WASHINGTON Mainstream U.S. Republicans struggled for a strategy on Friday to stop their party's presidential front-runner Donald Trump from becoming the nominee for the Nov. 8 election, as Democrats revelled in the chaos they hoped would boost their chances of keeping the White House.
The country's top elected Republican, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, said he was not interested in an effort to draft him into the White House race.
And U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a conservative presidential hopeful, ruled out a deal to pick a compromise Republican candidate at a "brokered convention" in July to deny Trump the nomination. He also said he planned to open 10 offices in Florida in an effort to force rival Marco Rubio from the race.
Party leaders worry Trump would not be able to beat Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in the election, but time is running out after he won seven of the 11 states that voted in this week's Super Tuesday.
Senior Republicans fret that Trump's plans to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border and ban Muslims from entering the United States will turn off voters in November and upset U.S. allies.
Apparently concerned about Trump, a new group called the Committee to Draft Speaker Ryan filed papers with the Federal Election Commission on Thursday, seeking to raise money to push Ryan as a Republican alternative.
Ryan, a budget wonk who was the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2012, is seen by many in the party as a unifier after he took the speaker's job last year to unite establishment Republican lawmakers and conservative upstarts in the House.
But he has shown no sign of wanting to carry the party banner in November's election.
"He is flattered, but not interested," Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in an email on Friday.
As Trump cements his front-runner status, senior party figures are moving away from the idea of defeating him outright. At this point, they hope to deny him enough delegates to clinch the nomination, which would give them the chance to choose a compromise candidate at their July convention in Cleveland.
The last time that happened at a Republican convention was in 1948 when Thomas Dewey was nominated. Cruz said that scenario was unacceptable this year.
"If the Washington dealmakers try to steal the nomination from the people, I think it would be a disaster. It would cause a revolt," the senator from Texas told reporters in Maine.
Romney and Arizona Senator John McCain, the party's last two presidential nominees, called on Republicans to halt Trump's rise by backing whichever candidate was strongest in their state, a form of tactical voting.
Ohio Governor John Kasich, another presidential candidate who is trailing Trump, dismissed the idea.
"You gotta leave it to the voters to decide what they want. I don’t take any strategy from anybody," Kasich said at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington.
Few other elected officials figures are rallying behind the "Dump Trump" banner. The party's 31 state governors, for example, are not lining up behind an alternative candidate. Only five have endorsed Rubio and one has backed Cruz, in a sharp contrast to previous years when governors overwhelmingly endorsed the party's eventual nominee.
At a debate on Thursday, Rubio, Cruz and Kasich said they would support Trump if he were their party's nominee.
Trump is expected to extend his lead on Saturday, when a total of 155 delegates are at stake in Kansas, Louisiana, Maine and Kentucky.
Nationally, Trump has the support of 41 percent of Republican voters, compared to 19 percent who back Cruz and 16 percent who back Rubio, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling data.
NOT A NORMAL REPUBLICAN
Trump, a real estate magnate who is drawing support from many blue-collar Republicans concerned about illegal immigration and stagnant wages, has won most Republican nominating contests and leads in many polls for the primary contests still to come.
"I’m not a normal Republican," he said to huge cheers at a rally in Warren, Michigan, railing against Cruz and Rubio, a U.S. senator who faces a potential make-or-break moment when his home state of Florida votes on March 15.
But the scrutiny has forced Trump to clarify policy positions.
He softened his stance on torture on Friday, saying he would not order the U.S. military to break international laws on how to treat terrorism suspects, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Trump, a former reality TV star, continues to play by his own set of rules. On Friday, he cancelled plans to speak at CPAC, normally an essential stop for ambitious Republicans. He will instead attend a rally in Kansas.
Trump's prospects of winning the Republican nomination have slid sharply in online wagering venues.
Chances of Trump claiming the Republican mantle have fallen
to 69 percent after cresting at 86 percent this week, according to PredictWise, which aggregates betting on
multiple venues into an implied probability.
Democrats were happy to let Republicans fight amongst themselves. "We can sit back and let them light their own dumpster fire and wait until they're finished," said Eddie Vale, spokesman for American Bridge, a Clinton-allied group which collects negative research on Republican candidates.
"They’re giving us so much great video footage that we could run ads between now and November of nothing but Republicans attacking Trump," Vale told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Dan Burns, Doina Chiacu, Emily Flitter, Eric Beech, and Ginger Gibson; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Bill Trott and Alistair Bell)
This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.