Trumpocalypse is finally upon us

By Sam Clench

With victory in last week's Washington primary, Donald Trump reached the threshold of delegates he needed to clinch the Republican presidential nomination.

So that's it. The party of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan will spend the next six months trying to make an Oompa Loompa president.

Many Republicans who previously opposed Trump - including a few who ran against him - have already fallen in line, performing outrageous political gymnastics in the process.

Former Texas governor Rick Perry, for instance, once called Trump "a cancer on conservatism". Now he's willing to be Trump's vice-president. Marco Rubio, who labelled Trump a "conman" during the primaries, says he'll speak for His Royal Hairness at the convention.

Defeated, deflated and increasingly desperate, the dwindling number of conservatives who still oppose Trump have turned to one man: Mitt Romney. They want him to run for president as an independent, setting up a three-way race against Trump and Hillary Clinton.

THE LAST RESORT

He's a deeply flawed saviour. Four years ago, when Romney was the Republican nominee, sitting president Barack Obama comfortably beat him.

Romney failed to connect with voters - particularly the 47 per cent of whom he wrote off from the start.

Knowing this, the anti-Trump Republicans have spent weeks trying to convince other potential candidates - any candidate, really - to enter the race, but without success.

That makes Romney the last man standing, and time is running out. There's no other option. So in recent days, conservatives have been practically begging him to run.

"To simply leave the race to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is to guarantee a terrible presidency marked by incompetence and cronyism," columnist David French wrote for National Review.

To simply leave the race to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is to guarantee a terrible presidency marked by incompetence and cronyism, writes columnist David French . Photo / AP
To simply leave the race to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is to guarantee a terrible presidency marked by incompetence and cronyism, writes columnist David French . Photo / AP

"America needs a third option. And at this point, Mitt Romney is the only man who combines the integrity, financial resources, name recognition and broad public support to make an independent run at the presidency.

"A third-party Romney bid would introduce the chance of a different outcome, giving millions of Americans the important option to choose a man of integrity as their president."

Right-wing writer and radio host Erick Erickson, who opposed Romney in the 2012 primaries, struck the same note, albeit reluctantly.

"More and more Americans are horrified and disgusted at the thought of voting for either Trump or Clinton," he wrote for The Resurgent. "I can't believe I'm even writing this. But seriously, Mitt Romney should run for president again and transcend party for the good of the country."

More and more Americans are horrified and disgusted at the thought of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, says right-wing writer Erick Erickson. Photo / AP
More and more Americans are horrified and disgusted at the thought of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, says right-wing writer Erick Erickson. Photo / AP

At the Washington Post, blogger Jennifer Rubin argued Romney "has no more excuses" to stay out of the race.

"Romney reportedly is exceptionally reluctant, maybe even firmly opposed to a run. With each passing week, however, his reasons for not running evaporate," Rubin wrote.

"Given how serious the challenges the country faces are and how dismal the current choice for president is, do those concerns really override the opportunity to rescue the country from the dreaded Clinton vs Trump face-off?"

You get the picture.

CUTTING LOOSE

Romney is certainly no fan of Trump, and the animosity is mutual. Back in March, when the real estate mogul was still a long way from clinching the nomination, Romney took the extraordinary step of publicly savaging his own party's front runner.

"Here's what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He's playing the American public for suckers - he gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat," Romney said.

"His domestic policies would lead to recession. His foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president.

"Think of Donald Trump's personal qualities. The bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third grade theatrics. Imagine your children and your grandchildren acting the way he does."

Romney's spray was unprecedented in modern US politics. If he were to run for president and win as an independent, that would be equally unprecedented.

SLIM ODDS

The first problem with the plan to draft Romney is obvious: the man himself has repeatedly and publicly denied he has any ambition to run for president again. He was even part of the effort to recruit someone else for the job. But according to conservative pundit Bill Kristol, Romney is reconsidering.

"The real last chance here is with Mitt Romney, who has said 'no' but who I think is thinking seriously about it," Kristol said on Bloomberg's politics podcast yesterday.

"I think he thinks someone should do it. And I think that he thinks maybe he is the right person to do it."

Say Romney does get in the race. Would he have any chance whatsoever of winning? A Washington Post/ABC poll released on May 24 suggested it would be extremely difficult.

Granted, 44 per cent of voters said they wanted a third candidate to run, and by historical standards that is an unusually high number. But on the flip side, 51 per cent said they were satisfied with Trump and Clinton. So, an independent would seemingly struggle to win more than 40 per cent or so of the vote.

The poll also asked about a theoretical three-way match-up involving Romney, and again the news was mixed. It showed Clinton leading with 37 per cent, followed by Trump with 35 and Romney with 22. That's more support than an independent would normally pull, but it's also a distant third place.

Clearly, Romney would be an underdog, but there are definitely some points in his favour:

• He would only need to reach 15 per cent in the polls to be granted a place in the presidential debates, which are watched live by tens of millions of voters. That looks very doable;

• Romney has rich friends and a vast fundraising network at his fingertips, so he would be able to finance a national campaign or even restrict his focus to a few important states;

• Trump and Clinton are two of the most unpopular presidential candidates in history. Clinton's personal approval ratings (approval/disapproval) are 34-54, while Trump's are even worse at 29/58.

History has proven a third-party candidate can be competitive. In 1992, a businessman called Ross Perot ran an independent campaign against two unpopular nominees: Republican President George H.W. Bush and the Democrat Bill Clinton.

Perot actually led in the polls midway through the year, though he eventually shot himself in the foot enough times to finish with just 20 per cent of the vote. Romney would presumably be more disciplined.

MAPPING IT OUT

Realistically, Romney wouldn't be aiming to win the election outright. Instead, he would be trying to pick off enough states to hold both Clinton and Trump below the 270 electoral votes they need to claim the White House.

But if the election does fail to produce a victor, there is no doover. Instead, the US Congress will decide who wins, and right now, the Republicans control Congress. Given the choice between Trump, Clinton and Romney, there's a fair chance they'd vote for the underdog.

In any case, Romney needs to decide whether or not he's running soon, because important filing deadlines are looming. If he doesn't collect thousands of signatures in each state and file his paperwork before those deadlines, his name won't make it on to the ballots in November.

The clock is ticking.

- news.com.au

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