NATIONAL HARBOUR (Maryland) • A plan to block Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump has struggled to gain traction as his rivals rejected it, while Democrats revelled in the chaos they hoped would boost their chances of keeping the White House.
The top elected Republican in the US, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, said he was not interested in an effort to draft him into the White House race.
And Senator Ted Cruz, a conservative presidential hopeful, ruled out a deal to pick a compromise candidate at the party's July convention, which senior Republicans see as their best chance to stop the unpredictable billionaire.
Mr Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton were expected to strengthen their front-runner status yesterday, when a total of 280 delegates were at stake in Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Kentucky and Nebraska.
Mr Trump has 329 delegates in hand - he needs 1,237 to win his party's nomination. Mrs Clinton has 1,066 delegates in hand and needs 2,383 to win nomination.
"The (Washington) DC power brokers will drop someone in who is exactly to the liking of the establishment. If that will happen we will have a manifold revolt in this country," Mr Cruz said at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the largest grassroots gathering in the US for right-wing activists "You want to beat Donald Trump, you beat Donald Trump with the voters," he said.
I don't think he's on the conservative spectrum. I think he saw there was a need and an interest in certain conservative ideas, and espoused them because they were convenient.
MR BRENT TIDWELL, 29, a Young Republicans volunteer at the March 2 to 5 CPAC, which was held in Maryland, on Mr Donald Trump.
Party leaders worry Mr Trump would not be able to beat Mrs Clinton in the presidential election, but time is running out after he won most of the states that voted in last week's Super Tuesday.
Senior Republicans also fear Mr Trump's plans to build a wall on the border with Mexico, and ban Muslims from entering the US will turn off voters in November and upset the country's allies.
Others note Mr Trump's past support for liberal policies, and question whether he has any agenda other than advancing himself.
Mr Trump, a former reality TV star, often plays by his own set of rules. He cancelled plans to speak at the CPAC, normally an essential stop for ambitious Republicans. He would instead attend rallies in Kansas, which held its Republican caucus yesterday, and then Florida, which votes on March 15.
"I don't think he's on the conservative spectrum," said Mr Brent Tidwell, 29, a volunteer with the Young Republicans at the March 2-5 CPAC, which was held in National Harbour, Maryland. "I think he saw there was a need and an interest in certain conservative ideas, and espoused them because they were convenient."
Meanwhile, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, the only candidate to ever challenge Mr Trump's months-long lead in opinion polls, officially ended his White House bid in a CPAC speech on Friday. "There are a lot of people who love me, they just won't vote for me," he said.
Mr Trump, who is drawing support from many blue-collar Republicans concerned about illegal immigration and stagnant wages, has won most of the party's nominating contests and leads in many polls for the primary contests still to come. He has so far won 10 of the first 15 statewide contests. "I'm not a normal Republican," he said to big cheers at a rally in Michigan.
A new group called the Committee to Draft Speaker Ryan filed papers with the Federal Election Commission last Thursday, seeking to raise money to push Mr Ryan as a Republican alternative. Mr Ryan, a budget wonk who was the Republican vice-presidential candidate in 2012, is seen by many in the party as a unifier after he took the Speaker's job last year to unite the party's establishment lawmakers and conservative upstarts in the House.
"He is flattered, but not interested," Mr Ryan's spokesman AshLee Strong said in an e-mail on Friday.
As Mr Trump cements his front-runner status, senior party figures hope to deny him enough delegates to clinch the nomination, which would give them the chance to choose a compromise candidate at their convention in Cleveland.
Mr Mitt Romney and Mr John McCain, the party's last two presidential nominees, have called on Republicans to halt Mr Trump's rise by backing whichever candidate was strongest in their state in a form of tactical voting.
However, few elected officials are rallying behind the "Dump Trump" banner. The party's 31 state governors are not lining up behind an alternative. Only five have endorsed Florida Senator Marco Rubio and one has backed Mr Cruz, in a sharp contrast to previous years when governors overwhelmingly endorsed the party's eventual nominee.
Mr Rubio has only one state so far and is gearing up for what could be a make-or-break contest in his home state on March 15. Mr Cruz yesterday said he planned to open 10 campaign offices there, in what could be an effort to force the rival senator out of the race.
Democrats were happy to let Republicans fight among themselves.
"We can sit back and let them light their own dumpster fire and wait until they're finished," said Mr Eddie Vale, spokesman for American Bridge, a Clinton-allied group which collects negative research on Republican candidates.
Nationally, Mr Trump has the support of 41 per cent of Republican voters, compared to 19 per cent who back Mr Cruz and 16 per cent who back Mr Rubio, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling data.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE