Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol joined me in the first hour of Friday’s program to discuss Thursday night’s Democratic debate and the three speeches by the GOP contenders across town at the same time at the NY GOP state dinner:
HH: I’m playing Frank, because quite surprisingly, Old Blue Eyes is quoted in the opening of the editorial of next week’s Weekly Standard, If He Can Make It There by Bill Kristol, editor of the magazine, which includes the line, “Ted Cruz is a Constitutional conservative to whom were the Federalist Papers the authoritative commentary on the Constitution, the greatest work of political thought produced in America directed to the people of the state of New York.” Who was one of the authors of those papers? Alexander Hamilton of New York. Bill Kristol making the argument that Ted Cruz, an impressive politician, ought to stop Trump in his tracks by blunting his momentum next week. He joins me now. Bill Kristol, heroic effort here trying to rally people to Ted Cruz in New York, in the Empire State. But the New York Post endorsed Donald Trump this morning.
BK: Yeah, I was at the New York State Republican dinner last night. I’m here in New York now. And there was not a lot of natural Cruz supporters there. I wrote that editorial about a week ago really urging Cruz, and I think he’s done this, to make the case in New York, not to give up on any state, not to buy the political professionals’ advice that you sort of skip New York and move onto Maryland or something. I don’t think that’s how it works at this stage in the process. I think it’s important for the anti-Trump forces to hold Trump, if possible, below 50% in New York for both sort of delegate reasons, and it’s like logical for momentum reasons. I don’t know, it was interesting last night. There was not a huge amount of enthusiasm at all for Trump. I think he’s one of the, less, I mean, there wasn’t hostility. He talked about his business career, and told a few funny stories, sort of funny stories. But this was not a Trump crowd There was a lot of Kasich supporters, some Trump supporters. It’ll be interesting to see how, Trump will clearly win New York. The question is will he really sweep it.
HH: I have given three speeches on the other coast in the last two days, one to the Association of Business Trial Attorneys in Southern California, and two with Doug Shoen, one to the YPO Group, another to the New Majority SuperPAC. The Kasich people in the crowds are sort of resigned nostalgics who wish the campaign had gone a different direction. The Ted Cruz people are fighting and ready to try and save the Senate and the House, and maybe pull off the inside straight. The very rare Donald Trump supporter in Southern California, and I mean very rare, is archetypically typical of everyone else out there who’s pro-Trump. They’re just mad as hell, Bill Kristol. And I’m trying to figure out where the Trump support resides. Where does, who are those 50% of New Yorkers voting for him?
BK: You know, yeah, well, I mean, they’re, some in more, they’re more in some regions than in others. They’re obviously happy to have a big change in the political system, and I suppose one criticism one could make of the other candidate, including, ironically, Ted Cruz in a way, and I saw this last night watching his speech. And it was one reason I wanted to go last night was just to see all three of them in person. You know, you watch them so much on TV, and you’ve seen them in person more at the debates, but those are TV performances in a way, too. You see them before a crowd of Republicans, and some of them were undecided. A lot of them were locally influential, so you know, it’s worth making a pitch to them. Ted Cruz, I think, really would be an agent of big change, a conservative change, if he became president of the United States. It would be a bit of an uphill fight against Hillary Clinton, but not unwinnable if you look at those polls. He’s down three or four points, much, much more doable, God knows, than Donald Trump. And he doesn’t really bring home to the audience that if I’m, he says he’ll repeal Obamacare, and he says he’ll change this and that. And I think he would do all those things, or try to. But he doesn’t bring home the degree to which he would mark a big change, a Reagan/Roosevelt, Roosevelt a different direction, obviously, like change in the size and scope and purposes of our federal government at home and the same abroad. I was a little, he just, in a funny way, for a guy who’s supposed to be such an outsider, Ted Cruz, I think, did a little bit too much of a conventional message.
HH: Well, he does need to say if you wish to make America great again, we must go back to that which made America great, the Constitution.
