Denizens of the far-flung political community (donors, activists, journalists, Twitter typists, idiot trolls) had been breathlessly awaiting Bill Kristol’s big reveal. Over the holiday weekend, the right-wing operative-commentator announced that he’d found a candidate who would fly the conservative banner against the repulsive Republican nominee.
Kristol promptly flew to Israel and made himself incommunicado. But at 5 p.m. yesterday, via leaks to the press, the mystery guest was dramatically unmasked. The curtain rose, the music swelled, and the spotlight shined on …
And mediaworld gasped in collective stupefication and said, “Who the hell is David French!?” Or, as Chris Matthews bellowed on TV last night, “Nobody knows who he is!” Because if anything upsets the Beltway chatterers, it’s not knowing who somebody is.
Conservative attorney and medal-winning war vet David French is actually a somebody — on creds alone, he’s easily more qualified to be president than a sickly narcissistic reality TV star — and the insta-reaction to his unveiling says more about the reactors (and about our twisted public discourse) than it does about him.
By 6 p.m., right on cue, the Twitter ridicule (or, as I call it, Twittercule) commenced with a vengeance. I have to assume that French was perversely amused, because last September, in one of his many commentary pieces for the conservative National Review website, he mocked Twitter for its “completely useless and utterly boring rage.”
And there he was last night, getting hammered by wiseass Twittercule. Somebody said that Kristol had plucked a “random dude off the street.” An ex-CNN guy said, “I’m in London and EVERYONE over here is buzzing about David French. jk. LOL.” Somebody else said that all Kristol could find was “a bald guy with a beard.” A Washington Post guy thinks it’s hilarious that French doesn’t have a Wikipedia page. Some people think it’s funny that his name is “French,” because, you know, France. Others dismiss a French candidacy as “laughable,” as “a joke.” And so on, ad infinitim.
Meet David French: the random dude off the street Bill Kristol decided will save America from Trump https://t.co/YvphxhAORo
— Vox (@voxdotcom) May 31, 2016
I’m in London and EVERYONE over here is buzzing about David French. jk lol
— Peter Hamby (@PeterHamby) June 1, 2016
A bald guy with a beard mounting a third party bid? Chances? 0% #DavidFrench2016
— Josh Offenhartz (@Johartz) June 1, 2016
But I fail to see what’s jokeworthy in his resume — because his resume is perfectly in sync with the conservative sensibility. He’s a Harvard-trained lawyer who argues in court for “religious freedom.” He’s a senior counsel to Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice. He has written a best-selling book about the rise of ISIS and the need to fight it. He has won the American Conservative Union’s Ronald Reagan Award. In mid-career, he volunteered to fight in Iraq, winning the Bronze Star. Upon his return, he and his wife (he’s had only one wife) adopted a black child from Ethiopia.
And I can honestly say that I knew who French was before 5 p.m. yesterday. He and I recently paired up as panelists at a University of Pennsylvania forum on free speech. He’s highly articulate and very civil — two traits that Trump lacks in abundance — and, having prepped myself in advance by reading his National Review columns, it’s clear that his views would provide safe harbor for a fair number of Trump-averse conservatives, particularly evangelicals.
In other words, if French does take the plunge (he hasn’t made it official), he could take votes away from Trump. And it just so happens that he is scathingly articulate about Trump. Here’s a recent sample:
“[V]irtually everything we do know about Trump is negative. He lies. He traffics in far-left conspiracy theories. He incites violence. He surrounds himself with thugs, cronies, and fools. He’s ignorant of the most basic realities of national security, foreign policy, and global economics. He has a decades-long record of corruption and a decades-long record of liberalism….Trump’s foreign policy, insofar as he has a coherent foreign policy, is an entire casserole of crazy….The entire world would be less secure with his finger on the button.”
And two weeks ago, he rebuked the conservatives who have caved to Trump, and challenged them to save their souls by flying the conservative banner:
“[W]hen naked ambition dictates that you support liars, frauds, con men, and demagogues, then you take giant leaps on the road to hell — without even the excuse of good intentions …. Do we bend our principles to match our short-term ambition and work to claw our way back into the good graces of the strongman, justifying our moral flexibility with the allure of a ‘seat at the table?’ Or do we double down on serving principle, making the arguments for the ideas that we believe represent the best hope for national recovery and cultural renewal? Choosing to serve doesn’t make you a ‘loser,’ it makes you wise.”
Time is short for any conservative candidate; ballot deadlines loom in a number of key states, and conservative donors will have to pony up, pronto. But regardless of whether one agrees with David French — he detests Obama and Clinton, he opposes gay marriage — the bottom line is that he’s a person of substance. He’s not being sued in two states for fraud, he’s not under federal investigation, he has an intact marriage and family, he’s a war hero, and, most importantly, he has a consistently coherent political philosophy.
He may not be a Name, but if he were to confront Trump from the right, and say out loud what he says so ably online, last night’s Twitter juvenalia would be long forgotten.