The "Never Trump" movement died Tuesday night.
That's when the loose affiliation of Republican pundits and conservative thinkers, banded together by their shared distaste for Donald Trump as the GOP nominee, leaked the news to Bloomberg Politics that conservative lawyer David French was the secret third-party candidate they have been working to recruit into the 2016 race as an alternative to the real estate mogul.
The news of French ended days of frantic speculation set off by a tweet — yes, this is the world we now live in — by Weekly Standard editor and "Never Trump" leader Bill Kristol.
Just a heads up over this holiday weekend: There will be an independent candidate--an impressive one, with a strong team and a real chance.
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) May 29, 2016
And, it confirmed what many — including me — had long suspected: The "Never Trump" movement is totally out of options.
Don't get me wrong: French, judging from his résumé, is an impressive guy. Decorated military man, conservative thinker and writer for National Review and so on and so forth. And, heck, Mitt Romney likes him!
I know David French to be an honorable, intelligent and patriotic person. I look forward to following what he has to say.
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) June 1, 2016
Here's the problem: No one — and I mean no one — outside a small circle of conservatives and anti-Trump folks knows who David French is. (Sidebar: He does look a lot like Mike from "Veep.") For a movement that tried to recruit the likes of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Ohio Gov. John Kasich or even Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, settling on a total unknown has to be a disappointment —no matter what Kristol, Romney or anyone else says.
This is a swing and a miss, and a very high-profile one. Even if French runs — and it's not entirely clear yet whether he actually will — his ability to affect the race is virtually nonexistent. Not only is it too late to even qualify for the ballot in lots of states but also even in those where qualifying is still open, it takes money to collect the necessary signatures for ballot access. It's hard for me to imagine lots (or even littles) of major Republican donors ponying up money for someone named David French who has roughly the same chance of being elected president this November as the Sweet Meteor O'Death.
Why couldn't "Never Trump" find someone else? After all, there are plenty of Republicans who hate Trump and think he spells the end of the GOP.
There's no question that the lateness of the hour had some effect. To run as a third-party candidate without guaranteed ballot access at this point in the election cycle is, effectively, a kamikaze mission. There's no hope of winning — even if you happened to catch fire. (People writing you in to be president ain't happening.)
But, there's more to it as well. For all of the bluster from the likes of Kristol, it wasn't entirely clear that the "Never Trump" movement had actual funding behind it. Unless you were prepared to spend $1 billion or so of your own money, there were no guarantees that you could get money from anywhere else — not to mention a staff and all of the other things real campaigns need.
Then there's the Trump factor. If you decide to run as the candidate of the "Never Trump" movement, you have to expect a full-frontal assault from the real estate billionaire. He will savage you, your family, your business and anything else you care about. That's a powerful deterrent to lots of private citizens — including many who are independently wealthy and simply don't really need to run for office. Especially considering how long the odds are of even being relevant in the race.
The emergence of David French as the likely "Never Trump" standard-bearer is another win for Trump over the forces within the GOP aligned against him. They failed. He triumphed. Again.