Bill Kristol

Republican “Survivor”: A Proposal for Culling the G.O.P. Field

Voters (and viewers) can’t be expected to take fifteen or twenty Republican primary candidates seriously.

Voters (and viewers) can’t be expected to take fifteen or twenty Republican primary candidates seriously. CREDIT PHOTOGRAPH BY ANDREW HARRER/BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY


A couple of weeks ago, I was driving along the Belt Parkway, listening to Sean Hannity’s radio show, when the right-wing commentator said something that surprised me about the ever-expanding field of Republican primary candidates. This is getting ridiculous, Hannity complained—how are they all supposed to fit on the same stage for a debate?

Hannity’s fears have proved to be well grounded. On Wednesday, the former senator Rick Santorum, who had been the runner-up to Mitt Romney in the 2012 G.O.P. primary, announced his candidacy. On Thursday, it will be the turn of George Pataki, the former governor of New York. Who knows whom Friday will bring? Lindsey Graham? Rick Perry? Donald Trump? Herman (999) Cain? Ted Nugent?

Here, in alphabetical order, are the eight Republican candidates who, by Thursday, will be officially running: Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Pataki, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Santorum. Then there are Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, two front-runners who have all but announced that they are in. Currently in the “exploratory” stage, we have Graham, Trump, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, and the benighted Chris Christie. That makes fifteen, with other outlying possibilities, too.

The number turns out to be too high for Roger Ailes, Hannity’s boss at Fox News. The network (along with Facebook) is set to host the first televised G.O.P. debate, in Cleveland, on August 6th, and it has said that it intends to limit participation to the top ten candidates in the polls, plus those who are tied. “It was a difficult call based on political necessity,” Howard Kurtz, the veteran media reporter, who now works for Fox, explained in a post on Tuesday. “With 17 or 18 Republicans gearing up to run, you simply can’t have a viable debate with all of them. Each candidate would receive a miniscule amount of time. No sustained questioning would be possible. And it would be bad television.”

Not everyone associated with the Republican Party is happy about Fox’s decision. Appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Wednesday, Bill Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, accused Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, of colluding with Fox to cull the field prematurely. “There are fourteen candidates who are serious people,” Kristol said (doubtless prompting a protest call from Trump). “I think they all deserve to be on the stage.” He proposed that they have two debates, with the candidates split up randomly. “Republicans would be interested. They wouldn’t turn off the TV halfway through.”

Kristol raises a good point. If Fox applied its proposed criteria on the basis of current polling data collated by Real Clear Politics, Santorum, who won eleven state primaries in 2012, would barely make the cut. Fiorina, the only female candidate, who has reportedly impressed Republican audiences in Iowa and New Hampshire, would miss out. So would Graham, Jindal, and Kasich, all experienced elected officials. That doesn’t seem fair, or even particularly democratic. So what to do?

The G.O.P. needs a procedure that affords all of the candidates an opportunity to impress while also acknowledging that voters (and viewers) can’t be expected to take all fifteen or twenty candidates seriously. One solution might be to turn the early stages of the G.O.P. primary into a version of “Survivor,” the long-running reality-television series.

Here’s how it could work. Following Kristol’s suggestion, Fox and Facebook would hold two debates on August 6th, with the candidates drawing lots to decide whether they appeared on the first or the second one. Each would receive the same amount of airtime, and the questions in the two debates would be broadly similar.

For the second debate, which CNN is scheduled to host from the Reagan Library, in Simi Valley, on September 16th, things would be different. A limit of twelve candidates would be imposed. Rather than follow the “Survivor” template literally, and have the candidates themselves decide who gets to appear at the debate and who doesn’t, it would be best to rely on surveys of likely Republican voters. The top dozen candidates in the poll of polls on September 9th, a week before the debate, would make the cut; everybody else would miss out. I’d leave it to the network executives and the R.N.C. to decide whether this debate would need to be split in two, like the first one. (CNN has suggested an alternative format for its event, using the full slate of candidates, in which the top ten candidates appear in one debate and the rest in another.)

The winnowing process wouldn’t end there. For the third debate, which will take place in October, there would be another cut, to ten candidates, with the poll of polls again deciding who is invited. And for the fourth debate, in November, there would be a final cut, to eight candidates.

