Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol on the GOP field, and Barack Obama’s intransigence on bad economic ideas
HH: I’m joined right now by the editor of the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol. Bill, welcome back, I hope you’re ready for a fun-filled fall in the capitol city.
BK: I am, Hugh. And we’re looking forward to it.
HH: Let me begin with the obvious story. The President is attempting to Bigfoot the GOP debate, getting pushed back by Boehner, and settling for competing with the NFL pre-show. Does he come out of this looking good, bad, indifferent? Does it matter?
BK: It probably doesn’t matter, but I think a little bit of incompetence, and of course they got expectations every higher of the speech as a result of this little flap, which got it some publicity yesterday and today. And it’s hard for me to believe he’s going to live up to those expectations. I was there, sadly, in the first Bush White House, and not sadly, because we did some good things, but nonetheless, we weren’t a very competent reelection team, that’s for sure. And we spent all the fall of 1991 hyping the state of the union speech, that’s when the President was going to lay out, the first President Bush, was going to lay out his economic recovery program. And it fizzled, and it ended up actually hurting badly, because it gave Buchanan a shot in the arm in the primaries, and then Perot took off. I don’t think quite the same will happen to Obama, but he’s, it’s not the way I would have handled the fall rollout.
HH: Bill Kristol, what can he possibly propose on the jobs front? What do you…a second stimulus? Would he be trying to set up a Harry Truman-like do-nothing Congress campaign theme?
BK: He could propose letting people unlock their IRA’s, all the money that’s in their IRA’s, and use them for mortgage, to pay down mortgages.
BK: And pay for education expenses. I’ve heard that idea somewhere.
HH: (laughing) Yeah.
BK: You know, one thing about Obama that’s funny, it’s your idea, obviously, one thing about him is that he seems utterly unable or unwilling to learn or to adjust. I’ve got to say, it’s unusual for a president, I think, not to react or adjust to reality, and to just for pragmatic, almost self-interested point of view, say you know what, my kind of ideas aren’t working, maybe I should take a look. What’s the harm, frankly, for looking at some ideas that have been floated by conservatives or by Republicans? I mean, if they don’t work so well, he’ll say I bent over backwards to be bipartisan, and this conservative stuff doesn’t work. If they do work, he’ll get credit. He’ll be the president. He will have proposed it. But instead, he’s got this new, Alan Krueger’s coming on, another Ivy League economist. Is there anyone in this administration who’s ever run a little business, or a growing business, or hired anyone? It’s really kind of unbelievable.
HH: Yeah, it would be, you’re absolutely right about…if he were to call Paul Ryan and Jon Kyl down to the White House and say give me your three best things, and then announce he was going to try them, the Congress would have no choice but to pass them. And then whatever happened, he either gets the credit exactly like you said for being open and forward thinking, or he doesn’t get the blame. But I don’t think he’s got that in him, Bill Kristol.
BK: I don’t think so, and they’re surprisingly intimidated by the left wing of their own party. But I can’t believe they really think that’s a problem. I agree. Think of that. Call Ryan down, call Jon Kyl down, and just say give me three ideas. I’m going to pick one or two that I think are the best, and I’m going to match them with one or two of my ideas, and I’m going to present them as a package. I mean, it would be very tough for the Congress not to go along.
BK: And instead, he’s going to, I assume, recycle pretty tired ideas. And I can’t believe most of them will get enacted into law. And if they do, I don’t think, unfortunately, they won’t do much for the economy.
HH: Now let me ask you about taking political hats off for a second and saying the Gang of 12 gets together, and they start getting bigger and bigger and bigger in terms of their ambitions, and they throw not just deficits, but tax reform, and not just tax reform, but regulatory reform, and even on top of that, immigration reform, so that there are enough moving parts that everyone gets something. Maybe a sales tax, maybe a reduction in the corporate tax rate as well as spending control. If a big deal comes out like that, could anyone dare oppose it?
BK: Yes, I think so, because I just think this is a democracy, and it’s frustrating the way Congress works sometimes, but there’s a reason we have things called committees, and we mark up legislation, and people get to offer amendments. The idea that we’re going to make fundamental, huge changes even in tax policy and spending policy, let alone immigration and everything else on an up or down vote, it’s one thing to close a few military bases on an up or down vote of a commission recommendation. It’s another thing to fundamentally change big areas of public policy. I think that’s, I think there’d be a lot of resistance to that.
HH: You know, I’m surprised by that answer from you, Bill Kristol, because of course Constitutionally, there’s nothing wrong with what they’re proposing, because the rules of the House and the Senate are not provided for. And it just seems to me to be a way around, almost like the feeling that arrived after 9/11, when legislation flew out of the Congress in order to get the national security apparatus brought up to speed and re-modernized. Here, we’re talking about the fiscal policy, maybe the immigration policy of the United States.
BK: Well, I mean, look. I’d look at it on the merits. I do think it’s a mistake for conservatives, I’m not a fan of the so-called supercommittee, and I’m worried about it. I think the odds are more likely that it will do harm than good, but obviously, people can’t be dogmatic about it ahead of time. You have to see what the proposal is. But if they make a serious budget proposal, there has to be time to study them and evaluate them, and do due diligence on them, and not rush it to the floor in 48 hours and have some up or down vote.
