Tennessee attorney David French, who in recent years has become a prominent right-wing writer, is being urged by some conservative leaders to make a late entry into the 2016 presidential race as an independent candidate, according to two people close to him.
William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard magazine and a former Republican White House official, is at the fore of the draft effort. A group of well-known evangelical leaders and GOP operatives is also involved in the discussions, the people said, requesting anonymity to discuss private conversations.
The push to get French into the race was first reported Tuesday by Bloomberg Politics.
If launched, a French campaign would almost surely be a quixotic endeavor that could draw pockets of Republican voters away from Donald Trump. And it would face steep logistical and financial hurdles, with many states’ ballot deadlines rapidly approaching.
Trump on Tuesday dismissed Kristol’s attempts to thwart him. “Bill Kristol is a loser,” Trump said at a news conference in New York. “His magazine is failing, as you know. It's going to be down -- I don't think it even survives. He's getting some free publicity."
But Kristol and others remain convinced that many conservatives nationally are unwilling to vote for Trump or likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and he has been searching for weeks to see if someone would step up and serve as their standard-bearer.
When reached by text message, Kristol compared French’s possible bid to “Jim Buckley 1970,” a reference to the surprising victory in New York’s 1970 Senate race by Conservative Party candidate James Buckley, the brother of William F. Buckley, who founded National Review magazine.
Decades later, James Buckley’s insurgency remains fondly remembered by activists on the right as one of the rare instances where a hard-line conservative candidate, operating outside of the Republican Party, won a federal contest. Buckley would go on to lose his reelection campaign in 1976.
According to the people close to French, the legacies of James Buckley and William F. Buckley -- who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of New York in 1965 as a conservative candidate – have deeply shaped his thinking.
While Kristol initially sought out well-known Republicans such as Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 nominee, and Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, he did not find any takers. Eventually he found his way to French, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and has since carved out a profile on the right with his writings at National Review. French’s flurry of columns on Trump have been particularly scathing.
Romney voiced support for French's exploration late Tuesday. "I know David French to be an honorable, intelligent and patriotic person," he wrote on Twitter. "I look forward to following what he has to say."
When reached by phone Tuesday, French’s wife, Nancy, declined to comment. David French did not respond to multiple calls and emails over the past weekend.
French is a graduate of Harvard Law School and a major in the United States Army Reserve. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Iraq.