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The Associated Press
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., gives a speech at Center for American Progress Action Fund, in Washington, Thursday, March 17, 2016, discussing 'how years of vitriolic Republican rhetoric - and the party's refusal to engage thoughtfully in any policy area - led to the rise of GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump.'

SUN CITY, Ariz. — Fearful of a Donald Trump nomination to lead the GOP, conservative leaders huddled privately in Washington on Thursday in search of a plan to stop the billionaire businessman. His Republican rivals braced for another Trump victory next week, this time in delegate-rich Arizona.

The GOP has an eager alternative in Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, yet some party leaders are exploring “other avenues” instead of rallying behind the fiery conservative, an ominous sign that Republican leaders’ deep dislike of Cruz complicates their overwhelming concern about Trump.

“The establishment is like a wounded animal, now cornered,” said Mark Meckler, an early leader in the Tea Party movement. “They are terrified, irrational and flailing wildly.”

Even after being denied victory in five contests Tuesday, Cruz insists he still has a path to the 1,237 delegates necessary to claim the Republican presidential nomination. But in a strategy memo obtained by The Associated Press, his campaign essentially cedes Arizona’s March 22 primary to Trump and acknowledges Cruz must win 79 percent of the remaining delegates before the GOP’s July national convention.

Organizers of the meeting included conservative commentator Erick Erickson and Christian conservative leader Bob Fischer. The goal, as stated in the invitation, was “to strategize how to defeat Donald Trump for the Republican nomination, and if he is the Republican nominee for president, to offer a true conservative candidate in the general election.”

The group released a statement after roughly four hours behind closed doors calling for a “unity ticket that unites the Republican Party.”

While many in the room supported Cruz, they declined to endorse the Texas senator or the only other remaining presidential contender, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and instead urged all former Republican presidential candidates to unite against Trump. They also embraced the possibility of a contested convention.

Sen. Lindsey Graham said Thursday that he’ll help Ted Cruz raise campaign cash in the hope of stopping Donald Trump’s march toward the Republican presidential nomination.

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