Is a serious independent candidate poised to jump into the 2016 race?

Conservative editor Bill Kristol, a leader of the #NeverTrump movement, says a serious independent challenger is about to appear.

Gary Cameron/Reuters/File
Sen. Ben Sasse (R) of Nebraska speaks at the American Conservative Union 2016 annual conference in Maryland on March 3. He's among the prominent Republicans who have voiced support for an alternative candidate to the presumptive Republican and Democratic presidential nominees (Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton).

Is a mystery spoiler candidate really about to jump into the presidential race?

GOP pundit and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol would like us to think so. Or he’d like Donald Trump to think so, at least. On Sunday Mr. Kristol tweeted this: “Just a heads up over this holiday weekend; There will be an independent candidate, an impressive one, with a strong team and a real chance.”

Kristol has been a rhetorical leader of the #NeverTrump movement from its inception. For months he’s been actively recruiting potential third party or independent conservative candidates in hopes of draining off enough votes to ensure Trump doesn’t win the White House.

Trump himself responded to Kristol’s latest prediction as you might expect. In his own tweetstorm he attacked Kristol as a lightweight and a “dummy.”

“Bill Kristol has been wrong for 2 yrs – an embarrassed loser, but if the GOP can’t control their own, then they are not a party. Be tough, R’s!” Trump tweeted.

Should we take this prediction of an imminent right-leaning challenger to Trump seriously? Or should we take it with multiple grains of salt?

We’d lean to the latter interpretation. But let’s look at the modalities, as my Soviet diplomat acquaintances used to say.

It’s not impossible that a new entrant could shake up 2016. Kristol and fellow GOP operatives have been talking to, or about, everyone from Mitt Romney to Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and even former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. They clearly want a big name to enter the presidential contest. In their view that could help protect the Republican brand against what they feel is the dangerously unconservative Trump.

It’s unlikely Kristol is simply talking about rallying GOP support for likely Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson. He referred to an “independent” candidate, not a “third party” hopeful. And if he meant Johnson, why not just say so? Johnson’s already in the field.

The problem with an independent candidacy is that it’s getting late early out there. Filing deadlines to appear on the general election ballot are fast approaching in many states, points out Larry O’Connor at the right-leaning Hot Air. It takes money and organization to meet those requirements. It’s already too late to get on the ballot in Texas.

“What’s Kristol’s guy going to do in November, run ads teaching voters how to write-in their name?” writes O’Connor.

Plus, it’s not as if big names are jumping to lead this rag tag army. Former Governor Romney, the Republican nominee in 2012, has said “no,” for instance.

It’s more likely Kristol is just trolling Trump with this. Trump seldom misses an opportunity to respond to a slight, and he didn’t here. And when he does that, who knows what he’ll say? At the least Trump’s bellicosity will remind House Speaker Paul Ryan of why he has yet to endorse Trump’s candidacy. This could all be part of an ad-hoc plan to distract the billionaire reality show star and get him off-message as much as possible.

Or Kristol, by saying he’s got a Paladin, is trying to make one appear. Keep hope alive! Maybe Romney will reconsider. It’s true that filing deadlines are approaching, but remember the point isn’t to actually win the White House. It’s to win enough votes in key states to make sure Trump will lose. That wouldn’t take much – a bit in Florida here, a pinch in Ohio there. In what could be a close matchup between Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, that’s all it would take.

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