Right now, the scuttlebutt in the political media is all about whether conservative groups are making contingency plans to support a conservative third party candidate in the general. The story has been reported in Politico and numerous other outlets and I can tell you for a fact that the discussions are occurring and proceeding forward on a contingency basis.
My colleague streiff posted two items yesterday about this effort, one suggesting that it is not going to be possible for logistical reasons and the other suggesting that it isn't necessary because at the end of the day Republicans will fall in line anyway. With due respect for what streiff is attempting to do, which is to encourage people to support Trump if he is the nominee, both points are vastly overstated, and even if they weren't, the GOP should pray for a conservative alternative to Trump at the top of the ticket.
In the first place, the problems to ballot access are definitely substantial in a small number of states, but the idea that any effort to recruit and support a third party candidate would start from ground zero assumes facts not in evidence. In point of fact, as you well know if you've ever voted for President, every time you go to cast your ballot, there are at least 7 or 8 candidates on the ballot from various parties, some of which you've likely never heard of.
These party apparatuses exist more or less for the sole purpose of getting names on the ballot and in the event a major marquee name and donor money were to come along and ask to politely use their ballot access infrastructure in exchange for the prospect of reaching 5% and getting federal matching funds (even for a single cycle), they would happily jump at the chance, unless they were left-wing communist.
Second, while I fully expect that the vast majority of elected Republicans would fall in line if Trump were the nominee, they are a completely separate issue from Republican voters. Republican office holders can be threatened the RNC, Republican voters, not so much. And the idea that a huge swath of voters would not simply refuse to vote for Trump is both naive and operates under the wholly unsubstantiated notion that a lot of people like Erick Erickson are just liars when they speak to the contrary.
There's a fundamental difference in the resistance to Trump than there was in the resistance to Romney or McCain. You always have had people in the comments sections of more extreme websites who have said they would refuse to vote for the milquetoast Republican nominee of the day, but both the number and caliber of person who is making that declaration with respect to Trump are markedly different. Neither Erick nor I ever even seriously considered not voting for McCain or Romney in the general at any point of 2008 or 2012. Both of us are pretty much solidly there now, and we are not nearly alone.
The reason is pretty simple: while Romney and McCain were not great nominees from an ideological standpoint, they were still unquestionably better than the Democrat alternative. The only person who would vote against them (or not vote at all) would be the person who was truly willing to cut off their nose to spite their face, and those people really are truly rare when the chips are down. Plus, getting other people to go along with "Let's vote Democrat to teach the GOP a lesson" is a pretty hard sale since an organization like the GOP doesn't really learn lessons in that manner.
On the other hand, there's a real argument (probably a correct one, if we are being honest) that Donald Trump would be a worse president than Hillary Clinton. Just judging by what he has done this campaign season, he would easily be the worst President who ever lived. He's surrounded himself in his campaign with low-intellect chuckleheads who have been selected for no reason other than their willingness to say literally anything on his behalf. He's been endlessly fixated on polls since day one, which is a sure-fire indicator that he will govern based on what he polls tell him. And he has shown absolutely no ideological compass, except to the extent that it points left (which is why he repeatedly comes back to 9/11 trutherism, universal government run healthcare, and repeated praise of Planned Parenthood).
He would, as the chief of state, destabilize the entire world with his insane rhetoric. He furthermore believes that as President, he would assume dictatorial control over United States trade policy, which he would use to disastrous effect. He is the crypto-fascist William Buckley was falsely accused of being.
All things being equal, as a man with a family and children, I would probably prefer the slow decline of America under Hillary to the rapid collapse under Trump.
And make no mistake, Trump would lose to Hillary in truly epic fashion. While the media - who is heavily invested in Trump winning the GOP nomination for ratings-based reasons - treats him as an amusing shock object right now, the second he passes the 1,237th delegate count, they are going to suddenly discover an interest in the ocean-sized well of scandal in Trump's past. Scandal so deep and pervasive that the manifestly corrupt and fake Trump University is going to look like a charity.
General election voters have still not really tuned in to Trump's schtick, but once they are exposed to it, and to what a terrible and corrupt businessman Trump really is, they are going to run screaming in horror.
Which is exactly why the GOP had better hope that someone comes along and gives conservative voters a reason to go to the polls in November. Because if Trump takes a dive (which he definitely will), he's going to take an absolutely massive chunk of the House and Senate with him, unless there's a guy at the top of the ticket that conservatives want to show up and vote for. That still probably won't save the Senate, but it will prevent the disaster from being as bad as it otherwise could have been.
In truth, the best possible result for the GOP, if Trump is the nominee, would be for both Bloomberg and a conservative third party candidate to run. In chaos, some portion of the GOP might find salvation. With Trump, only the abyss stares back, chanting "Eat at Arby's."
Mounting a third party run might be difficult, but the GOP better hope these conservative groups can get it done.