Mainstream U.S. Republicans struggled for a strategy on Friday to stop their party’s presidential front-runner Donald Trump from becoming the nominee for the Nov. 8 election.
The country’s top elected Republican, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, said he was not interested in an effort to draft him into the White House race.
And U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a conservative presidential hopeful, ruled out a deal to pick a compromise Republican candidate at a “brokered convention” in July to deny brash businessman Trump the nomination.
Party leaders want to block Trump because they worry he would not be able to beat Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in the election but time is running out after he scored big wins at this week’s Super Tuesday state nominating contests.
Senior Republicans fret that Trump policies like building a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border and temporarily banning Muslims from entering the United States will turn off voters in November and upset U.S. allies.
The former reality TV star apparently snubbed conservative Republicans when the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, said on Friday he was dropping out of the annual event outside of Washington, instead attending a rally in Kansas.
Worried about Trump, a new group called the Committee to Draft Speaker Ryan filed papers with the Federal Election Commission on Thursday, seeking to raise money to push Ryan as a Republican alternative.
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 heal a crippling power struggle between establishment Republican lawmakers and conservative upstarts in the House.
But he has shown no sign of wanting to carry the party banner at November’s election.
“He is flattered, but not interested,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in an email on Friday. Politico first reported the formation of the draft-Ryan group.
Other establishment Republicans, including the party’s nominee four years ago, Mitt Romney, are openly urging voters to back Trump’s Republican opponents by tactical voting. On Thursday, he called on Republican primary voters to pick whichever candidate looks better placed to defeat Trump at state primaries.
Trump, a real estate magnate who is drawing support from many blue-collar Republicans concerned about illegal immigration and stagnant wages, has won most Republican nominating contests and leads in many polls for the primary contests still to come.
“I’m not a normal Republican,” he said to huge cheers at a rally in Warren, Michigan, on Friday, railing against the people in his party who are trying to stop him, including his closest challengers, Cruz and U.S. Senators Marco Rubio of Florida.
CRUZ “DISASTER” WARNING
Cruz, brushed off the idea of a party deal to choose someone other than Trump at the Republicans’ convention in Cleveland in July.
“In my view a brokered convention ain’t going to happen. And if the Washington dealmakers try to steal the nomination from the people, I think it would be a disaster. It would cause a revolt,” the senator from Texas told reporters in Maine.
A brokered convention can take place when the leading candidate does not have the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination and party leaders and campaigns negotiate among themselves to choose a compromise candidate.
The last time that happened at a Republican convention was in 1948 when Thomas Dewey was nominated.
Trump’s rivals said at a Republican debate on Thursday that they would reluctantly support him if he were their party’s nominee.
Under questioning by Fox News Channel moderators, Rubio, Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich made the promise despite
efforts by party elders to build an anti-Trump coalition.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said on Friday he wanted to “calibrate everyone” and remind them the nominating process was going forward as usual.
“Yeah, there’s some drama, we know that. There’s intrigue. But with all of that comes a tremendous amount of enthusiasm,” Priebus said at the CPAC gathering.
Many of the party’s 31 state governors are staying out of the fray, steering clear of the “dump Trump” push.
Some Republicans have told party leaders their dump-Trump push could backfire and alienate voters.
Dale Ranney, 61, who runs an independent grassroots voter outreach operation supporting Trump, said she is worried that the Republican establishment could find a path at its convention to shut out Trump.
Ranney, who lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, helped with the independent presidential bids mounted by Ross Perot, a Texas billionaire, in 1992 and 1996, and said she’s ready to go should Trump choose to make an independent run for the White House.
“All Mr. Trump has to do is give us a wink and a nod to go ahead,” she said.
A candidate launching an independent bid has to petition for a place on the ballot in all 50 states, each of which has a deadline. The earliest is Texas, on May 9.