WASHINGTON — For John Kingston, a former Mitt Romney donation bundler from Winchester, the Never Trump movement is never dead.
Not after Donald Trump secured enough votes in the Republican primaries to ward off a contested convention. Not even after dozens of delegates staged a failed rebellion on the convention floor in Cleveland last month. And certainly not after Trump was officially crowned the GOP’s presidential nominee.
No, for Kingston — who plunked $1 million into preparations for a third-party presidential candidate by founding Better for America in June — Trump’s recent plummeting poll numbers after a series of self-inflicted wounds buoys his hope that his investment could still pay off.
“It feels like something could just break in the dog days of August,” Kingston said in an interview. “In a normal season of politics, this would be deeply quixotic. But the combination of Trump’s profound weakness, the flight of Republicans away from him — the list just grows by the day — plus the actual existence of somebody running now may make more people think about running.”
He’s referring to Evan McMullin's recent launch of his independent bid for the presidency. McMullin, a former CIA operative and House Republican Conference policy director who Kingston praised for throwing his name in the ring, is by no means his ideal candidate. For one, he does not have much — if any — name recognition. He also faces a daunting challenge to get on state ballots before Nov. 8.
“I’ve got teams of very high quality constitutional lawyers who are dying to take this case,” Kingston said about the legal battles required to get on those ballots.
After an initial flurry to recruit candidates, Kingston said he’s slowed his efforts. He had even given up his delegate seat at the convention when it became clear Trump would emerge as the nominee. Now, as prominent Republicans fire off a letter to the Republican National Committee begging it to cut resources to Trump’s campaign, Kingston is hopeful that Trump could implode his own chances.
He blames the Republican leadership class for its paralysis — politicians unwilling to stand up against Trump out of fear for their own political futures and political fund-raisers who have effectively shut down for the season. Even as Trump destroys the Republican brand, he said.
“The sense of crisis was high. The willingness to act was low,” Kingston said. “The perception was that it was too late three months ago and that it’s too late now. This lane I’m trying to create now may be dead if nobody does anything. But it still exists now.”