WASHINGTON -- Leaders within the “Never Trump” movement are skeptical about supporting Iraq War veteran and National Review writer David French, who Bloomberg reports Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol is wooing to run for president.
“I don't have anything against French and have often enjoyed his writing, but honestly, I'm skeptical that a third-party effort can launch without someone with more name recognition,” said journalist and Never Trump supporter Sarah Rumpf. “If a funded, organized, viable effort gets behind him, then maybe.”
If the Tennessee lawyer and Bronze Star recipient becomes a presidential contender, it would indicate that the movement’s attempt to provide a viable presidential alternative has failed, some Never Trump supporters indicated.
Kristol and others reportedly attempted to recruit many higher-profile figures, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and former Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).
Out of over a dozen interviews with Never Trump supporters, only Daily Wire editor-in-chief Ben Shapiro was prepared to say he would definitely support French. Many other conservatives associated with the movement seemed to be taking a wait-and-see approach.
“I only know of French as the writer, not the presidential candidate,” said Red State contributing editor Jay Caruso. When asked if he would support French, Caruso said it was “too soon to tell.”
“I don’t know enough about French to say,” political consultant Liz Mair said when asked the same question.
“I think it's definitely too soon to tell, but I've read some good columns he has written,” said Caleb Howe, managing editor at Red State.
Kristol tweeted on Sunday that an “impressive” independent candidate had committed to taking on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Speculation as to who that person could be set an (increasingly small) corner of the political world abuzz. Trump himself took to Twitter to attack Kristol, calling him a "loser" and suggesting that any conservative third-party alternative would just help Clinton win the White House and shape the Supreme Court.
Neither Kristol nor French has commented directly on Bloomberg’s report. But Kristol mentioned French as a possible Never Trump presidential contender in an editorial published in the most recent Weekly Standard.
“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,” Kristol wrote, after noting French’s military, legal, literary and academic accomplishments.
If French doesn't turn out to be who Never Trump conservatives are looking for, they have few options left.
Some have speculated that Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson could serve as an alternative, but many Never Trumpers are even more skeptical of the former New Mexico governor than they are of French.
“Gary Johnson isn't a step up from Trump, he's a kook,” Shapiro said. “[He] just said he supports 73 percent of Bernie Sanders' agenda, opposes building the military, says he's pro-choice, and opposes religious freedom in the face of state action on issues like same-sex marriage.”
“I won’t support Gary Johnson,” said Red State’s Ben Howe. “I don’t want Trump to win and I don’t believe Gary Johnson can win, nor would I support him under normal circumstances to begin.”
Conservative talk radio host Steve Deace said the Libertarian Party missed a "golden opportunity" to claim relevancy at a time when the two major party nominees are unpopular.
"This could've been its moment, and instead it gave us a ticket of two fairly liberal former Republican governors," Deace told The Huffington Post, referring to Johnson and his running mate, former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld.
Some Never Trumpers are a bit more bullish on Johnson.
Early last month, French himself argued in the National Review that a serious case could be made for Johnson's candidacy, even if the former governor had his ideological faults.
"As a two-term governor and self-made millionaire, Johnson has serious credentials," French wrote. "And he has more executive experience than either Clinton or Trump."
He concluded his piece by arguing that Johnson needed to prove he could be a candidate Never Trumpers could get behind, writing words that might apply to his own reported candidacy as much as they do to Johnson's: "You can make the case for liberty to a nation embracing authoritarianism. You won’t win, but you can matter. This is your moment."