Kristol’s role explored

David Marcus aims to explain in a Federalist column “why the Right still needs Bill Kristol,” who remains one of President Trump’s most ardent critics.

In part, coming around to Trump isn’t just coming around to Trump; it’s coming around to the millions who voted for him and trying to understand why. For some Never Trump veterans, this means fully supporting the president now, for others it means calling balls and strikes on his policies and ignoring his untamed rhetoric, but for Kristol, nothing has changed.

For his conservative critics, the question for Kristol is why can’t he just get on board? He is portrayed as a sore loser, a weak figure of a former age who clings to principle and refuses to understand that conservatism is in a no-holds-barred war with progressivism.

A glance back through Kristol’s impressive biography might offer clues to his recalcitrance. Kristol is a scion of neoconservatism. His father, Irving, helped forge in the smithy of City College of New York the Trotskyite foundations of what would become conservative internationalism. In the late 1970s Bill worked for Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a hawkish Democrat who preached personal responsibility.

As that kind of Democrat slipped from existence, Kristol and many other neocons switched allegiance to the GOP, where for several decades they held outsized influence. So, even 40 years ago, Bill Kristol was not tied to a political party so much as to a political philosophy. On many issues, such as trade, the Iraq War, immigration, and myriad others, Trump’s political philosophy is anathema to Kristol’s life work. …

… [G]iven the fractures in conservatism right now, there must also be a place for full-throated opposition on the Right to the very real changes Trump’s Reform Party brand of conservatism is ushering in.

Many conservatives who are not willing to trade in their traditional values for populist nationalism feel politically homeless. This is not the first time this has happened. In 2003, in National Review David Frum wrote an article called “Unpatriotic Conservatives,” excoriating those who questioned the adventurism of the Iraq War. That kind of name-calling is not very different from the attacks Trump-supporting outlets today level at conservatives who are not sufficiently deferential to the president.

Squashing dissent was wrong in 2003, and it is wrong today. Going along to get along and admitting mistakes has its place, and it is where most on the Right stand today. But a president who angrily tweets before breakfast and has harsher criticism for Sen. John McCain than for Russian President Vladimir Putin makes many conservatives uneasy. Kristol provides a service as one of few conservative voices left who refuse to shrug and say, “This is fine.”

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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