WASHINGTON • Republican leaders adamantly opposed to Mr Donald Trump's candidacy are preparing a 100-day campaign to deny him the presidential nomination, starting with an aggressive battle in Wisconsin's April 5 primary, with a delegate-by-delegate lobbying effort that would cast Mr Trump as a calamitous choice for the general election.
Leading conservatives are prepared to field an independent candidate in the general election, to defend Republican principles and offer traditional conservatives an alternative to Mr Trump's hard-edged populism. They described their plans in interviews after Mr Trump's victories Tuesday in Florida and three other states.
Mr 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 Mr Tom Coburn, a former Oklahoma senator who has told associates that he would be open to running, and Mr 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.
Mr Coburn, who left the Senate early last year to receive treatment for cancer, said in an interview that Mr Trump "needs to be stopped". He said he had little appetite for a campaign of his own, but did not flatly rule one out.
Trump opponents convened a series of war councils last week to consider whether to endorse Senator Ted Cruz of Texas or Governor John Kasich of Ohio. Mr Trump has a delegate lead of about 250 over Mr Cruz, the second-place candidate, but he has repeatedly acted in ways that push party leaders farther from his camp.
Trump opponents convened a series of war councils last week to consider whether to endorse Senator Ted Cruz of Texas or Governor John Kasich of Ohio.
Mr Trump has a delegate lead of about 250 over Mr Cruz, the second-place candidate, but he has repeatedly acted in ways that push party leaders farther from his camp.
On Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan sternly admonished him for saying his supporters would riot if Republicans nominated someone else, the latest in a series of remarks Mr Trump has made that seemed to encourage or condone violence.
Mr David McIntosh, president of the conservative Club for Growth, said his group met on Wednesday and concluded it was still possible to avert Mr Trump's nomination. The group plans a comprehensive study of Trump supporters to sharpen a message aimed at driving them away from him.
"This is still a winnable race for a free-market conservative that's not Donald Trump," Mr McIntosh said.
Central to this plan is stopping Mr Trump in Wisconsin, the next major showdown after contests that Mr Trump and Mr Cruz are expected to split in Arizona and Utah.
Advisers to Mr Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor who considered an independent run, concluded that petition gathering would have had to begin by early March for a candidate to appear on November ballots in all 50 states.
But an independent could still get on ballots in dozens of states - or perhaps seek the nomination of the Libertarian Party, which is on the ballot in most states and does not pick a candidate until late May.
Mr Kristol, a leading critic of Mr Trump, said he believed it was not too late to put forward a viable independent candidacy. "I think the ballot access question is manageable," he said. "The big question is, who's the candidate?"
NEW YORK TIMES
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