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Story highlights

Mitt Romney is ending his efforts to recruit an independent 2016 candidate and won't run himself

Romney is a leader in the conservative "Never Trump" movement

Washington CNN —  

Mitt Romney won’t launch a third-party presidential campaign of his own and has stopped trying to recruit somebody else to do it.

The 2012 Republican nominee had attempted to recruit a challenger to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. But prospects like Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse said no, and Romney is now dropping his efforts, a source familiar with Romney’s thinking told CNN. The news was first reported by Yahoo News.

It’s the latest blow to the “Never Trump” movement – a group of conservatives led by Romney, blogger Erick Erickson and The Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol – to find an alternative to Trump.

Opinion: Don’t let ‘Never Trump’ become ‘Ready for Hillary’

Romney still hopes a candidate will emerge. But an adviser to the “Never Trump” efforts confirmed Tuesday night that the efforts are looking grim.

Part of the challenge, a key “Never Trump” official said, is that prospective candidates need to hear a campaign plan that involves money, staffing, viability, key states to target and a plan to get onto the presidential debate stages.

But the people making the pitches, the official said, “aren’t campaign managers. They’re writers, activists and politicians. You need someone to say, ‘this is how I’d make this real.’ The odds remain low.”

Conservatives in secretive group ‘slow walk’ Trump support

A list of prospects that include Sasse, Romney, former Marine Gen. James Mattis, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Ohio Gov. John Kasich have all publicly said they’re not willing to launch campaigns at this stage.

Romney had been heavily involved in the recruiting efforts. He encouraged Sasse, the freshman Nebraska Republican, to run – but Sasse, who has three small children, said he’s not in a position to consider it.

Meanwhile, GOP officials are maneuvering to shut down talk of an independent candidate.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Sunday that a third-party bid would be a “suicide mission.”

“They can try to hijack another party and get on the ballot, but, look, it’s a suicide mission for our country because what it means is that you’re throwing down not just eight years of the White House but potentially 100 years on the Supreme Court and wrecking this country for many generations,” Priebus said on “Fox News Sunday,” anticipating that a conservative third-party candidate would split the Republican vote and ensure a Democrat wins the White House.