The results from the Wisconsin Republican primary -- a clear rebuke to the front-runner, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump -- make it more likely the party will face a contested convention in July and more likely that whoever the eventual nominee is will be unpalatable to a large group of potential Republican voters. If such an event unfolds, and there is no reconciliation between Trump's supporters and his opponents, a third-party run becomes increasingly plausible.
The question over a third-party run has been intriguing during this election cycle. Originally, many speculated Trump would eventually either simply drop out of the race or try to run on a third-party ticket, as he did in 2000 when he ran for the Reform Party's nomination.
Then, as the race went on and he started to conquer a divided field in both the popular vote and delegate count, Republican Party leaders became confronted with the terrifying possibility that Trump was actively taking over the party and that they might have had to run a third-party candidate themselves. It should be noted that this possibility has not totally disappeared.
After this occurred, Trump had the most damaging week of his campaign; the damage was so severe, the candidate had to embark on an apology tour for the first time since he announced his candidacy in June of 2015. Wisconsin's results confirmed what Republican Party leaders had been hoping: Trump does not have as much momentum as he brags about and might still be beaten by the party's own primary rules.
And there are signs he is considering a third-party run if the Republican establishment's bitter campaign against him succeeds. Trump refused to rule out a third-party run during an interview with Fox News' Chris Wallace, according to the Boston Herald.
"It's not a question of win or lose. It's a question of treatment," said Trump, referring to the Republican National Committee.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas seems to believe Trump will bow out and make little trouble for the eventual nominee if the primaries go to a contested convention and Trump loses on a first-ballot vote. He told conservative Wisconsin radio host Charlie Sykes that Trump does not have this option, as he wouldn't be able to get his name on the ballot in enough states, according to Seth Millstein of Bustle.
This certainly may be true; Trump's campaign has not exactly been a paragon of campaign organization. Also, the Republicans' contingency plan for running a third-party candidate involved making deals with existing parties such as the Libertarian Party and the Constitution Party. Trump has been contacted by the right-wing American Independent Party of California about potentially running on their ballot line should he not be on the Republican ticket. However, Trump is much less likely to be able to somehow run on the ballot line of the Libertarians or Constitution Party than an anti-Trump Republican.
The important thing to remember here is that if Donald Trump ran as a third-party candidate, he would not be running to win. Just as some Republican leaders threatened to support a third-party candidate in the general election to stop Trump, Trump would explicitly be running against a Republican Party which he will characterize as having broken its word and betrayed him.
Assuming there's no crack-up on the Democratic side before their party's convention, November will be an easy win for them under this scenario.
And Trump does not even need to actually run on a third-party ticket if he does not want to spend the time and resources needed to get on the ballot in all 50 states; he could simply tell his supporters to write his name in the blank spot on the ballot which is expressly meant for writing in names of non-ballot candidates.
Not all states have this option, but most do. And this is a possibility which establishment Republicans probably do not want to entertain, because it is entirely possible. If Trump did this, it would cause the break-up of the party which his entire candidacy has portended.
It would not win him or his supporters the White House, but it would give the Republican Party a sorely needed wake up call.