The names of a few well-known conservatives have been offered up in recent days as potential third-party standard-bearers, and William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, has circulated a memo to a small number of conservative allies detailing the process by which an independent candidate could get on general-election ballots across the country. Among the recruits under discussion are Tom Coburn, a former Oklahoma senator who has told associates that he would be open to running, and Rick Perry, the former Texas governor who was suggested as a possible third-party candidate at a meeting of conservative activists on Thursday in Washington.
About three months ago, the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, a prominent figure in Republican politics for many years, started asking on Twitter what to name the new political party GOP insiders will have to create if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee.
Asked about his sincerity, Kristol said at the time that he still didn't believe Trump would win his party's nomination, but the pundit/activist added that he was "semi-serious" about helping set up "a new party, probably for 2016 only."
It seemed like idle speculation at the time, but I think it's fair to believe that's no longer the case. The New York Times had this report over the weekend:
Well, if Bill Kristol has a memo, what could possibly go wrong?
The Weekly Standard editor told the Times that he doesn't believe it's too late to put forward a viable independent candidate to compete against a Trump-led GOP ticket. "I think the ballot access question is manageable," Kristol said. "The big question is, who's the candidate?"
Questions surrounding ballot access probably shouldn't be dismissed quite so quickly. It's an incredibly daunting challenge, especially for a conservative operation that faces long odds running against their own party's national ticket. The "big question" is arguably who'd pay for such an endeavor, knowing in advance that 270 electoral votes is a practical impossibility.
But the process of selecting a candidate poses its own problems. If Trump prevails in the GOP race, it's not clear who'd participate in choosing a third-party rival, or which high-profile Republican would welcome the privilege of running against the Republican nominee.
Coburn, whose health issues were serious enough to prompt his retirement before the end of his final Senate term, didn't rule out the possibility when talking to the Times. Perry may seem like a better fit -- the former governor actually wants to be president, having sought the office twice -- but recent history suggests he's just not an especially strong candidate.
Still, the fact that such conversations are even underway is itself pretty interesting. I'm skeptical anything will come of this, but the possibility has the potential to affect the overall race quite a bit.
Postscript: Jeff Miller, Rick Perry's former campaign manager, said on Twitter over the weekend, "With all due respect to [Kristol] and donors who have called. Where were you when [Perry] was actually running"?
* Update: The RNC is aware of Kristol's efforts, and party officials clearly aren't pleased. Perry, meanwhile, has "no interest" in a third-party candidacy.