HH: All right, let’s talk about the political side now. Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin in that order. What do you make of Rick Perry’s introduction to the national electorate, and the mainstream media’s reaction to him?
BK: It’s the best launch of a presidential campaign, I think, that I can remember, that we can remember, isn’t it, a guy who wasn’t going to run two, three months ago, who was, you know, 9, 10, 12% in the polls, probably, the week before he announced, is now pretty much the unequivocal Republican frontrunner, and is holding his own, is even or maybe a little better against President Obama. It’s pretty darn impressive, and of course, the mainstream media is…and the guy has been governor of Texas for ten years. He’s never lost, I think, a race. He’s defeated a sitting Republican Senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, in a tough primary when she was endorsed by the whole Bush team, et cetera. And the reaction in the mainstream media to this extremely launch of a guy who is a governor of the second-largest state, which has an excellent job growth record, the reaction in the mainstream media is the guy is a theocrat, the guy is a lunatic, he’s, you know, what a disaster for the Republican Party. But I think, actually, you can see the panic. I don’t believe it when they say the Republicans…they don’t believe he’s weak. Why would they be attacking him if he were weak? If he were weak, they’d be welcoming his march to the nomination. They’d be patting him on the head. They’re scared of him. I mean, that’s what’s been happening in Washington and New York over the last two weeks, total panic at the fact that a tough, able politician, who’s a pretty conservative guy, may emerge and take the Republican nomination.
HH: And very charismatic as well. Now the person who is also panicked is Michele Bachmann. Her superpac released this ad today, which I want to play for you, Bill Kristol, from the Michele Bachmann superpac.
AD: Rick Perry says he’s one tough hombre on spending. “Number one is don’t spend all the money.” But what’s his record? Rick Perry doubled spending in a decade. And this year, Rick Perry’s spending more money than the state takes in, covering his deficits with record borrowing. And he’s supposed to be the Tea Party guy? There is an honest conservative, and she’s not Rick Perry. Paid for and authorized by Keep Conservatives United.
HH: Now Bill Kristol, I love the smell of Ed Rollins in the morning.
BK: You know, I just thought of the name Ed Rollins the moment you said it, too.
BK: That’s pathetic, I think, honestly.
HH: It is.
BK: 95% of the people who admire Michele Bachmann are well disposed to Rick Perry, and vice versa. And I would count myself among those, and Mitt Romney, too, for that matter. The last thing people want to see before Labor Day is negative attack ads, and pretty substance-free negative attack ads, I would say, by one conservative on another. I think it’s really a huge mistake for Michele Bachmann. Her brand, if I can use that term, which I don’t like, but let’s say why she’s interesting and attractive to people, is that she’s new, she’s different, she says what she believes, she’s a citizen politician. And here she is doing the most kind of hackneyed, silly attack ad on another conservative.
HH: Yeah, she’s upbeat, she’s always been ready to walk into a fray and smile when you say that…
HH: …and to take on Chris Matthews…
HH: …or in the case of Tim Pawlenty. And I know the superpac isn’t controlled by Team Bachmann, but I’ve got to wonder if Ed Rollins got into the water over at this place, because this is just, I 100% agree with you. All right, Mitt Romney, what’s your, let’s say you’re inside the campaign room, you’re talking to Eric Fehrnstrom or one of the other brain trust over at Romney central. How do you advise them to proceed over the next two months vis-à-vis Rick Perry?
BK: Honestly, I think Romney has a good base of support. Rick Perry is not going to drive him out of the race the next two or three months. There’s no need to panic. There’s no voting until February. Make his case. He’s been coasting. That was maybe a clever, strategic decision for a while, or keeping a low profile. Then it turned out maybe not to be so clever the last three or four weeks, but you know, you can’t micromanage the tactics of a campaign. He needs to make serious, substantive speeches, say what he would do as president. I think again, even for him, this little bit of oh, I’m not a career politician, it just looks silly. I mean, if he had won against Ted Kennedy in 1994, and I was rooting for him, he would have been in office now for, you know, 17 years. I mean, no one’s going to vote for Romney against Perry because one of them was in office, and one of them lost and was in business. It’s going to be about what their governing agendas are the country.
HH: Okay, and last question, both of them have been attacked for their religious beliefs, Bill Keller in the New York Times, Dana Milbank.
HH: This is very dangerous stuff, Bill Kristol. Does the elite media not know what they’re playing with? Or do they not care?
BK: I think they’re so ignorant…I was talking with Mark Hemmingway in our office about this today, who knows a lot about this. They’re so ignorant about religion, they don’t know how stupid they sound and how bigoted they sound. So Bill Keller, he’s editor of the New York Times, or was until very recently. Rick’s labeled a potential whacko Evangelical, I can’t remember what term he used, a bunch of Evangelicals, far right Evangelicals, that includes Rick Santorum.
BK: …a serious and devout Catholic.
BK: I mean, you know, you just don’t even know where to begin with these guys. But it’s real bigotry.
HH: It is, and deeply ingrained, and unrecognized, which means it’s the real thing. Bill Kristol, thank you, my friend, from www.weeklystandard.com, the editor himself.
End of interview.