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My 2017 Defense Of Bill Kristol Is The Worst Column I Ever Wrote


I’ve written around 500 columns for The Federalist and several for other and sundry outlets, including the defunct Weekly Standard. I’ve gotten some things right, and some wrong. Once I ran a glowing screed about Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director, and he was fired later that day.

I also predicted Beto O’Rourke would do well and Mayor Pete was hopeless. But one column now stands out as my worst. In 2017, I defended Bill Kristol in these pages, as a man the right still needs. Oof. I have never spilled, and I mean spilled, ink I regret more. Let me start with what my thinking was at the time and then explain why it has turned out to be abject nonsense.

At the time — specifically March 1, 2017, just days into the Trump presidency — I wrote this: “Kristol’s acerbic attacks on Trump provide space for the more modest criticism the rest of us offer. Rest assured, without the target Kristol provides, those more constrained attacks on Trump would be squarely in Trump’s crosshairs.”

I still think that’s true, but in the last three years much has changed, and these changes are something Kristol and his faux-conservative ilk have roundly refused to recognize. It took me about a year to realize the sky wasn’t falling. That conservatives were getting once unimaginable wins like an embassy in Jerusalem and a rat-a-tat-tat of impossibly good judges. Kristol has roundly refused to judge any of this as worthwhile.

Okay. Trump’s violation of arbitrary norms has left Kristol cold. I get it. Now he is launching some bizarre and hopeless effort to reclaim his mantle as someone conservatives should remotely care about. First he founded The Bulwark, a website wholly devoted to taking down Trump that in so doing regularly runs writers like Molly Jong Fast, who wouldn’t let a conservative serve hors d’oeuvres at her fancy Upper East Side dinner parties.

Now Kristol is hosting an event for “principled conservatives.” As far as I can tell, his vision of principled conservatism is electing Democrats who support abortion up to and maybe even after birth. No, thanks. If that’s principled conservatism, then throw a MAGA hat on my head, knock some of my teeth out, and buy me a pickup truck and a loyal dog. If Bernie Sanders brings socialism to the White House? Well, at least it’s not Trump.

No. This is not conservatism. This idea that we are going to hand the entire government over to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Squad and then Bill will ride in on the back of Mitt Romney’s horse to reclaim the mantle of right-wing leadership is a fevered acid dream even Timothy Leary would not be capable of. He’s convinced we win by losing. It’s boring and trite Alice in Wonderland logic, and he still has no idea that we are now through the looking glass.

Bill Kristol is no longer a conservative. He’s not the right-wing Miami Dolphins tanking to get a good draft pick. He is a liberal Democrat who publishes liberal Democrats because he can’t accept that Donald Trump has racked up more conservative victories than he ever thought were possible. He’s not a traitor. In retrospect, his entire philosophy was an easier landing for conservative defeat, the only outcome he thought possible.

But he was wrong. The fights long since thought unwinnable, on taxes, minority unemployment, biologically based sex, foreign policy, the judiciary, Roe v. Wade, and prayer in school are now in play. Did he ever want these things? I have no idea. But him bristling at their achievement suggests these issues were never at the top of his agenda.

So, I apologize. I try to find the best in everyone. When I defended Kristol as the Trump presidency was dawning, I thought he would remain an important voice in the conservative movement. I thought it wise to pay attention to his concerns. I was the wrongest I have ever been. In fact, Kristol has proved to be a recalcitrant and angry figure who cannot accept that a guy he hates is winning battles he once fought for.

There is no place on the right for Kristol. I was wrong to suggest there was. Lesson learned. The joyous crowds I saw at Trump’s New Hampshire rally last week clearly pave a brighter way forward. What Kristol’s misfit toys of “conservatism” portend, I cannot say. But I want no part of it, and I regret having ever been its champion.