US Republican nomination: GOP grandees launch anyone-but-Trump movement in bid to boost more mainstream candidates

The likes of Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush have gasped for the oxygen being sucked up by the campaigns of their ultra-conservative rivals - to the dismay of party elders

David Usborne
New York
Wednesday 27 January 2016 20:39 GMT
Donald Trump speaking in Marshalltown, Iowa, earlier this week
Donald Trump speaking in Marshalltown, Iowa, earlier this week (AP)

The grey suits of the Republican Party have signalled to candidates trailing in the presidential nomination contest that they should drop out if they can’t soon show progress in peeling voters away from front-runners Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz.

Stricken by the notion that either Mr Trump or Mr Cruz, who has played ultra-conservative saboteur since arriving in the US Senate in 2012, might become the nominee, party elders are equally dismayed that the more mainstream candidates have formed a circular firing squad as they scrabble to break clear of the lower tier.

Rumblings from grandees, party officials, donors and lobbyists have been growing for weeks as all the candidates they favour, including Senator Marco Rubio of Texas and even the struggling former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush, have gasped for the oxygen being sucked up by the Trump and Cruz campaigns.

Mr Trump was doing just that as he relished the shockwaves created by his decision to boycott Thursday night’s televised debate, the last before Monday’s Iowa caucuses, when Fox News, its host, refused to ditch one of the planned moderators, Megyn Kelly, whom he dislikes.

“I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo, because that would not be politically correct,” Mr Trump said on Twitter as he promised instead to stage a war veterans’ fund-raising event while his rivals face the cameras in Des Moines, Iowa. “Instead, I will only call her a lightweight reporter!”

Megyn Kelly v Donald Trump

His feud with Ms Kelly dates back to the first televised debate last year in Cleveland, also hosted by Fox, when he took umbrage at a question from her about his alleged past mistreatment of women. He subsequently seemed to hint, without saying it explicitly, that she had been having a period at the time.

It is the hope, possibly forlorn, of the bigwigs and donors that, after Iowa and the New Hampshire primary on 9 February, one of the trailing few will have emerged as best positioned to challenge the two front-runners. From then on, the process of picking a nominee will begin to accelerate, particularly on the approach of so-called Super Tuesday on 1 March, when voters in 14 states will get to voice their preferences.

That, it appears, would be when pressure would be exerted on everyone else to throw in the towel so the party can coalesce around that one person, or, at a maximum, two. There is no guarantee that the choice of a best alternative will be clear by then, however, or that someone like Mr Bush would listen.

Donald Trump misquotes the Bible at a Christian University

“There’s a mounting sense of urgency among donors that the weak performers need to go ahead and get out,” Stephen Law, who heads the American Crossroads super-PAC, told The New York Times, which reported the same message from Henry Barbour, a party operative from Mississippi. “Whoever is not named Trump and not named Cruz that looks strong out of Iowa and New Hampshire, we should consolidate around,” he said.

Yet some in the party argue that it’s too late to block Mr Trump and, if he is going to be the nominee, they had better embrace him, particularly given the Teflon nature of his candidacy that seems to thrive with each new controversy.

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