DENVER — Krista Kafer first registered as a Republican in 1992, but she switched parties hours after Donald Trump became on Tuesday the all-but-certain GOP presidential nominee.
She’s now a Libertarian and plans to support the party’s nominee for president. At the same time, she says she will vote Republican on the down ticket and even knock on doors for Colorado’s eventual GOP Senate nominee.
“I just cannot see myself pulling the lever for Donald Trump. He really does represent everything that I abhor in politics,” said Ms. Kafer, a Denver Post columnist and senior fellow at the Centennial Institute and Independence Institute.
Mr. Trump’s landslide victory in bright-red Indiana sent #NeverTrump conservatives like Ms. Kafer into a political no-man’s land, unable to support the Republican nominee, uneasy with Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, but also unwilling to sit out the 2016 election.
The result has been a surge this week in Libertarian Party registrations along with calls for a third-party ticket and write-in campaigns as the suddenly homeless Republicans cast about for a soft landing spot in the rapidly shifting political landscape.
“The party is at a split right now and I don’t know which direction it’s going to go. Is it going to go big-government authoritarian, or is it going to go liberty-and-reformist?” said Ms. Kafer. “About half of my friends are going to reluctantly vote for Trump, the other half are going to write someone in. Some of us have left — a small chunk, but a noticeable chunk.”
Elsewhere there are discussions about heading off Mr. Trump at the convention. Some supporters of Sen. Ted Cruz are still urging Republicans to vote for the Texas senator in the remaining primary states in order to stop the real estate mogul from gaining 1,237 delegates.
That strategy drew a fierce reaction Thursday from Trump supporters, who went on social media to warn voters that, “We must make sure that Trump gets to 1,237 delegates or there will be a contested convention and Trump could lose!”
Benefiting from the disarray is the National Libertarian Party. The daily count of those signing up as dues-paying members has jumped by about six times in the aftermath of the Indiana primary, said political director Carla Howell.
“We’re getting a lot of conservatives with comments like, ‘I’ve given up on the GOP,’ ‘I’ve had it with the Republican Party,’ ‘That was the last straw’ — things like that,” Ms. Howell said.
The party expects to be on the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia in November. Seventeen candidates are already vying for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination, but Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has been at the center of third-party speculation for months.
“If the orange one is the Republican nominee will you please run 3rd party Rand Paul?” asked Jeremy Taylor in a post this week on Mr. Paul’s Facebook page.
One problem for Mr. Paul is that he’s running for Senate re-election, and would have to give up his seat in order to run as the Libertarian presidential candidate.
He indicated in September that he would sign a pledge not to run as a third-party candidate and also urged Mr. Trump to do so, saying it could “give us another Clinton” in the White House, referring to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
The nominee will be chosen at the party convention March 26-30 in Orlando, Florida. Right now the favorite is former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who was the Libertarian presidential candidate in 2012, when the party was on the ballot in 48 states.
Another name being floated as a possible last-minute entrant is Mr. Paul’s father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
“It is not too late, especially for someone like [Paul] who is well-known and liked in the party,” Ms. Howell said in an email.
Mr. Johnson has urged Republicans to cross over and support his 2016 campaign for the nomination, describing himself as the only small-government candidate left in the race.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan may have encouraged talk of a Trump alternative when he told CNN Thursday that he’s “just not ready” to endorse Mr. Trump.
So far, however, surveys show only about 15 percent of voters intend to support a candidate other than the Democratic or Republican nominee, which leaves little room for a third-party candidate to gain traction, said Republican strategist Mike McKenna.
“I’m going to predict that the Republicans are going to do what they do best, which is get in line, and the Democrats are going to do what they do best, which is dream of a better world,” said Mr. McKenna.