Conservatives rebuff Kristol’s third-party pick

Conservatives rebuff Kristol’s third-party pick

A group of prominent conservative activists, including writer and radio host Erick Erickson, aren’t satisfied with Bill Kristol’s suggestion of David French as a third-party candidate and are still looking for another alternative to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday shows preview: Shutdown negotiations continue after White House immigration proposal Rove warns Senate GOP: Don't put only focus on base Ann Coulter blasts Trump shutdown compromise: ‘We voted for Trump and got Jeb!’ MORE.

The activists are working separately from Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, who favors French, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.

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“We’re not going to be jumping on board with what Kristol is doing,” said a person involved in the discussions. “We learned about this from the media along with everyone else.”

Organizers of the self-described Conservatives Against Trump group said Kristol’s decision to champion French, a conservative writer, constitutional lawyer and decorated Iraq war veteran, took them by surprise, especially because French has a relatively low public profile.

“This is like flipping open the phone book and picking someone on page 325,” the source said.

The group includes Erickson; South Dakota businessman Bob Fischer; Bill Wichterman, a former adviser to President George W. Bush and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.); conservative columnist Quin Hillyer; and strategist Liz Mair.

Erickson did not respond to a request to comment for this story. On his website, The Resurgent, he wrote Wednesday that he would vote for French but gave him low odds of even getting on the ballot in many states.

“But let’s be realistic about this. David French has, charitably, 0.1 percent name ID. He will have to raise at least $250 million, dedicating almost all of that to ballot access fights and potential legal challenges to extend deadlines,” Erickson wrote.

“I’d vote for David French,” he added. “Ultimately, however, I suspect the ballot access hurdle will be too much. I suspect it really will be an insurmountable improbability.”

Conservative activist leaders held a conference call Wednesday to plan their next steps, on which Erickson did not participate, although he was part of a conversation Tuesday evening.

Another conservative leader familiar with the recent discussions said, “We’re still continuing our recruitment effort.”

Only a few in the group have even met French, whom Kristol floated as a possible pick on Tuesday. It met with a decidedly mixed reaction.

“I just wanted to go pound my head against the wall,” said Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, a conservative group with about 100,000 members. “I’m sorry. David’s a great guy, but he’s not impressive as a presidential candidate. Where’s the team? I haven’t seen anything about a team.

“Bill Kristol jumped the shark on this one,” he added.

French or any other candidate entering the race at this late date would face significant hurdles to getting on the ballot.

Phillips estimates French would need 2 million signatures to get on the ballot in states where deadlines haven’t yet passed and at least $500 million “to even have a prayer of moving the needle” in the race.

He argued that conservative activists would be smarter to pressure the Republican Party to give the nomination to Texas Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGroup aiming to draft Beto O’Rourke unveils first 2020 video Howard Dean looking for a 'younger, newer' Democratic nominee in 2020 Congress can stop the war on science MORE (R), who finished in second place behind Trump in the GOP presidential primary, at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Hillyer, a member of the Conservatives Against Trump movement, however, said it’s “too early” to make a definitive judgment against French.

“I am wholeheartedly supportive of David French as a candidate. I do not know him other than by reputation. He is bronze star winner and a brilliant constitutional lawyer,” he said in an interview, emphasizing that he was speaking for himself and not the movement. “Obviously, he does not have a big national name. He will have to make a good first impression, and we’ll see if he does.”

French teased his potential candidacy on Twitter Wednesday.

“All the normal political rules apply. The conventional wisdom has been right. An underdog can't win. Right?” he wrote.

Other conservatives are skeptical.

Conservative strategist Brian Darling, a former adviser to Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal House Republicans call for moving State of the Union to Senate chamber GOP rep: 'Rand Paul is giving the president bad advice' on Afghanistan and Syria MORE (R-Ky.), speculated that Kristol may be motivated to pull Republican votes away from Trump because he would prefer likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonConservatives pound BuzzFeed, media over Cohen report BuzzFeed story has more to say about media than the president Trump knocks BuzzFeed over Cohen report, points to Russia dossier MORE as president instead.

“I worry that Kristol’s strategy is to elect Hillary,” he said. “Hillary’s foreign policy is much closer to his foreign policy than Donald Trump’s foreign policy.”

Kristol, a leading neoconservative, did not respond to a request for comment left at his office.