishment? Bill Kristol -- Bill Kristol! -- is so concerned about the idea of a Trump nomination, he's "semi-serious" about the creation of new entity that would exist to challenge his own party's nominee.
The Washington Post's Philip Bump had a piece yesterday explaining why such an effort would not go well for the breakaway Republican entity. It's a fact Kristol no doubt understands well, and which is why it probably won't happen.
But as 2015 comes to an end, who would have guessed over the summer that we'd be at this point?