In a hilariously absurd post, the #nevertrump fanatic David French declined to be the nominee of Bill Kristol’s new political party. French is prone to drama so this is pretty standard stuff from him. I take some pride in having spotted him as a loony-tune a long time ago. I could just tell he was, in the mold of Glenn Beck, one of those guys who careens from one cause to the next, always overdoing it in a quest for grace. In a better age, these sorts were turned into missionaries and shipped off to Africa.
That said, I’m a little surprised that Kristol’s scheme has been such a disaster. He is a smart guy and a very connected guy in the GOP. He has been a made-member of the Bush crime family for decades. His ideological inclinations may not be my cup of tea, but I respect his IQ. He had to know that going third party was suicide. He may be willing to commit suicide for his cause, but unless your name is Mohamed, it is not easy to get volunteers for your suicide mission. As a result, I assumed he was up to something else, like leveraging access to Team Trump.
Even smart guys screw up and smart guys who think they are smarter than everyone tend to make big mistakes. There is also the fact that Kristol is no spring chicken. He is 63, which is not ancient, but that’s when some men start to slip. I’m not saying he is ready for the home; it’s just that he is not going to be as politically nimble as he was twenty years ago. There’s also the fact that he has been in the bubble for a long time and his connections to the currents of American life are now entirely indirect.
He and many other neo-cons seem to be trapped in 1995, unable to appreciate that the world has changed, the culture has changed and, most important, neo-conservatism is not so “neo” anymore. Their ideas all seem dated and out of sync with 2016 America. Listen to Kristol or his half-orc sidekick John Podhoretz talk about America and it’s as if they just awoke from a twenty year nap. They keep repeating the same slogans from two decades ago as if the last two decades never happened. It’s cringe inducing.
That’s probably the biggest error Kristol made in his attempt to unhorse Trump. The Bill Kristol brand of conservatism was a horrible flop that nearly killed the Republicans Party and turned the word “conservative” into an epithet. In 2000, conservatives had full control of government for the first time in a century. Instead of rolling back the welfare state, they expanded it and launched into a massive war with Islam that we still can’t figure out how to end. We have been dropping bombs on Muslims for a quarter century now and things are worse.
People can be forgiven for thinking that maybe these neo-cons were never all that conservative. You can only scold people for so long about your principles before they expect to see you act on those principles. It seems like the only principles the neo-cons hold dear are the ones that allow them to take a powder when it is time to take on the Left. The last time conservative won back any ground against the Left was in the mid-90’s. Since then it has been a long bloody retreat.
There’s also the issue of tactics. Kristol’s claim to fame was the purging of Pat Buchanan and the remaining paleo-cons from the party. His trick in the 90’s was to bait them into saying bad things about Israel or the Israel lobby in Washington. Many fell for it and were tarred as anti-Semites. That made throwing them out of the party an easy task. There’s nothing that strikes fear in the heart of the Republican like being called an anti-Semite. They would rather be associated with pedophiles like Denny Hastert than tied to someone who is an anti-Semite.
Trump is too smart for that and he is very pro-Israel in the typical American spirit. Most Americans support Israel because they are Christian and they see the Israelis as the underdog, facing a billion lunatics who want to murder them. That’s Trump. He does not have deep thoughts on the subject, but he instinctively backs Israel. Having spent his whole life working with Jews in New York real estate, he is very comfortable around Jews.
Finally, I think Kristol, like many neo-cons, has forgotten the whole point of their movement. It was always intended to be a sales pitch. It was an effort to stitch together the various strains of American conservatism into a political force that could win elections. To their credit, it worked quite well, but it failed to deliver anything more than hollow election victories. In the end, a viable political movement has to deliver and 85% of GOP voters tell pollsters that their party has not delivered.
It’s the old saying from the drug game. Don’t get high from your own supply. That’s what happened with the neo-cons. They started believing their own sales pitch and soon forgot that it was just a sales pitch. They stopped thinking about the practical reality of politics which is that the coalition that wins expects to get something for it. The neo-cons got swank offices and additional quarters added to their public pension, but the spear catchers and water carriers of the party got nothing. Pleas to ideological purity are not going to work on people who feel burned.