By that stage, the G.O.P.’s Iowa caucus would be on the horizon—it’s now slated for February 2nd, but may well move up a bit—and the field might be starting to narrow of its own accord, regardless. But for now, and for the next few months, there are too many candidates, and some way of treating them equitably needs to be found.

My solution perhaps isn’t the best. Quite probably, it would favor candidates who have raised enough money to launch advertising campaigns and boost their poll numbers—but the current system does that anyway. Another possible objection is that focussing attention on the minor players would blur the message of the front-runners. I doubt that would happen. Bush, Rubio, and Walker would still get the bulk of the media’s attention.

On the upside, shifting to the “Survivor” model would afford everyone an opportunity, and it would inject a bit of excitement into the race early on. Over to you, Reince!

John Cassidy

Kos’ Sunday Talk – December 21, 2014

Daily Kos

Meet The Press: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL); Others TBD.

Face The Nation: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL); Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC); Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD); Jeffrey Goldberg (The Atlantic).

This Week: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL); Roundtable: Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D), Bill Kristol (Weekly Standard), Republican Strategist Ana Navarro and Cokie Roberts (ABC News).

Fox News Sunday: Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI); Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI)’; Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD); Roundtable: George Will (Washington Post), Judy Woodruff (PBS), Sociopath Liz Cheney and Juan Williams (Fox News).

State of the Union: President Barack Obama; Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

GOP’s Obamacare Nightmare Is Coming True: It’s Working


AP Photo / Carolyn Kaster


The politics of the health care law have undergone a sea change since its disastrous rollout last fall, when many conservative operatives were salivating at the prospect of a GOP wave in the midterm elections due to an Obamacare “train wreck.”

But the train never wrecked. The law rebounded, surpassing its signups goal and withstanding a flurry of attacks. The issue seems to have mostly lost its power as a weapon against Democrats, and a growing number of Republican governors — even in conservative states — are warming to a core component of Obamacare, the Medicaid expansion.

To get a sense of why this is worrying for Republicans in the long run, look no further than conservative strategist Bill Kristol’s 1993 memo — “Defeating President Clinton’s Health Care Proposal” — warning that reform would paint Democrats as “the generous protector of middle-class interests” and strike a “punishing blow” to the GOP’s anti-government ideology.

“But the long-term political effects of a successful Clinton health care bill will be even worse — much worse. It will relegitimize middle-class dependence for ‘security’ on government spending and regulation. It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraining government,” Kristol wrote.

In other words, the real fear back then was that health care reform would succeed.

Two decades later, Kristol’s prophecy is haunting Republicans. Obamacare has provided a lifeline by providing coverage to 8 million people on the exchanges, 7 million under Medicaid expansion and 5 million who bought insurance outside the exchanges but benefit from new regulations like the coverage guarantee for individuals with preexisting conditions. Even Republicans in deeply conservative states are suggesting that the popular new benefits cannot be taken away, even if the Obamacare brand still struggles.

The shift has been crystallized in contentious Senate races this fall. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recently signaled that Kentuckians benefiting from the state’sObamacare exchange and Medicaid expansion should be able to keep their coverage. Senate GOP candidates Joni Ernst of Iowa, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Scott Brown of New Hampshire and Terri Lynn Land of Michigan have all refused to call for rolling back Medicaid expansion in their states. The number of television ads attacking the law have plummeted in key battleground states since April, and now even vulnerable Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas is touting his vote for protecting Americans with preexisting conditions under Obamacare.

But even if the Obamacare attacks are fading, Republicans remain poised to make gains in the midterms due to a variety of structural advantages. They continue to oppose Obamacare as a whole, and point out that Americans still react negatively when asked about the law.

“Ensuring that people with preexisting conditions have access to coverage has long been a popular policy, and one where there is bipartisan agreement. It’s the the entirety of ObamaCare that remains EXTREMELY unpopular,” Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, told TPM in an email.

Conservative health-policy experts have argued that Obamacare cannot be repealed without a viable alternative to fix broken parts of the system, but Republicans have failed to come up with one that the party can unite behind.

These are signs that Obamacare is weaving into the fabric of American culture and that the dream of repealing or unwinding it is fading. The massive health care industry is adapting to the post-Obamacare world and fears of double-digit hikes in premiums are fading: early datasuggest the prices for benchmark “silver” plans in 2015 are poised to decline slightly.

