Over the weekend, conservative provocateur, Twitter troll and Weekly Standard boss Bill Kristol teased us with a tweet declaring , “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.”
The “player to be named later” turned out to be an anti-climactic one, David French . Considering the names that had been bandied about to lead Kristol’s crusade — Mitt Romney, former Sen. Tom Coburn , Sen. Ben Sasse — this was an unsatisfying denouement. Having over-promised with flashy trailers, Kristol released what might be the biggest summer flop since Waterworld trickled into theaters.
It’s not that French doesn’t have much to recommend him; he does. He’s a terrific and eloquent writer, a decorated veteran and a constitutional lawyer. I’d love to have him as a colleague or a neighbor. What he is not, however, is a serious presidential contender.
Unlike past ubiquitous TV commentators like, say, Pat Buchanan — or even Bill Kristol (why didn’t he just run?) — French isn’t all that well known outside the tight confines of conservative intellectual circles.
This may well change, but — as of today — I’m more famous than he is.
Don’t get me wrong, if he gets on the ballot, I’ll vote for David French. But I suspect we could hold his nominating convention in a decent-sized phone booth. Or, better yet, we could just meet in the break room of The Weekly Standard or National Review, since that will constitute much of his constituency. (And besides, good luck finding a phone booth these days!)
The good news for this independent resistance is that the goal isn’t really to “win,” but simply to deprive anyone of obtaining the 270 electoral votes required to be elected president. By winning just two or three states, it is possible that an independent candidate like French could throw the election to the House of Representatives .
This is why Mitt Romney, for example, could have posed a real threat to Donald Trump. Romney could probably pencil in Utah’s electoral votes, and then plant himself in two other friendly states for the next five months. (Of course, there’s no guarantee this would be the outcome. Such a candidate could also play spoiler, allowing Hillary Clinton to win.)
Regardless, Mitt Romney — the man French urged to get in the race — is refusing to answer the call. So is almost every other viable candidate.
If French does step up to the plate and take on this challenge, it will be a profile in courage — but it will also highlight the fact that this is a desperation move. We will have turned to David to take on two Goliaths. Yes, sometimes David wins. But he enters into the arena only because other, more experienced and qualified men were afraid to answer the call.
This level of desperation tells us all we need to know about the pathetic state of the #NeverTrump movement, and says a lot about what’s wrong with the GOP. Establishment Republicans appear depraved and decadent, choosing (mostly) to collaborate with their conqueror. Trump’s criticism of the establishment — that they made bad deals and were generally weak and anemic — turned out to be demonstrably true.
Meanwhile, the other wing of the original #NeverTrump resistance — the philosophically committed movement conservatives — are proving that (regrettably) very few people — even Republicans — care a whit about such things as conservative philosophy, the Constitution, the rule of law, etc. (Ironically, this is a point that French made back in January .)
It’s a Catch-22: Donald Trump threatens to destroy the GOP, but he couldn’t have taken over the GOP unless it was already lacking character and commitment.
We can thank David French if he leads this independent campaign, but it will most likely be a conservative resistance in exile.
Roll Call columnist Matt K. Lewis is a Senior Contributor to the Daily Caller and author of the book “Too Dumb to Fail.” Follow him on Twitter @MattKLewis.