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Bill Kristol and Hugh Hewitt offer advice to Mitt Romney

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

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HH: I begin this hour with Bill Kristol. Bill’s of course the editor-in-chief of the Weekly Standard, and he wrote a terrific piece, which I read a lot to you yesterday, and am pleased to have him back. Bill, welcome, it’s good to talk to you.

BK: Thanks, Hugh, how are you?

HH: Good. I’m so glad, I actually did an event on Thursday night last with Ann Coulter, with whom I’d never done an event before, and I was surprised to find that she’s as optimistic as I am about this election cycle, provided that Team Romney does what you wrote, which is stay on message, don’t get crazy, and run an economic campaign.

BK: And run a presidential campaign. I think that’s the most important thing, really understand that in a general election campaign, it’s more than Team Romney. He now represents the Republican Party. He represents conservative philosophy. He represents, I think, our hopes for a brighter future in America. And I guess my biggest fear is that in a way, that they stay in a slightly Team Romney mindset, where they’re going to knock down Santorum, and now they’re going to knock down Obama. The bigger the campaign is, I think, the better his chances of winning. And I think they do understand that, and I think there’s a pretty good chance that they’ll run a big campaign. And it is a big election. It deserves a big campaign.

HH: I think that is just absolute gospel, and I hope they repeat it again and again and again. Now Bill, in terms of the mechanics of getting to there, we’ve got primaries left with Newt still in the field, sort of like the army in South Carolina that was cut off when Lee retired from the field. We don’t know how long he’s going to keep fighting for, but it doesn’t really matter. Does that prevent the pivot that you’re talking about?

BK: No, and I think we’re seeing the pivot. I think he’s thinking hard about how to lay out the big agenda, the big speeches, some foreign travel. And again, I just hope they really ignore at this point Newt, and don’t worry about the other primaries, maybe use them as an excuse to visit some states that are useful for the general election, but lay out the big themes, lay out the big contrast, the forward-looking contrast. Don’t get dragged, let surrogates and superPACs do some of the sniping and the backward-looking fights about how much Obama should have done to fix the General Services Administration or not, but make it, to the degree you raise those kinds of issues, raise them in a bigger way. This is what big government looks like, and if you want more of it, elect President Obama for the next four years, here’s what I’ll do for the next four years. I just think the more forward-looking…there’s a temptation when you’re running against an incumbent to snipe away at him, and he did this, and he said that, and he didn’t do this. But actually, I’m a little worried that that gets to be a dicey race, and you’re dealing with a media that’s very pro-Obama. And I think the bigger, more forward-looking the election is, the better Romney’s chances. And I think he can and should pivot to that soon. They should think about some imaginative ways to also bring that home. I was thinking, I don’t know where you were on this, maybe they should pick the VP earlier than usual.

HH: I absolutely do. I think that there’s no other business I’m aware of that puts a productive asset out of commission.

BK: Right.

HH: Once they’ve done through their due diligence, and if it is Chris Christie, for example…

BK: Right.

HH: How could he not help you to go out and raise money and secure the suburbs of Philadelphia, and maybe put New Jersey into play? Once you’ve done your choice, why wouldn’t you do it, Bill?

BK: I agree. Do it in mid-July. Let’s get to Christie or Paul Ryan, or Rubio, or whatever it is, contrast with Joe Biden up there, you know?

HH: Yup.

BK: Let the voters think a little bit about who they’d like as the number two for the next four years, and what it says about Romney that he picked either a successful governor or a Mitch Daniels, for that matter, someone who really has done things at the state level, or a very young and impressive Congressman or Senator, if it’s Ryan or Rubio. I think, yeah, I wonder how much they’re thinking about that up in Boston? No one’s done it, I guess, ever, or at least for a very long time.

HH: Richard Schweiker/Reagan, but he wasn’t going to be the nominee in ’76, yeah.

BK: Right, but I think it really would be worth thinking about, because you’re still going to get a huge amount of attention at the convention for the presidential nominee’s speech, I think. So you don’t really need the vice presidential choice to get the attention then. And I think it would be a nice way to focus attention. I know they’re thinking of some foreign travel, and I hope he’ll think about going, for example, to visit the troops in Afghanistan. I think there are a lot of the conventional types telling them oh, Afghanistan is a tough issue, and you know, it’s complicated to make your case that we’ve got to stay, but we also have to gradually get out, and Obama has sort of done the right thing, and sort of done the wrong thing. But I think they should just, he is the nominee of the Republican Party, and he should go and express gratitude to the troops, and make it a sort of non-political visit. And I think it would be a nice gesture and would look presidential. I hope they think about things like that, and don’t just get, you know, have all the political guys say well, here’s the down side to that, you don’t want to highlight Afghanistan when you’re supposed to be talking about jobs. You know what I mean?

HH: Yeah, I agree.

BK: They shouldn’t be too cautious. They shouldn’t get too worried about every small kind of zig and zag.

HH: I think they ought to take the trip that he promises to take when he’s elected president. And he said he would start in Israel, so I’d start in Israel, then I’d go to Afghanistan, then I’d go to the United Kingdom, then I’d come home, and in one trip, demonstrate what’s going to drive your…it will be a talking point and a message forever. So I hope you’re right about that.