“We don’t yet have data for all states, but from these 15 states plus DC I think we can start to see a pattern emerging,” Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said in an email. “In general, changes in premiums for the low-cost plans in the marketplaces are quite modest, and actually decreasing in many places.”

Stability in premiums means “government costs for premium subsidies … are under control, which is good news for taxpayers,” Levitt said.

In the courts, an ongoing conservative lawsuit to cripple Obamacare suffered a major setbacklast week when a federal appeals court vacated a ruling that would have blocked subsidies in 36 states. Legal experts say the full court is likely to uphold the subsidies when a panel with a majority of Democratic-appointed judges re-hears the case.

For Democrats, the dream scenario was that Obamacare would eventually join Social Security and Medicare as an unassailable feature of the American safety net. Like those other major programs, Obamacare won’t be without its share of problems — cost uncertainties for automatically-renewed plans among them. But after more than 50 House votes to repeal or dismantle the law, few could have predicted that Republicans would start warming up to central pieces of the law within a year of its rollout.

(Photos by the Associated Press)

Kristol, Navarro: ‘Nobody of Relevance’ Is Talking Impeachment

Bill Kristol and GOP strategist Ana Navarro (Screen shots)


In an on-air subtweeting Sarah PalinWeekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and GOP strategistAna Navarro dismissed the talk of impeaching President Barack Obama bubbling up on the right, arguing that it was limited to the irrelevant fringes, while GOP leadership is focused on House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) lawsuit against the president.

“No responsible elected official has called for impeachment,” Kristol said. “The Republican task is to elect a Republican Senate and elect a Republican president in 2016, not create a phony issue which allows Democrats to make Republicans look extreme.”

“Nobody of responsibility, nobody in leadership, nobody of relevance has talked about impeachment,” Navarro said. “The lawsuit is about constitutional powers and separation of powers. So can we stick to talking about what people who actually can make something happen say, as opposed to what what folks who want to make headlines say?”

Besides, Kristol added, “One problem with [impeachment] is you’d just get Joe Biden as president.”

Watch the clip below, via ABC News:

The right’s unhinged Bergdahl hypocrisy: The ultimate way to savage Obama

The right’s unhinged Bergdahl hypocrisy: The ultimate way to savage Obama

Bill Kristol, Bowe Bergdahl (Credit: AP/Janet Van Ham/Reuters)

Salon – Joan Walsh

Of course Republicans are going to compare the prisoner swap that won the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to Benghazi. They both start with B. It leads to their favorite words that start with I: investigation, and possibly impeachment.

The ridiculous Andrew McCarthy, flacking his new book making the case for Obama’s impeachment, of course finds more fodder in the prisoner transfer. Tuesday morning he was joined by Fox News “legal analyst” Andrew Napolitano and a man who couldn’t even hold on to a Congressional seat for a second term, Allen West. The shift to Bergdahl reflects growing concern that the right’s Benghazi dishonesty isn’t working with voters. Even conservative analysts have chided colleagues for Benghazi over-reach. Sure, Trey Gowdy will continue with his election year partisan witch hunt, but the right is wagering the Bergdahl story might hurt Obama more.

The anti-Bergdahl hysteria plays into six years of scurrilous insinuation that Obama is a secret Muslim who either supports or sympathizes with our enemies. Even “moderate” Mitt Romney, you’ll recall, claimed the president’s “first response” to the 2012 Benghazi attack “was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” This is just the latest chapter.

The partisan opportunism over the Bergdahl deal shouldn’t be surprising, but it is, a little bit. This wasn’t some wild radical idea of the Obama administration; it was driven by the Defense Department and signed on to by intelligence agencies. Although Congress is claiming it wasn’t given the requisite 30 days notice of a prisoner transfer (more on that later), this deal or something very much like it has been in the works for at least two years, with plenty of Congressional consultation.

And plenty of partisan demagoguery: in 2012 the late Michael Hastings reported that the White House was warned by Congressional Republicans that a possible deal for the five Taliban fighters would be political suicide in an election year – a “Willie Horton moment,” in the words of an official responsible for working with Congress on the deal. In the end, though, Hastings reported that even Sen. John McCain ultimately approved the deal; it fell apart when the Taliban balked.

