Republican officials have started imploring the #NeverTrump faction to resolve its rancor over Donald Trump and unite behind the party’s likely presidential nominee, and they have succeeded at times by focusing on U.S. Supreme Court picks at stake in this presidential election.
It’s a conversation underway from coast to coast at national, state and county Republican Party meetings. Party officials are cajoling formerly loyal Republican voters and activists who are repulsed by the real estate tycoon/reality TV star who is poised to become the GOP standard-bearer.
The fear is that the #NeverTrump movement will undermine Mr. Trump as the nominee the same way the party’s conservative base did when it failed to show up at the polls for Mitt Romney in November 2012.
Kaye Ferry, chairman of the Republican Party in Eagle County, Colorado, said she has been working hard to bring #NeverTrump voters back into the fold. She also acknowledged that she first had to resign herself to casting a ballot for Mr. Trump.
“That’s really holding my nose very hard,” said Ms. Ferry, who supports Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
She said the only argument that has succeeded in persuading anti-Trump Republicans to begrudgingly support him as the nominee is the crucial Supreme Court nominations that the next president can expect to make.
“Nothing else makes headway with them,” Ms. Ferry said. “They don’t like the man, they don’t like what comes out of his mouth, they don’t like anything about him.”
She stressed that it is a hard sell, even with the Supreme Court angle: “Not only do you have to hold your nose but you have to throw up and then go vote,” she said.
The potential to make nominations to the Supreme Court is always a factor in presidential campaigns, but the issue has gained gravity this year with the death in February of Justice Antonin Scalia, a staunch conservative whose replacement could dramatically alter the ideological balance of the high court.
If the next president fills the Scalia vacancy and perhaps chooses another justice or two for the aging court, those selections could determine the character of the Supreme Court for a generation.
Still, the resolve has remained strong among the anti-Trump crowd, which includes tea party constitutionalists, mainstream conservatives and establishment stalwarts.
Rather than put aside animosity for Mr. Trump, they vow to stay on the sidelines for the general election, back a third-party candidate or shift resources to down-ballot races that they say are in jeopardy with the bombastic billionaire atop the ticket.
“Never means never, and I didn’t go into this lightly,” said Jerry Bader, a conservative talk radio host in Wisconsin who heavily promoted the #NeverTrump movement that helped Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas beat Mr. Trump in the state’s Republican Party primary in April.
“I do not want to see Hillary Clinton as president; however, I do not see Donald Trump as a better choice. Important point: There is no lesser of two evils,” Mr. Bader said. “I have no reason to believe his Supreme Court nominees would be any more palatable than hers because I have nothing to go on but his word, and that don’t mean much to me.”
“Right now, you have a divided Republican Party,” said Peter Feaman, a Republican National Committee member from Florida who has been pressing fellow party officials to unify behind Mr. Trump as he closes in on the nomination.
Mr. Feaman makes the same argument heard from panicked Republican Party officials nationwide: Disavowing Mr. Trump will hand the election to Mrs. Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, guaranteeing the continuation of President Obama’s policies and giving Mrs. Clinton the power to nominate Supreme Court justices.
“Everyone should get behind the nominee. That includes our candidates. Our candidates must show leadership on this front,” Mr. Feaman said.
Some former candidates from this year’s presidential race have heeded that advice, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who have said they will support Mr. Trump if he is the nominee.
“You’ll see a push for party unity, which I fully understand, but there are a lot of people on the right who have been very public in saying they won’t vote for Trump,” said Douglas Heye, a former adviser to the Republican National Committee who is an outspoken #NeverTrump adherent.
He said it is fair to ask whether refusing to accept Mr. Trump is worth having Mrs. Clinton as president or putting the Supreme Court in the hands of liberal jurists.
“Questions like that are borne out of the terrible position that Republicans find themselves in. There are no good options,” Mr. Heye said, adding that he is too principled to soften his anti-Trump stance. “I’ve got to stick to my word. It’s the only thing I’ve got. It’s your reputation.”