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— 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.

“This is the moment for all those who believe in a strong America to come together and craft a new path forward,” Cruz declared on Twitter while conservatives were meeting in downtown Washington to brainstorm ways to stop his party’s front-runner.

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.

“Lastly, we intend to keep our options open as to other avenues to oppose Donald Trump,” they said, an apparent reference to a possible third-party candidacy that might stop Trump but would likely sacrifice the Republican Party’s chances in the general election to Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Cruz’s campaign is predicting success Tuesday in Utah and upcoming contests in N.D., Wis. and Colo.

Campaign snapshots

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders says he will not seek a recount of results in Missouri’s Democratic primary, conceding defeat to Hillary Clinton.

Sanders says it’s unlikely the results will affect the awarding of delegates in the state and he would “prefer to save the taxpayers of Missouri some money.”Clinton has a narrow lead of 1,531 votes, but under state law Sanders could have sought a recount because the margin was less than one-half of 1 percent.

The Republican race in Missouri remains too close to call between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

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.

Graham dropped his own longshot candidacy in December and has been a scathing critic of the Texas Republican in the past.

Associated Press contributed.

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