BK: Totally. I mean, Danny Krauthammer had a good piece in our magazine a couple of weeks ago saying the irony about Trump is he doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism. He never talks about what makes us exceptional, the ideas in the Declaration, the Constitutional structure, the separation of powers that preserves freedom, even, actually, entrepreneurship and what the conditions of that are, of limited government and rules you can predict and live by instead of an arbitrary, big government administrative state, something, you know an awful lot about. But he doesn’t actually say that. It’s make America great again, because I’ll make better deals for America. It’s really an authoritarian non-American point of view about politics.
HH: There is also the argument brewing from the left introduced into Republican talking head circles that we’re choose to lose with Cruz. You said something earlier. I don’t think Cruz necessarily loses. I think he can make a fight of it, especially if they pull a page from the Clinton-Gore playbook and double down on youth and Latino, maybe with Marco Rubio, and maybe with Nikki Haley doubling down on youth and ethnicity, or maybe with a warrior, whether a Tom Cotton or a Stanley McChrystal, or maybe with a senior statesman like Mitt Romney. I think you can make a sharp contrast with that shoutfest that happened last night in Brooklyn between two very unpleasant Democrats.
BK: I strongly agree, Hugh. One thing about last night that struck me, these candidates are tired, you know, and they’re kind of mailing, they’re giving their same speeches they’ve given a hundred times. You can’t blame them. But here they were in New York. Sanders and Clinton were debating at the exact same time two or three miles away, actually. They didn’t know what they were saying, presumably, as they went up to speak. But they so easily could have played off to a Republican audience, for a closed Republican primary, they could so easily have played off Sanders and Clinton. Just go through their positions on a whole bunch of issues, and just show how extreme that Sanders is, and how much Hillary has been pulled to the left, and the party is now the most, well, it is the most radical leftwing party, I guess, major party, I think ever in American history, really more than, Obama may have been more radical, or as radical, but he didn’t sound that way, and certainly in ’08, and even the 2012. And yet, they barely mentioned Sanders or Clinton. Cruz was actually a little better about that. He mentioned Hillary Clinton a few times, and how dangerous they would be for the country, for the Supreme Court, etc. But again, they struck me as candidates who sort of haven’t, they’ve kind of got their stump speech, they got it three or four months ago, it’s okay. But they didn’t, they haven’t really adjusted to the moment. And people are now looking which one should be the standard bearer. There are very few. It’s two and a half, if you want potential candidates here running, who could be the standard bearer. And Cruz in particular, again, and this is why I wrote that editorial a week ago, maybe had a limited effect. And I don’t mean to be too critical. He gave a perfectly decent speech, and I think he’s an impressive man. And if I lived in New York, I would vote for him. But I think they just, it doesn’t seem he’s seemed to have quite adjusted the way he could to this moment in terms of really waking people up and saying this is it, this is the choice, we can save the country from Hillary Clinton, and here’s how I’m going to do it.
HH: Here is one of the openings I think he will be using if indeed he is the nominee. I’m not sure that Donald Trump is as well-equipped as Ted Cruz is, or John Kasich, to use this moment, because as debates go on, candidates become weaker, because their energy level falls. Near the end of the debate, Hillary let loose with this whopper, cut number 12:
HRC: People who believe that Roe V. Wade is settled law, and Citizens United needs to be overturned.
HH: And so stop right there. So she’s talking about Merrick Garland. She said I’m going to appoint people, and I want you to hear it very carefully, she’s going to appoint justices who do two things, cut number…
HRC: …to the Supreme Court who are people who believe that Roe V. Wade is settled law, and Citizens United needs to be overturned.
HH: So Bill Kristol, she has not one, but two litmus tests, and she has a view of the Constitution and the Court which is that it is malleable, the former, and the latter is an agent of her change of the Constitution. Ted Cruz ought to be able to take that argument apart. It’s so unprincipled.
