Republicans make it halfway to a principled stand when they say they cannot support their own party’s presidential nominee because he is, by some distance, the least-qualified nominee from either party in modern history. David French does not get them the rest of the way. Never Trump Republicans like Bill Kristol, and whoever else would rally behind French’s potential third-party candidacy, do not take the presidency as seriously as they claim to: If they did, they’d admit that they find Hillary Clinton to be a better choice than Donald Trump.
No disrespect to David French. He’s an Iraq War veteran who was awarded the Bronze Star. He graduated from Harvard Law School and now is “an attorney (concentrating his practice in constitutional law and the law of armed conflict),” according to his National Review biography. He has a National Review biography because he is a staff writer for the magazine.
However your mileage may vary on his work, it’s an impressive résumé and the sort of bio from which one might launch a political career. So for which state senate or congressional race is Kristol trying to recruit French? He’s recruiting French for the presidency, you say? That’s ridiculous. Kristol’s principled case against supporting Trump because he is unsuited for the presidency falls apart when, in scrambling for an alternative, he reached for one of his pals on the nearest conservative-magazine masthead. And you are not qualified to be president if your consideration involved Bill Kristol asking a few months before the election, “Dude, what about you?”
Even if French were viable, how would a conservative third-party challenge work? It wouldn’t, in terms of preventing either Trump or Clinton from winning the presidency, and on net it would smooth Clinton’s path to the nomination by splitting Republican votes.
The Washington Examiner’s Byron York published on Wednesday a pretty comprehensive explanation of how Never Trumpers “operate on a set of wishful-thinking scenarios in which victory depends on one improbable event after another.” York demonstrates how the paths for stopping either a Trump or Clinton presidency—an outright third-candidate Electoral College victory, a House of Representatives–decided third-candidate victory, each sprinkled with a lot of anything can happen this year! pixie dust—are fantastical, then lists other reasons resisters toss around for boosting a French candidacy. One is a matter of morality. “They can't vote for Trump, and they can't vote for Clinton, and they can't not vote,” York writes. “They believe theirs is a moral decision, and they need a candidate to support.”
Ugh, OK. There’s nothing less fun than an internet debate about morality but they started it: To support French when you know he has no chance is to circumvent your moral duty, not discharge it. They admit there is no practical reason to vote for French—he’s merely a protest receptacle they’re using to keep themselves pure. They can do whatever they want; this is not the first time people have cast protest votes. But if Kristol, et al., want a protest vote and acclaim for a principled, moral stand against a completely unfit candidate for the presidency, they’re going to have to admit it: They would prefer Hillary Clinton as president over Donald Trump.
“[T]he scenario in which a third party draws just a percentage point or two in a state, ultimately benefiting Clinton, is far more plausible than any other scenario,” York writes. “It's the wish some #NeverTrumpers cannot publicly express.”
Saying what’s plainly obvious—that Hillary Clinton, despite all her flaws, is by a million degrees more qualified to serve as president than Donald Trump just on a simple get-us-through-the-day level—is a dangerous admission for conservative opinion writers like Kristol. They have spent decades selling magazine subscriptions by arguing that Hillary Clinton, a center-left technocrat, is the lowest specimen of life in galactic history. How could they ever admit that she’s preferable to Trump? It wouldn’t be easy. That’s how you know it would be a principled stand.