In his latest attempt to be politically relevant and antagonize the president, Bill Kristol is threatening to form a committee to oppose Donald Trump’s re-election in 2020. Kristol, editor-at-large of The Weekly Standard, told the New York Times that he has begun “informal conversations about creating a ‘Committee Not to Renominate the President.’”
In the August 5 article, “Republican Shadow Campaign for 2020 Takes Shape as Trump Doubts Grow,” the NeverTrumper said “we need to take one shot at liberating the Republican Party from Trump, and conservatism from Trumpism.” The article suggests Republicans such as John Kasich, Tom Cotton, and even Vice President Mike Pence are preparing to challenge Trump in a presidential primary.
The article got a lot of attention over the weekend, but it’s anybody’s guess what an informal conversation means in Kristolworld. It’s unlikely this insulated scold deigned to travel anywhere outside of New York City or Washington DC to engage in such conversations with regular folks. It could mean he had a rosé-fueled chat with Evan McMullin, whom Kristol backed for president in 2016. Or perhaps it was dull dinner-party banter with fellow anti-Trumpers where they took turns bragging about all the likes on their latest predatory tweets.
Please, I’m Desperate
Kristol followed up the NYT article with a gem of an idea that conservatives should rebrand themselves as liberals: “Seriously. We’re for liberal democracy, liberal world order, liberal economy, liberal education.” Liberal is the new conservative? Mmmkay. This guy probably couldn’t get hired to run a low-level municipal race, let alone figure out how to take out a sitting president.
Then again, Trump needn’t worry about Kristol’s latest threat because most of his previous efforts to form groups and committees have failed. For example, he announced a “New Center” last November and nothing seems to have materialized outside of an initial article and scant news coverage of it.
But in perhaps Kristol’s shadiest move, he is trying to pin the NYT article on Pence although it is highly likely the story idea came from Kristol himself. The two reporters, Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, wrote a very similar piece in March 2016 about efforts to derail Trump; Kristol was cited then as having “circulated a memo to a small number of conservative allies detailing the process by which an independent candidate could get on general-election ballots across the country.” The week before the article was published, Burns sub-tweeted Kristol and said “Today is the Super Bowl of Bill Kristol Twitter.” Kristol also helped promote Burns’ book last year about a dysfunctional Trump campaign.
Since the NYT article appeared, Kristol has tweeted about Pence a dozen times, including this:
Although Pence released a statement Sunday calling the article “disgraceful and offensive,” said the allegations are “categorically false” and that he is focused on getting Trump re-elected in 20202, Kristol continues to push Pence as the source of the piece, an unsubstantiated taunt intended only to provoke the president and his administration. Kristol weirdly cribs an Aesop fable, suggesting Trump has “nurs’t a viper in thy bosom” then accusing Pence of playing “maxi-dimensional chess.” So who do you believe: a loyal vice president or an unhinged enemy?
It Didn’t Have to Be This Way, Bill
Kristol’s decline is a sad thing to watch. He reminds me of a portly, erudite version of Uncle Rico from “Napoleon Dynamite,” the aging high school quarterback who wants to build a time machine to go back to the 1980s and reclaim his glory days. Uncle Rico spends most of his time playing football alone, running imaginary plays and throwing spirals in an empty field. When he’s not, he’s peddling Tupperware to lonely housewives. Rico’s only thrill in life is bullying his awkward nephew.
Like Rico, the 64-year-old Kristol seems bitter that time has passed him by and he is a bench-warming cautionary tale rather than the superstar he thinks he should be. Once a rising, serious figure who helped energize the Right after Bill Clinton won the White House in 1992, Kristol is now part of the turgid, tone-deaf Republican establishment that fueled the political revolution that gave us Trump. (I used to be a big fan and wrote about it here.)
He tries to stay in the game by promoting his niche as the Left’s new favorite conservative. He now woos disaffected Republicans and Trump-hating Democrats with red-meat tweets unbecoming of someone who once commanded respect for his intelligence and political chops. While some NeverTrump writers and influencers have moved on, Kristol is stuck on repeat.
His Twitter timeline shows a juvenile, if not slightly disturbing, preoccupation with Trump. Most of his tweets are pathetic calls for attention while he openly trolls the president by frequently tagging Trump or @POTUS. Late Sunday night, Kristol tweeted, “An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @realDonaldTrump is (with all due respect) …a fraud.”
On August 3, apropos of nothing, Kristol tweeted: “Do you sometimes get the impression that Donald Trump actually doesn’t like America very much?” (It earned nearly 16,000 likes.) Some are nonsensical and veer into Louise Mensch-level conspiracy territory: “Russian propaganda is engaged in a fierce assault on McMaster, complementing Bannon’s efforts with the media and with Trump. A big moment.” His attempts at humor, particularly recent tweets about John Kelly and Anthony Scaramucci, fall flat in an embarrassing way. (I suggest he consult with his friend John Podhoretz here.)
Kristol could have been a thoughtful part of the Republican tradition of loyal, intraparty opposition, a vanguard of the basic principles and ideals he has promoted for more than two decades. Instead, he has become what he criticizes the president of being—a witless, selfish caricature who pushes conspiracy theories and appeals to the basest instincts of an angry populace. It’s time everyone, especially conservatives, stop taking him seriously.