BK: Total, you know, court judges as legislators, and here we are, Ted Cruz is a member of the United States Senate engaged in the direct refusal to votes on Merrick Garland’s nomination at this point, because it’s so important to the future of the Court and the future of our Constitution. You’re right. I mean, one thing that’s funny about this campaign, I don’t know if you’ve bene struck by this, Hugh, is they’re not really giving the kinds of old-fashioned policy speeches, stump speeches they used to give, and there are reasons for that. And those speeches for themselves, a little artificial, and maybe, you know, other people helped them write them, and maybe they didn’t mean much. But I don’t know. I think if Ted Cruz had at some point, if he gave at some point a 30 minute speech on the Court and the Constitution, and then, obviously, it would be out there, and you know, we’d all be looking at it, we could quote from it and stuff. I think it would have some effect, again, in jarring people to the seriousness of the race. I guess that’s what I think Cruz really needs to do now. He needs to say I understand why a lot of you find Donald entertaining. I understand how frustrated a lot of you are. But we’ve really got to be serious about this election. We’ve got to win it, first of all, which Donald can’t do, and we’ve got to govern and get this country back on track, Constitutionally, and in a lot of other ways, something Donald just doesn’t show much interest in.
HH: That’s certainly partly the part of a process-driven narrative that obsesses, you know, we’re counting to 1,237. I actually think he’s got to get more than that because of disappearing delegates, delegates who will not show up, though they are bound to Donald Trump. They’re going to find themselves trapped in their hotel. They’re going to find themselves sick for the day. You know, they don’t get to count if they don’t show up. And so I think that Trump’s got a very, very narrow path. And we’re all paying attention to that sort of stuff. In fact, over at Politico this morning, there is a story of a member of the RNC talking about rewriting the rules. This is a sign of a toxic thing. Reince is very afraid of this, Reince Priebus, about rewriting the rules. Bill Kristol, what do you think? I think they ought to embrace a transparent conversation about what the rules are, and why they will change, if they change, as opposed to springing something on someone, that it’s better to do it all out in front right now, up front, early.
BK: Oh, I agree, and look, it’s not like they can keep anything secret. And it is all going to be up front. There’ll be a Rules Committee meeting for a week or two before the convention. The RNC, Republican National Committee Rules Committee. They will then hand the baton off to the convention rules committee. And then at that point, the convention rules committee and the convention delegates are sovereign. They can change the rules as they wish, or not. They can embrace the RNC rules. They can make modifications. They’ll have to make some modifications, I think, if, for example, Trump and Cruz were to deadlock, therefore it’s going to allow other people to be put in nomination. There are a lot of things that you could argue should be changed. But anyway, I very much agree that the whole thing needs to be kind of de-mystified, and Trump is being ridiculous when he says the system is rigged. On the other hand, some of the defenders of the system are being kind of too cute and too coy when they say hey, we might spring a surprise, and you know, in Cleveland. That’s also ridiculous. One thing about Trump’s claim about rigging, though, I mean, which is silly. These rules have been in place, and really, I’d say if you look at the way major parties work and major organizations work, it’s pretty honestly, and pretty transparently enforced over the last several months. I mean, if you just look state by state, it’s a complicated process, a lot of people involved, a lot of volunteers in these districts and state conventions. But it seems like the outcomes have been what the delegates at the relevant conventions wanted. And of course, they’re almost mostly bound on the first ballot in terms of popular results. But just as a simple matter, Donald Trump’s getting about 37.5% of the popular vote, and has about 46-47% of the delegates. That’s fine. There’s some winner-take-all primaries. Even the ones that aren’t winner-take-all on the Republican side are a little tilted towards the frontrunner in various ways. Those are the rules. No one’s complained about it. Ted Cruz hasn’t said hey, Donald Trump should just have 37% of the delegates, not 47%. But if anything, Trump’s delegate strength overstates his popular strength.
HH: Now a last question, Bill Kristol. If Ted Cruz is the winner on a second or third, Charles Krauthammer, many people, I believe you agree, he’s got one and done. But you have 20 seconds. Who should Ted Cruz put on a ticket with him? And should he announce it and most of his cabinet early/
BK: I don’t know if he should announce it early. I can argue going young, as you were saying – Nikki Haley, Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton. I could argue going retired General officers – Jim Mattis or John Kelley. It’s a very dangerous world out there, and great retired four stars who would be terrific, I think, in helping Ted Cruz think through the national security challenges.
HH: Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard, always a pleasure, thank you, Bill.
End of interview.