BK: Yeah, that’s a great idea, Hugh. Look, we’re visiting our allies.

HH: Yeah.

BK: Maybe go to Eastern Europe, too, where Obama sold them out in the beginning with missile defense.

HH: Sure, oh good, Poland, Czech, you bet.

BK: Right.

HH: Now John Boehner today, talking about surrogates, I agree with you that surrogates ought to do the tough stuff of laying out where Obama screwed up. But the Speaker of the House today said something that’s really unique in American history, I think. John Boehner said the country could not recover from a second term of Barack Obama. That’s pretty dire, Bill Kristol. Is it an overstatement that actually boomerangs? Or is it the necessity of clarity about the two paths in front of us?

BK: I don’t know, honestly. I mean, I’m very much for clarity, and I really do believe we’ll be much, much, much better off as a country with Mitt Romney as president for the next four years than Barack Obama for the next four years. And I think Boehner’s instinct to focus people on what the next four years would look like under President Obama is a good instinct. That is, what would it look like with another, you know, four more years of trillion dollar deficits, four more years of weakness abroad, four years of Obama Supreme Court and lower court appointments? I mean, it’s the right way to frame the choice. You do want to be careful not to overdo it, and look like you have no faith in the country, or you know, if 51% of our fellow countrymen do the wrong thing in November that somehow we’re all going to be consigned to the dustbin of history. So I think you’ve got to be careful not to overdo the dire warning stuff.

HH: Now I’ve got to ask you as well, I wrote a piece today. I’m not yet persuaded that the message team at the campaign for Mitt Romney understands new media, and the fact that they have to provide content every day to this vast network of people who comment on content, and that there are creative ways of doing that. I mean, you hold an open forum with the Kagans, you get together with John Bolton, you run a…Bill Clinton was a master of this. He ran these round tables where everyone would talk except him, and C-Span would run it. Are you, do you think that they’re going to be that interested in innovating message delivery and content delivery, because it’s Romney’s strong suit, Bill Kristol.

BK: Yeah, I hope so, and I think you’re right to push them on it. I don’t know. I just, I’m not sure, I don’t know how much they’ve thought about that. I think they’re very concerned, like all campaigns get this way. They’re concerned about control, concerned about someone going off message. They don’t see the virtues of having 100 people out there pressing the critique of President Obama’s performance, pressing the alternative vision of Romney and the Republican Party. They don’t see that the virtues of that outweigh the danger that gee, John Bolton might say one thing, and Elliott Abrams would say something slightly different, and the media would fuss about that for two hours, you know?

HH: Yeah.

BK: And you can get a little too defensive when you’re running a campaign. And look, if you’re there, it’s a headache, and it’s easier in a way just to have surrogates recite rote talking points. But I think you’re right. They’re missing, this has to be not just about, it’s bigger than Mitt Romney in a funny way. Romney has to come to think, it’s hard. You run in primaries, it’s you against the other guy. It’s you against Santorum. It’s you against Gingrich. It’s the choice of an individual. Now I think Mitt Romney has to think about it as being about the country, not about himself in a way. He is the head of half the country, one of the two major political parties, of, as I say, embodying a sort of philosophy about where we go from here. And he’s got to think of himself this way, and I very much agree with you, and mobilize all the resources that are at his command. And it’s a pretty impressive bunch of economists and foreign policy experts, and retired generals, and businessmen, and citizens who are at his command. And they really need to get, the campaign needs to help them get out there and make the case.

HH: It’s buried in his experience. When he took over the Salt Lake City Games, it wasn’t about making Mitt Romney the greatest CEO of the Olympics ever, or being the next Ueberroth. It was about really regenerating the brand of the Olympics, which required not just state, local, federal government, not just the international committee, not just the sponsors and the athletes and the media, it really required that he captain an effort to renew a brand, in many respects, as he has to captain the effort to renew the American brand. And so I think it’s in there. We’ll see if it comes out. Let me ask you about, I’m leading a lonely effort in some respects to say hey, take a look at Jeb Bush as the vice presidential nominee, and I get hooted at because of his last name. What’s your thought on that, Bill Kristol?

BK: I’m open-minded on it, and I could make the case for it. I agree with you. It shouldn’t be dismissed. I mean, if Florida is the state, I mean, A) he’s a very impressive guy, two-term governor with real, you know, real impressive governing experience. At the end of the day, the Romney message is going to be we’re the grown-ups, we know what we’re doing, we’re going to fix the problems that have to be fixed, we’re going to be tough-minded, we’ll also have an optimistic vision obviously in the future. I think Jeb Bush fits in with all of that. And Florida is an awfully important state, and he has been an awfully successful governor of Florida. And if he could bring that state, and help with Hispanics across the country, just as a political matter, I think there’s more of a case for him than people think. And I agree with you, the hooting about the Bush name, the media would go crazy, there’d be two or three days of everyone saying can you believe it? Oh, my God, oh my God, oh my God. The someone would do a poll and it would show that Bush has helped Romney by two or three or four points.

HH: Right.

BK: And everyone would be quiet.

HH: And he would be famously fluent in Spanish. Bill Kristol, thank you, my friend, always a pleasure. www.weeklystandard.com if you want to read Bill’s take on how to position the campaign. It’s up online right now.

End of interview.

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