Establishment Republicans lack an alternative to presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump because none of the likeliest picks have the national name recognition and support to mount an insurgent White House bid.
An Economist/YouGov poll indicates it may be too late to stop the Trump juggernaut, despite persistent talk that party leaders are searching for another candidate.
Sixty-eight percent of Republicans surveyed reported either a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” opinion of Trump, far outpacing positive opinions of Republicans who could potentially enter the race.
Of those floated as alternatives to the billionaire businessman, only former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney scored high on national name recognition. With only five months remaining in the race — and voters likely to be distracted by summer vacation planning and other immediate concerns — introducing a fresh face would be a major uphill battle.
“The only possible thing I see that would prevent Trump from being the nominee is if, at the [Republican] convention, he goes completely nuts and the delegates decide to go elsewhere,” said GOP strategist John Feehery . “But as of now, I don’t see any independent bid that would make a big enough splash.”
Feehery said Trump “has had a bad few weeks,” adding there is a feeling in Republican circles that “he needs to right the ship.”
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Conservative pundit Bill Kristol pushed lawyer and National Review writer David French as a Trump alternative. But 71 percent of those polled from June 2-5 said they have never heard of the self-proclaimed “pretty darn obscure lawyer, writer, and veteran.” And only 5 percent had either a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” view of French.
Before the poll, which has a 3.2 percent margin of error, was made public, French opted against a run on Sunday.
“I’m not the right person to challenge Trump and Hillary, but the path remains open for others,” French wrote on the National Review’s website . “After days of prayer, reflection and serious study of the possibilities, I am not going to run as an independent candidate for president of the United States.”
French wrote that it “would be tempting to say that when it comes to confronting this national moment, ‘somebody’” — like himself — “stepping up is better than nobody.”
“But somebody is not always better than nobody. I’m on record saying that Mitt Romney could win. I believe others could run and win, and would make excellent presidents. Indeed, the path is there.”
Sixty-five percent of those surveyed do not want him to run. Only 16 percent said they definitely want a Romney candidacy. He also fails to receive favorable ratings from 53 percent of GOP voters who responded to the survey.
Freshman GOP Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse also has been mentioned as a potential Trump alternative. In an open letter he posted on his Facebook page on May 4, he asked rhetorically: “WHY is that the only choice?”
Respondents to the poll indicated Sasse likely would not be a realistic choice, with 74 percent of all respondents and 69 percent of Republicans reporting they have never heard of him.
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Most respondents have heard of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich , R-Ga., and his favorable rating was slightly higher than his unfavorable score. Among Republicans, Gingrich is admired more than any other potential Trump alternative, with 59 percent of GOP voters saying they hold either a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” opinion him. (The poll did not ask if voters want Gingrich to launch a long-shot White House bid).
Feehery called Gingrich “a smart guy,” but noted “he melted under pressure the last time,” referring to the 2012 GOP primary when Gingrich won the South Carolina and Georgia nominating contests but then failed to win other Southern states central to his strategy .
“He is a figure that people know when they see him, and he’s been smart enough to challenge the status quo. He’s not an establishment guy and that might serve him well,” Feehery said. “But he’s been a better commentator than a candidate.”