Bill Kristol Really Wants Someone to Challenge Trump

May 23, 2018

Conservative Bill Kristol, editor at large of The Weekly Standard, autographed posters at the N.H. Institute of Politics before speaking at "Politics & Eggs," and one-on-one with NHPR.
Credit Peter Biello/NHPR

Bill Kristol, the founder and editor-at-large of The Weekly Standard, visited the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College today to speak at the traditional "Politics & Eggs" event. The conservative leader does have his sights set on 2020—he just wants someone else, someone formidable, to take on President Trump. 

Kristol joined All Things Considered host Peter Biello to further discuss this administration, the mid-term elections, and the next presidential election. 

(The transcript below as lightly edited for clarity.)  

So recently you mentioned that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker would make a good 2020 presidential candidate to challenge President Trump in the Republican primary. What qualities of Governor Baker's do you think would make him a good candidate?

Or as an independent candidate, I was thinking in his case if Donald Trump were renominated. I think there are several successful Republican governors around the nation. John Kasich, a two-term governor of a big state, Ohio. Charlie Baker, probably going to get reelected this year in Massachusetts in a tough - obviously not a Republican state. There are others as well, Larry Hogan in Maryland, right near where I live. And it strikes me that after Donald Trump Republican voters, and voters in general, might want someone who is competent experienced, not a whole lot of drama but actual serious governance.

What matters of policy do you think will be most important to conservative voters during the next presidential primary cycle?

I mean that's a good question, as the world so unpredictable. You know, if we have recession, people will focus on the economy. If we have foreign policy crises, foreign policy. I think, generally speaking, an awful lot of what I would call reluctant Trump supporters -- people who voted for him in 2016, who were Republicans who preferred him to Clinton, who support a fair number of his policies -- may say after ... right now they're sort of inclined to say we support Donald Trump, you know, we don't like his critics, we prefer him to the Democratic Congress. We're still happy and relieved that he's president not Hillary Clinton.

But I think the day after Election Day this year, Nov. 7th, 2018. A lot of them start to say, 'well, gee, what about the next four years?' Are we comfortable sort of taking this gamble along further? It's one thing to say, you know, what all things considered a little disruption's OK, and some of the chaos we can survive for four years. Eight years? So that's where I think things could change. Right now, if you look at the Republican numbers, the polling, you say well Donald Trump's going to be renominated. But I'm not so sure that that stays, given, first of all, how fluid the world. But especially, people aren't really thinking prospectively yet, they're not thinking ahead yet, they're kind of looking back and saying that it's a relief that it's not Hillary Clinton.

This event today at Saint Anselm College ... not always but often is for people who are thinking of running for president. So are you?

No, but I'd like to get someone to run in the Republican Party because I don't think Donald Trump is a good embodiment of American conservatism or the Republican Party. I've been a Republican all my adult life and a conservative, part of the conservative movement. I  think the Republicans and conservatives have accomplished a lot for the country and (gotten) something's wrong obviously, but most things I think - more things right than wrong. It's a great tradition of American leadership in the world of trying to limit government, encouraging free markets and enterprise. And Trump doesn't really stand for much of that.

And in fact in some ways constantly assaults very important parts of the American tradition that American conservatives above all defend. The Constitution, you know, trust in government and in our society, straightening the bonds of the country, and Trump just is so divisive and attacks, just this very morning, you know, the criminal 'Deep State' he referred to. This is an American president, talking about, I guess the American FBI, the American Department of Justice. You can criticize them, and say those institutions need to be reformed. I actually think they do in some ways. You can say particular individuals may have made mistakes or done things wrong. The criminal deep state? That sounds like some left-wing history professor. That's not an American president, not a Republican or conservative American president, that's for sure.

Has President Trump done anything right?

Yes, I think some of his foreign policy appointments have been strong: Pompeo as Secretary of State. But a little chaos in terms of having three national security advisers, two secretaries of state. But in general that defense spending increase, I think a tougher stance toward Iran, though I'm curious to see how much they've thought through the strategy once they got out of the deal. Parts of the tax cut I think are sensible. Several of the deregulatory areas. So where he's followed more traditional and a way Republican policies, you know, I tend to agree with him. But the follow-through is very much in question. I think the execution is in question. And for me the .. what overwhelms everything else is the assault on democratic norms, on the rule of law, the kind of rhetoric about a criminal deep state and all that sort of thing.

Some people, many of my friends, say well that's just the rhetoric. You know, let's look at the actions, but the rhetoric matters. You don't want a country where we're bitterly divided, where people are used to attacking minority, ethnic groups, and attacking other individual politicians in demeaning ways. I mean that's just not a healthy, civic society.