Report: Bill Kristol recruiting conservative writer and Iraq veteran David French for independent run

This was who he had in mind with that much-hyped tweet this weekend that had everyone wondering if Romney had reconsidered? An … NRO writer? Trump fans are forever deriding #NeverTrump as a “movement” consisting of, like, six guys at National Review and the Weekly Standard. And now here we are.

French is indeed an impressive person — soldier, constitutional lawyer, and a very good writer — and I’ll take Kristol’s word on the strength of the team that’s forming, but about that third part…

French wrote a piece for NRO just one week ago urging Romney to get into the race. He’s entirely unknown, I’d guess, not just outside of conservative media but even within the more populist parts of it. That problem could be remedied with enough money but it’d take a lot given Trump’s ubiquity, Clinton’s cash, and Gary Johnson’s current status as de facto none-of-the-above option. Will French have that kind of, er, bread? Will any mega-bucks Republican donor want to give it to him given the incredible financial barriers he faces in terms of name recognition and ballot access? Maybe, says Bloomberg:

Reached in Israel late Tuesday afternoon, Kristol declined to comment on his efforts to induce French to run. The two Republicans confirmed that French is open to launching a bid, but that he has not made a final decision. One of the Republicans added that French has not lined up a vice-presidential running mate or significant financial support. However, according to this person, some conservative donors look favorably on the prospect of French entering the fray

According to one person deeply involved in the efforts to recruit an independent challenger, the search has focused on individuals who have one or more of the following three traits seen as vital for credibly such a bid: fame, vast wealth, and elective experience. Reached by phone Tuesday evening, French declined to answer questions about any possible run.

I’m not sure about French’s net worth but I’d guess he’s 0-for-3 on those criteria given that the sort of “vast” wealth needed to run a national campaign runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars. As it turns out, Kristol actually touted French as a potential independent candidate in a piece published in the Standard just a few days ago. No one put two and two together this weekend, though, presumably because, um, no one thought he could possibly be serious.

A graduate of David Lipscomb College in Nashville and then of Harvard Law School, his legal practice made him one of the nation’s leading defenders of free speech on campus. He is the author or coauthor of several books, including, most recently, Rise of ISIS: A Threat We Can’t Ignore. In 2007, having volunteered for military service, French deployed to Iraq, serving in Diyala Province as Squadron Judge Advocate for the 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, where he was awarded the Bronze Star. He lives with his wife and children in Columbia, Tennessee, and is a writer for National Review.

I happen to know David French. To say that he would be a better and a more responsible president than Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is to state a truth that would become self-evident as more Americans got to know him. There are others like him. There are thousands of Americans who—despite a relative lack of fame or fortune—would be manifestly superior to our current choices. And there are many, many others who stand ready to help whoever emerges to have the basic resources, assistance, and infrastructure to mount a credible effort.

Says Ed Morrissey, “Huge respect for both David French and Bill Kristol, but this is like picking George Will to pitch for your fantasy baseball team.” Yeah, it’s an especially rough spot for an unknown to be in too given how many other, much bigger names have been floated before him, from Romney to Ben Sasse to Adam Kinzinger. There’s a sense that, having exhausted everyone on the team’s depth chart, you’re now pulling fans out of the stands to play QB. I’m not sure either what the value is in picking a conservative challenger to Trump who’s even less well known than Gary Johnson is. With an independent as well-known as Romney, you wouldn’t have to worry about conservative anti-Trumpers splitting their votes among third-party candidates. They’d all go for Mitt while hardcore libertarians would stick with Johnson. Romney would probably grab enough Republicans to reach the 15 percent threshold needed to qualify for the fall debates (one recent poll had him at 22 percent early). With the unknown French, the dynamic is likely to reverse. Johnson, the better-known third-party candidate, will hold onto lots of anti-Trump Republicans on the theory that he’s the only independent who can make a dent in the fall. French will get votes here and there once conservative media starts touting him as the “true conservative” choice, but that’s not an altogether good thing: If he siphons off enough mainstream Republican votes from Johnson to push the libertarian below the 15 percent mark, they’ll both miss the debates in October. If there’s any goal that righties who oppose Trump and Clinton should be able to agree on for the fall, it’s getting at least one other candidate onstage. If 150 million people tune in to the first debate and it’s just Trump and Hillary there, the third-party figure will be marginalized on Election Day.

But let’s not overthink it. The goal here may be less about mounting a traditional campaign than simply giving the media a pretext to broadcast an anti-Trump message from the right. No reporter’s going to reprint an attack on Trump by conservative pundit David French; an attack by conservative candidate David French is a different story. Exit question: Why didn’t Kristol recruit Kevin Williamson instead? Among NRO’s many Trump critics, he’s the one who literally wrote the book on the subject.

Update: Pretty much.

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Duane Patterson 2:01 PM on June 05, 2023