It was almost the biggest news story of the week.
After much speculation surrounding an independent conservative candidate to challenge presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, a news leak that the candidate in mind is conservative writer David French has been met with polite silence, signaling severe challenges surrounding his potential candidacy.
Reince Priebus, head of the Republican National Committee, criticized the effort Thursday, telling conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that a French candidacy would be a “suicide mission.”
“I don’t see it going anywhere. I think in order to be a viable third party candidate I think you have to have national name ID and a ton of cash in order to get even a blip on the radar. So I don’t really even think about it, Hugh. I think it’s sort of silly, to tell you the truth. I have to say – I think the people involved with it are embarrassing themselves,” Priebus said.
And further complicating any efforts of any independent bid is that House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that he would get behind Trump and vote for him at the ballot box in November. Ryan's endorsement is another instance of the Republican Party getting in line, albeit reluctantly, the party's presumptive nominee.
French, a writer at conservative media outlet National Review, conservative lawyer and Iraq War veteran, was recruited by Bill Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard and leader in the "Stop Trump" movement.
Kristol, who has been an outspoken opponent of Trump, rallied speculation of a potential independent candidate on Twitter over the weekend, tweeting that an “impressive” candidate is imminent. Then he left for Israel and gave journalists no more insight.
Kristol had long been searching for an alternative. In mid-May, on National Review’s Ricochet podcast, Kristol floated the names of Mitt Romney, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse and former Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn as people he’d spoken to about running. He noted that a current or former senator or governor could be appealing, adding that he was on the hunt because of a “patriotic obligation to try and offer the American people a third way.”
But no current or former elected official has decided to run.
Also in that podcast, Kristol also underscored the central challenges to an independent bid aside from the cost and the ballot access challenge. He said, “no one is in charge” of the search and only an “informal network of independent” people had been engaged in the mission.
The lack of cohesion has been the stop Trump movement’s problem from the beginning, and the only consistent from the group is their opposition to Trump. Convincing a group of people to back one candidate could be even more daunting. And initial reaction to the news of French was, at best, cordial.
Brian Baker, a spokesman for wealthy conservative donors, Joe and Marlene Ricketts who spent more than $6 million on anti-Trump efforts, said in an email that he’s “not sure it meets the credibility tests that kristol (sic) himself tweeted abt (sic).”
And Erick Ericson, conservative radio host, dismissed the third party effort on his website The Resurgent, calling it a “nearly insurmountable improbability” because of the difficulty and cost to be placed on the ballot in the states.
Mitt Romney, who has been a vocal Trump opponent, tweeted nice things about French but it was far from an endorsement.
And Rory Cooper, founder of one of the stop Trump super PACs that tried to defeat him in the primary, refused to get behind French’s possibly candidacy in an interview on MSNBC Wednesday, saying, “anybody who wants to jump in right now should be seriously looked at.”
While no conservative who subscribes to the anti-Trump ideology has anything bad to say about French, they do caution the reasonableness of the plan.
His friend and colleague at National Review, Jonah Goldberg, the editor, said on NPR Morning Edition Wednesday that he’s not convinced because running for president, especially as an independent, is “a very difficult thing to do.”
“I remain unconvinced that this is a great plan for my friend David who I have nothing but great admiration for or that it’s a great plan for conservatives who are opposed to both Hillary Clinton and Donald trump
French hasn’t decided if he will even run. Kristol might have to continue the search.