Days after disavowing what he described as Republican attempts to "Jim Crow" Donald Trump supporters at the Republican National Convention this summer, right-wing radio host Erick Erickson became the de-facto spokesperson for the newly formed "Conservatives Against Trump" group -- earning a torrent of backlash from his fellow conservatives.
"We believe that the issue of Donald Trump is greater than an issue of party," a statement from the Erickson-led group released on Thursday read. The Washington Post reported on a meeting of two dozen conservative leaders in Washington, D.C., this week to plot either a unity ticket between the remaining candidates to win the nomination outright before the convention or plausible options to deny Trump the requisite delegates to secure the nomination at the convention.
"We call for a unity ticket that unites the Republican Party," Erickson's group wrote. "If that unity ticket is unable to get 1,237 delegates prior to the convention, we recognize that it took Abraham Lincoln three ballots at the Republican convention in 1860 to become the party's nominee and if it is good enough for Lincoln, that process should be good enough for all the candidates without threats of riots."
Just days ago, however, the recently outspoken Trump critic still appeared to be biting his tongue a bit when he dismissed rumblings of a contentious convention fight. "Beat Trump at the ballot box, not the convention," Erickson insisted earlier this month. Erickson explained to the Atlanta Journal Constitution this week that his change of heart was spurred on by high levels of Republicans indicating they would not support Trump in the general election, according to exit polls in primary states that have voted thus far:
November turnout by Republican voters is the main worry. The idea would be to put a stalwart Republican up as a third-party candidate, in order to give non-Trump Republicans a reason to go to the polls.
Two routes beckon: Establishment of a new party, and going through the process of getting on the ballot in several states (getting on all would be near-impossible); or reaching an agreement with an existing party that already has ballot access. The Constitution Party, for instance.
Erickson said that, even if the effort focused on a single state – Texas perhaps – that might be enough to deprive Hillary Clinton of an electoral college majority. The president would then be chosen by the U.S. House, which presumably would remain in Republican hands.
Which is why former Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been mentioned as a possible rallying point for anti-Trump forces.
While the right-wing radio host is clearly beginning to seriously worry about the impact of a Trump candidacy on the Republican Party down ballot, many of Erickson's conservative contemporaries adamantly disagree --- and they are saying so loudly. Media Matters has compiled a list of some prominent conservative commentators who have turned on Erickson for daring to deny Trump the nomination, even echoing some of the candidates' threats of revolt should the convention not go in Trump's favor:
Although Newt Gingrich has yet to formally endorse Trump, he's certainly only had positive things to say about the campaign and often finds himself riding to the billionaires' defense. During an appearance with Fox News' Sean Hannity on Thursday, the former House Speaker railed against Erickson and his #NeverTrump group:
[L]et me say for a second about the Erick Erickson kind of approach. Let's be honest. If you want to help elect Hillary Clinton, then help elect Hillary Clinton and a radical Supreme Court. But don't give us any pious baloney that you're going to be for some virtuous middle way. There's no virtuous middle way here. You're either for the Republican nominee, whether it's Trump or Cruz, or you're for the election of Hillary Clinton. There's no middle ground here. Functionally, anybody who doesn't vote for the Republican nominee, is helping elect Hillary Clinton and establishing a very radical Supreme Court.
Gingrich was repeating a sentiment he earlier shared on Fox News and directed straight at Erickson via Twitter on Thursday:
According to Media Matters, the conservative Fox News host also complained of Erickson's efforts on his daily radio talk show this week. Hannity told his listeners that although he had no personal problem with Erickson convening "grassroots" conservatives against Trump, he thinks it's a bad idea -- to say the least:
So The Washington Post tells this story that today the group of so-called conservative leaders got together to plot a third party challenge to Donald Trump. Either these so-called conservative leaders have a political death wish, or The Washington Post is engaging a boatload of wishful thinking. Either way, that's just my take. This, to me, is a suicide mission. This is a circular firing squad.
The two-time Republican presidential also-ran lashed out Erickson, again on Fox News, accusing the conservative of attempting "to blow up the Republican Party."
"The message that's coming across is the voters are stupid so we'll figure out a way to make the decision for you because we don't trust your decision," Huckabee complained of Erickson's anti-Trump effort.
On Friday, a top Trump aide threatened of "consequences" if Trump is blocked from the nomination, telling CNN that he would boycott the GOP convention and quit the Republican Party if Erickson's plan plays out successfully.
"I will tell you this, if the Republican Party comes into that convention and jimmies with the rules and takes away the will of the people, the will of the Republicans and the Democrats and Independents who voted for Mr. Trump, I will take off my credentials, I will leave the floor of that convention, and I will leave the Republican Party forever," said Sam Clovis, a national co-chair for Trump's campaign.
Friday afternoon, Trump responded to Erickson's plot to deny him the nomination: