My understanding of what the #NeverTrump folks were trying to achieve with a third party candidacy is as follows: first, to provide a vehicle to express ideological resistance to Donald Trump; second, to provide motivation for depressed conservatives to come out and vote for downticket candidates; third, to have someone waiting in the wings should Trump utterly implode under the sustained attacks of Hillary Clinton and the Democrats in the fall.
To achieve this effectively, a candidate is required who will get on the ballot in most states, who has the resources to mount a credible campaign, and who is known to some degree by the American people, given the fact that Trump and Clinton have near universal name ID and that a newcomer will almost certainly be dismissed as a sideshow.
As I’ve written before, the logical vehicle for any real resistance to Trump or Clinton as the next president would have been the Libertarian Party given that they already have the ballot access hurdle solved. The key was the issue of abortion: an effort with a candidate sufficiently pro-life to satisfy social conservatives would have presented an interesting campaign challenge for Trump and Clinton, given that single issue pro-lifers are going to have a hard time voting for either candidate.
Instead, the Libertarians nominated former Republican governors Gary Johnson and Bill Weld – the latter a particularly odd choice, with virtually no libertarian bona fides – both of whom are, unlike every current libertarian-leaning elected Republican in Congress, pro-choice on the abortion issue (and decidedly not classically liberal on religious liberty, but that’s another topic). More’s the pity – but they are the Libertarian Party after all, and no real effort was ever made by conservatives to meet them halfway.
As the only other candidates with significant ballot access and resources, it seems logical that Johnson-Weld is basically your one option to block Trump or Clinton from reaching the 270 vote threshold necessary to become president, throwing the election to the House of Representatives. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Over the weekend, Bill Kristol promised an ‘impressive’ independent candidate to represent the #NeverTrump movement. And who is this person? Apparently it’s David French, the attorney, Iraq veteran, and National Review writer.
Kristol teased this last week.
The fortysomething French is a best-selling author, an attorney, and a combat veteran of Iraq. 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.
I do not happen to know David French. It may be that he could make a much better president than either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. But getting there looks to be impossible. The fact that no one with the resources and name ID to compete, with campaign experience, major media experience, or significant business world experience has come forward to lead the #NeverTrump resistance into the 2016 stakes is itself an expression of how hard it is to see a credible path to victory for any third party candidate. Such a path closes completely without ballot access in enough states and the name ID and resources to win in those states.
This being the case, the #NeverTrump movements aims are now reduced only to their first point: providing an expression of ideological resistance. That’s a fine and good thing, and worth doing. But it’s not going to change who ends up in the White House in January.