Down in the tomb of New York’s Penn Station, sitting quietly in a dimly lit Pizza Hut booth, a somber man stares intently at a tepid and long-since congealed slice of Meaty P’Zone. Chin tucked into his chest, droopy eyes fixed unblinking at the empty promise of “multi-meat mayhem” that seemed perversely appealing 45 minutes ago, he ruminates on his life’s failures – some recent, some from the distant past that still hover about him, and still more that are clearly visible on the horizon. They cluster and overwhelm him, they stuff him to the point of bursting like circus-grade meat and processed cheese-food product crammed into a greasy, plastic dough pocket. His vigil is interrupted by a passerby who recognizes his dour countenance, perhaps from his most recent cable news hit.
“You going to get us a better choice?” the passerby asks.
The man sighs, never once averting his glance from the P’Zone. “Doing my best,” he replies in a curdled mutter.
“We’re counting on you,” the passerby offers hopefully. He lingers a few moments awaiting a response, and receiving none he turns to leave and melt back into the throng of New York commuters. Only as the passerby departs does the man look up from the corpse of his lunch, following the optimistic stranger to make sure he’s gone. He stands, collects the uneaten pizza, and throws it in the trash, hoping in vain that the weight of failure will depart with it. He glances at his watch and stalks off to the exit; he has to get to CNN in time for makeup.
This sad little vignette was adapted from the profoundly depressing Twitter feed of Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, who has emerged as the leader of a ragtag and deeply ineffectual “movement” to recruit a third-party conservative candidate to run for president. Kristol and his pals in “Conservatives Against Trump” are unhappy that the presidential choice has come down to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and they say there’s oxygen and enthusiasm for an “independent” candidate to jump into the race and provide an outlet for all the conservatives who can’t warm to Trump. This as-yet-unidentified third-party candidate stands a decent chance of winning, some of them argue. Failing that, they could prevent any candidate from crossing the 270-vote threshold in the Electoral College, thus kicking the choice for the presidency over to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. The possibilities are limited only by their imaginations!
Well, they’re also limited by the fact that nobody wants to be their candidate. Kristol has been hyping this third-party stuff for a while now and leaping from one “dream” candidate to the next as they all tell him to go pound sand. First, he was toying around with the idea of resurrecting Rick Perry’s political career, but Perry said no. Then Kristol embarked on a herculean effort to manufacture “momentum” around retired Marine general James Mattis, who also said no. Just last week, Kristol had a private meeting with Willard Mitt “Mitt” Romney and tried to nudge him into running, but Romney declined.
Now the third-party people are just picking names out of hats and dreaming up rationales for White House bids: freshman Republican Sen. Ben Sasse wrote an anti-Trump Facebook post, so let’s make him president! The fact that they’re lurching from one candidate to the next with no real coherent vision for what type of candidate they want to run – Tea Party darling Sasse? Or military strongman Mattis? Or moderate plutocrat Romney? – is a pretty strong clue that they don’t actually have a strategy in place.
Another good indication that all this third-party agitation is just idle fantasizing is the fact that no one is talking about organizing or money. As it stands, the third-party “movement” has already missed the deadline for getting a candidate on the ballot in Texas. The deadline for North Carolina is in less than a month. Illinois’, Indiana’s, and New Mexico’s deadlines all come up in June. Nine more states have deadlines in July. Getting enough signatures to get a name on those ballots requires money and infrastructure, none of which can be scraped together because they don’t have a candidate.
So, really, the length and breadth of the third-party independent conservative movement is Bill Kristol and his friends writing tweets and issuing press releases insisting that the third-party conservative movement is still theoretically possible. That’s true insofar as the election hasn’t happened yet, but there doesn’t seem to be any indication that anyone is taking active steps toward making it happen. They’re just teasing reporters and getting their names in the paper while they work themselves up to eventually endorsing Donald Trump.