Desperation can lead people to do desperate things. Bill Kristol has been pleading for major Republicans like Mitt Romney to enter the presidential race as an independent to give conservatives an alternative to the unserious, unbelievable, unpredictable huckster at the top of the ticket. Over the weekend Kristol tweeted, “There will be an independent candidate — an impressive one, with a strong team and a real chance.”
The prospect was titillating to political junkies, but the reality has been far less so. Turns out, according to some news reports, that all the political figures Kristol approached turned him down, leaving him with David French, a far-right lawyer and pundit with no experience in public office and near-zero name recognition outside the sphere of conservative media.
As MSNBC’s Steve Benen has noted, one of Kristol’s needs was to find “someone who could appeal to #NeverTrump neoconservatives and #NeverTrump evangelicals, simultaneously.” French certainly fits that bill.
Now a staff writer at National Review, French has worked for two of the Religious Right’s major legal groups, the Alliance Defending Freedom and the American Center for Law and Justice. Working for ACLJ and ADF certainly gives French the anti-LGBT cred he needs to win support from the Religious Right. He has argued that it was wrong for society to destigmatize homosexuality. He has declared that “when you’re talking about the conversion of marriage from a God-given and God-created institution into a contract between consenting adults, the victim is our culture.”
French has also argued that government anti-poverty programs have been harmful because they reduce poor people’s dependence on churches. He said that “in many circumstances, particularly in this country, poverty is the result of an awful lot of bad choices.” Here’s more:
A lot of our poverty is the result of behaviors that often require heart-level repentance to change. Medicare, Medicaid, and food stamps are not going to get you to turn away from behaviors that are destroying your life, but the Gospel will.
It’s a problem, he said, that government assistance prevents poor people from having to seek help from the church, which could also provide them with “the much more important spiritual sustenance.”
In a troubling sign for Kristol’s effort to find a candidate with a commitment to reality, French has appeared repeatedly on David Barton’s WallBuilders show. Barton is the self-styled historian whose popularity among Religious Right leaders seems impervious to evidence that he has repeatedly misrepresented American history, other issues, and apparently even his own life. His Christian publisher withdrew his book about Thomas Jefferson after Christian historians were among those who challenged its accuracy. But French praised Barton in 2012 for “bringing truth about America’s heritage into the public square.”
French also has the neo-cons covered. He’s an unrepentant supporter of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and a defender of Islamophobia-promoting hardliners like Robert Spencer and David Horowitz.
Romney has made some initial supportive comments about French, who just last week was urging Romney to run again, saying, “You’re the only man who can save us from future calamity.” French had “worked tirelessly” for Romney in 2008 and 2012; he and his wife even launched Evangelicals for Mitt. French, then at ACLJ, praised Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan, “a man completely committed to the cause of life,” for his running mate.
French has been sharply critical of conservative supporters of Trump, saying that “their much-vaunted conservatism” has been revealed to be “a mere means to an end.” Added French, “Virtually every character defect or ideological blind spot they condemned in others, they overlooked or even justified in Trump.”
Back in 2012, French had similarly strong opinions about Newt Gingrich and the conservatives who were backing him. In fact, French could repurpose those words for Trump with little if any alternation necessary:
If character counts, then so do values like fidelity, honesty, humility and charity. Sadly, Gingrich fails on all these counts … Churchgoing evangelicals have one of the lowest divorce rates in the country. Gingrich is a thrice-married, serial admitted adulterer.
While the former House speaker tries to change the subject, biblically literate Christians understand that his conduct is a real and present issue. Simply put, a man doesn’t cleanse the moral stain of adultery by marrying his mistress….
[I]s there a more arrogant public figure in American political life than Gingrich? His self-regard is legendary…His self-congratulatory statements fill press releases, and former colleagues tell tales of his erratic and bullying behavior. Is that the right witness for evangelicals?
It’s awfully hard to imagine French gaining much traction, even if some of the Trump-resistant funders and backers of Ted Cruz were to rally around him. Still, you have to give Kristol some credit for not joining Marco Rubio and the pathetic parade of conservative leaders who are abandoning their principles to back Trump, a spectacle that former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson has called the “most depressing moment of the 2016 race.” Well, it’s early.