It was late last year when Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, "a member of the Republican firmament," first started talking publicly about recruiting a Republican presidential candidate to run a third-party campaign against Donald Trump. There were all kinds of hurdles, but one in particular tormented the GOP pundit: finding a candidate.
Kristol wanted a national contender, but Mitt Romney said no. He would have settled for an experienced presidential candidate, but Rick Perry said no. He turned his attention to sitting senators, but Ben Sasse said no. He looked at former senators, but Tom Coburn said no. He eventually moved past elected officials and sought out a military leader, but retired Gen. James Mattis said no.
And so, Kristol lowered his sights just a little more -- and found a political blogger* who appears to have said yes. The Washington Post reported overnight:
Tennessee attorney David French, who in recent years has become a prominent right-wing writer, is being urged by some conservative leaders to make a late entry into the 2016 presidential race as an independent candidate, according to two people close to him.William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard magazine and a former Republican White House official, is at the fore of the draft effort. A group of well-known evangelical leaders and GOP operatives is also involved in the discussions, the people said, requesting anonymity to discuss private conversations.
We're a long way from the point at which French, a National Review blogger, might expect to receive endorsements -- he hasn't officially entered the race -- but Mitt Romney offered a hint of tacit support yesterday afternoon, saying via Twitter, "I know David French to be an honorable, intelligent and patriotic person. I look forward to following what he has to say." Conservative pundit Hugh Hewitt endorsed the sentiment soon after.
At the risk of sounding unkind, I think it's fair to say French is a presidential longshot. His party and political operation don't exist; he'll struggle with ballot-access deadlines for independent candidates; outside of National Review readers, he's largely an anonymous figure; though Kristol has extensive contacts in far-right fundraising, French has no campaign war chest; and he's appealing to anti-Trump Republican voters -- a contingent that polls suggest is a tiny slice of the electorate.
That isn't, however, my favorite part of this story.
Rather, what I like about this story is what French brings to the table. Remember, for anti-Trump Republicans, the goal wasn't just to find any constitutionally eligible person to serve as a sacrificial lamb. If it were, Kristol and his allies could have just embraced Gary Johnson's Libertarian ticket or the right-wing Constitution Party.
What Kristol and his cohorts needed, however, was a specific kind of Republican: someone who could appeal to #NeverTrump neoconservatives and #NeverTrump evangelicals simultaneously. And by this measure, if no other, David French -- an Iraq war veteran, neocon pundit, staunch social conservative, and former employee at a variety of far-right organizations, including TV preacher Pat Robertson's legal outfit -- checks the appropriate boxes.
Right Wing Watch checked its archives and found an instance in which French argued against government social-insurance programs because the poor should rely on churches for assistance, and another instance in which French condemned marriage equality because of its impact on American "culture." Media Matters found some related examples of culture-war saber-rattling.
The estimable Steve M. at No More Mr. Nice Blog described French as the ideal candidate "for those who are really sorry Rick Santorum never got to run in the general" election.
* For the record, this is not intended to disparage the work of political bloggers. As you may have noticed, I happen to be one.