For Nancy French-ism


You may have heard of David French, the New York Times columnist and almost 2016 presidential candidate who over the last 8 years has become an unlikely right-wing Rorschach test. Nancy French is proud to be David’s wife, but she has made her own mark on politics, if mostly indirectly as a ghostwriter for conservative talking heads. With Ghosted: An American Story, Nancy moves to top billing and tells of her own journey from Appalachian roots to hobnobbing among the powerful before being vilified as the GOP Trumpified while the Frenches did not.

Hers is a story marked by adversity and a willingness to take daring leaps into the unknown. Think Hillbilly Elegy if somehow J.D. Vance had written it after stepping into the political arena (and from his earlier, MAGA-skeptical position). This is a book that may cause you to lose sleep. First, because it is engaging—a rollercoaster ride that can keep you up past midnight turning pages. Second, because one of her key themes—the complicity of Christians with evil at the expense of the weak—will rightly occupy your mind even after you put the book down.

The young Nancy Anderson was raised in the rural settings one might expect if your father cruised timber for a living. Bob Anderson, with an assist from Jesus and the Marine Corps, had emerged as the relative white sheep of a Tennessee coal mining and moonshining clan accented by a Tarot-card-toting sister and cousins who used rattlesnakes for crowd control at the family’s speakeasy. Nancy had a childhood marked by “worms, lice, calloused feet, dented bicycles, and complete freedom.” The free-range parenting, though, was balanced by the corralling influences of the Church of Christ. There she learned that a promiscuous girl was the equivalent of a trampled rose, and there Nancy was de-flowered by the 23-year-old head of the Vacation Bible School before she was even a teenager.

She bottled up the shame and confusion well enough to be a strong student at a high school where gun safety sometimes substituted for science class, but she was less than enthusiastic about attending the Christian university that her parents had in mind. College recruiters asked a recent high achiever who had moved on to Harvard Law School to give Nancy a call and sing the school’s praises. A few years later, reeling from a series of traumas, she would bump into that caller, David French, on the Lipscomb University campus. His compassion while her world was crashing fueled a whirlwind romance that resulted in the girl from Paris, Tennessee getting married in Paris, France.

The couple then lived in New York City where he worked Big Law hours and she, who thought of herself as liberal for Lipscomb, attended NYU. There she discovered—after her wedding band left mouths agape and her pro-life views caused a student to leave class in tears—“she had switched from one monolithically religious school to another.” Nancy followed David as he hopped around the Northeast to academia and then to religious liberty nonprofits and National Review, building her own writing chops along the way with a conservative column in a liberal Philadelphia paper. She then kept the home fires burning when a 36-year-old David enlisted in the Army and deployed to Iraq.

In 2008, their grassroots “Evangelicals for Mitt” blog led to an offer to ghostwrite for Ann Romney. That campaign fizzled before a book was finished, but it put her on the political writing radar. She soon found herself in Wasilla, Alaska, telling the tale of a teenage mom named Bristol and sometimes toasting bagels for Steve Bannon in Governor Sarah Palin’s kitchen. That book sold well, and years of crafting opinion pieces and on-air zingers for the Fox News crowd ensued. This phase of life peaked when David was honored with the Ronald Reagan Award and a standing ovation at CPAC in 2012.

A few years thereafter the Reagan-right began to shift to the alt-right. David’s criticisms of the slide led to reprehensible online treatment that sunk to sexually explicit false claims about the begetting of a daughter the couple had adopted from Ethiopia. In 2016, Bill Kristol wooed David to consider an independent run for the White House, launching a media circus that resulted in no campaign and Nancy in an awkward spot as she was under contract to ghostwrite for eventual Trump boosters. She notes one defining trip when a client, with her in tow, was promised a ride on Trump Force One only to be ferried back from a campaign rally in a noisy prop plane and then stuck with the bill. She got off that plane and never stepped on the Trump train, eventually losing her clientele.

Gretchen Carlson, a Fox News personality until she sued Roger Ailes for sexual harassment, later asked Nancy to investigate a well-connected Christian summer camp. Nancy repeatedly found purported Christians covering up for sexual abusers, a pattern from her own past experience with which she painfully re-engaged after finding her abuser still working with youth.

My summary of this stunning (and at times hilarious) memoir leaves out a miraculous healing, a prophetic pregnancy, an heirloom KKK robe, rock star connections, and plenty to silence any who dismiss David’s wartime service as that of “just a JAG.” This is the story of a bruised soul touched by grace but still frustrated by the passivity that others continue to show in response to the unspeakable. It is also the story of a person who once thought she could categorize “good” and “bad” people but found both in unexpected places, the daughter of a forester surveying the crooked but still beautiful timber of humanity.

As a ghostwriter who helped to build the politics of resentment that eventually engulfed her own family, Nancy acknowledges her past sins. Today, her call is to “stop averting our eyes at the first sign of disagreement” and, quoting Frederick Buechner, “see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces.” For many, the Frenches have become the faces of the right’s past, of self-righteous finger-wagging, of (to use the vile term they have too often endured) cuckservatism. Ghosted reveals real flesh and blood people who, like all created in the image of God, deserve better.

Image via Flickr


  1. The French’s are viewed with contempt not because they didn’t “Trumpify” but because they treat conservative/Republican voters with contempt. By 2016 they weren’t naive newcomers and were surely used to the outrageous rhetoric hurled at anyone in politics. Nothing uniquely awful was said about her, that I’m aware of, it’s a terrible truth that all conservative women are treated with absolutely horrific abuse online. The story about Air Force One makes her look terrible, like a rejected loser, a la George Conway, who was rejected for a job and then turned into a bitter angry man who threw away his previous career and even his marriage, but at least has made a lot of money from his new work. Similarly the French’s have done extremely well for themselves financially for their oh-so-brave new positions. It’d be one thing if they walked away from politics saying it was corrupting and anti-Christian, etc., but to take massively well paying roles saying that people they used to work with and for are the corrupt and anti-Christian ones is just plain vile.

    • Why is it just plain vile to speak the truth? What I find so convincing about their writing is the fact that their critics almost never bother trying to argue that the things they say are inaccurate. They are either accused of having a bad attitude (they’re arrogant/self-righteous/”attacking the wrong people”) or it’s argued that listening to them will lead to Christians being less wealthy or powerful. The truth is more important than all of those concerns.


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