For months now, Weekly Standard editor and conservative coalition broker Bill Kristol has been promising to recruit an independent candidate to run against Donald Trump. He started floating the idea back in December, and got more serious in March, floating Ben Sasse, the firmly anti-Trump first-term senator from Nebraska, as a potential head of the ticket. He and allies reportedly also looked into Gen. James Mattis and former Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn as potential standard-bearers for a conservative anti-Trump ticket.
So when Kristol sent this tweet over Memorial Day weekend, it seemed like a big deal:
Just a heads up over this holiday weekend: There will be an independent candidate--an impressive one, with a strong team and a real chance.— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) May 29, 2016
Did he convince Sasse to run? Or maybe Mitt Romney? Had Mattis changed his mind and decided to enter the race? Even Trump sounded afraid:
If dummy Bill Kristol actually does get a spoiler to run as an Independent, say good bye to the Supreme Court!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 29, 2016
He had nothing to worry about. Kristol basically found a dude off the street and told him he should run for president:
.@BillKristol wants to recruit David French—attorney, NRO writer and Iraq war veteran—for an independent run. https://t.co/oY9Mh5rVBA— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) May 31, 2016
If your reaction to that is, "Who?" then congrats, you nailed it. David French is exactly as obscure as you think he is. I've read French's writing, but just at National Review, Jonah Goldberg, Kathryn Jean Lopez, Rich Lowry, Ramesh Ponnuru, and Reihan Salam all come to mind as obviously better known. If the strongest anti-Trump conservative candidate available is one of the lesser-known writers at a political magazine read only by a relatively tiny minority of Republican voters, what does that say about the movement's prospects?
How is French expected to go up against Trump, someone who had a highly rated primetime network TV show for many years? And how is he supposed to be qualified to run? No small part of the concern about Trump is that he has spent no time in government or otherwise involved in the policymaking process.
Neither has French, really; he's served as a lawyer for the libertarian public interest law firm FIRE, for Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice, and for the social conservative Alliance Defending Freedom. But he's never been in government. He has substantially more experience recapping Game of Thrones than making federal policy.
A little bit more about French: He is very afraid of putting women into combat. He apparently helped inspire the 15 percent-on-Rotten-Tomatoes film God's Not Dead. He really dislikes trans people in a deep, personal way:
What do you suppose candidate David French's platform would be all about pic.twitter.com/MJZ8TDaYQT— Ned Resnikoff (@resnikoff) May 31, 2016
And when he was serving in Iraq, he didn't let his wife email men or use Facebook:
So when David French was in Iraq, he wouldn't let his wife e-mail men or use Facebook. https://t.co/F1tEOwE4sc pic.twitter.com/ZOOV52QXUN— Kevin Robillard (@PoliticoKevin) May 31, 2016
The most interesting thing about the selection, besides the fact that Kristol has apparently given up on putting forward a halfway credible candidate, is that French is a more committed social conservative than economic conservative or hawk. Republican concerns that Trump is too soft on Social Security, or insufficiently committed to neoconservative dogma on foreign affairs, have gotten a lot of airtime. But naturally real social conservatives aren't hugely pumped about a Republican nominee who was a regular guest on Howard Stern's show and called avoiding STDs his "personal Vietnam."
This is not to say that French isn't conservative on economics and war; he is, and his military service gives him some credentials on the latter. But his writing betrays a deep, enduring concern about secular forces impinging upon religious liberties and enforcing dangerous ideas like "women should be allowed to serve in combat" and "trans people should be able to go to the bathroom where they like." That's almost certainly not enough for a successful bid. Pat Buchanan got 0.4 percent of the popular vote in 2000 running as a strident social conservative, and he was much better known than French.
But selecting French rather than some other nobody suggests that Kristol is particularly interested in courting that segment of the Republican coalition, a segment that's seen its issues ignored as same-sex marriage became the law of the land without incident, and has seen Trump mangle his talking points on abortion badly and arguably hurt the pro-life movement as a whole in the process.