Two years later, the right’s official talking points are mixed: Some critics focus on rumors (buttressed by Hastings’ own sympathetic reporting on Bergdahl) that he was a soldier disillusioned by the Afghan war who deserted his post. Wrong-way Bill Kristol has dismissed him as a deserter not worth rescuing, while Kristol’s most prominent contribution to politics, Sarah Palin, has been screeching on her Facebook wall about Bergdahl’s “horrid anti-American beliefs.”

But missing and captured soldiers have never had to undergo a character check before being rescued by their government. Should they now face trial by Bill Kristol before we decide whether to rescue them? Is Sarah Palin going to preside over a military death panel for captured soldiers suspected of inadequate dedication to the war effort?

Other Republicans accuse the president of breaking the long-standing rule against “negotiating with terrorists” to free hostages. They’re wrong on two counts: The U.S. has frequently negotiated with “terrorists,” to free hostages and for other reasons. President Carter negotiated with the Iranians who held Americans in the Tehran embassy in 1979, unsuccessfully. President Reagan famously traded arms to Iran for hostages. The entire surge in Iraq was predicated on negotiating with Sunni “terrorists” who had killed American soldiers to bring them into the government and stop sectarian violence.

Besides, this isn’t a terrorist-hostage situation, it’s a prisoner of war swap, and those are even more common: President Nixon freed some North Vietnamese prisoners at the same time former POW Sen. John McCain came home from Hanoi. Even hawkish Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu traded more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit last year. Such prisoner exchanges are particularly frequent when wars are winding down, as Ken Gude explains on Think Progress.

It’s true that Bergdahl was never officially categorized as a “prisoner of war,” since the Pentagon apparently stopped using that designation years ago. But he was defined as “missing/captured,” which is essentially the same thing. And while the Taliban fighters who were released were likewise not formally designated prisoners of war, either, because of the odd, formally undeclared status of the war with Afghanistan, that’s what they were. As President Obama said Tuesday morning, “This is what happens at the end of wars.” Imagine the outrage if the president brought the troops home from Afghanistan but left Bergdahl behind.

It’s shocking to see conservatives argue that the Taliban should have the final word on an American soldier’s fate, even if he’s accused of desertion. There’s already an Army inquiry into the conditions of Bergdahl’s disappearance. “Our army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred,” the Joint Chiefs chair Martin Dempsey said Monday night. Would John McCain, for instance, deny Bergdahl the right to military justice and leave his punishment to the Taliban?

Even some Democrats who had doubts about the 2012 Bergdahl release deal, like Sen. Dianne Feinstein, support the exchange executed last weekend. “I support the president’s decision, particularly in light of Sgt. Bergdahl’s declining health. It demonstrates that America leaves no soldier behind,” she said in a statement. Former CIA director Leon Panetta opposed the earlier deal because he felt it didn’t do enough to prevent the five Taliban leaders from returning to combat; this deal holds them in Qatar for at least a year. Panetta also lauded the deal Monday night because of Bergdahl’s use to intelligence agencies.

It may be that the terms of the Bergdahl deal merit Congressional investigation, particularly about whether Congress was sufficiently consulted on the deal. Partly because of the ongoing efforts to free Bergdahl, Congress agreed to reduce its own requirements for notification of Guantanamo releases. But Obama, in a signing statement, signaled he believed even the relaxed law tied his hands, arguing that the president needed the flexibility to act quickly in certain situations when negotiating a transfer of Guantanamo prisoners. Yes it’s true that Obama and other Democrats criticized George W. Bush’s wanton use of signing statements. This one can be debated. But Republicans didn’t wail en masse over Bush’s signing statements or his national security secrecy the way they are doing now.

Congressional investigations are one thing; shrill partisan hackery is another. “There’s little that’s actually new here,” says Mitchell Reiss, a State Department official under President George W. Bush who also served as national security adviser to Mitt Romney. Reiss is right about the Bergdahl deal, but he’s wrong about the larger political atmosphere. What’s “new” here is a president who’s had his competence, his patriotism, even his very eligibility for office questioned from the outset.

Bill Kristol: Right wing attacks on Trayvon Martin ‘ridiculous’

Bill Kristol on Fox News Sunday. Screenshot via Youtube.

The Raw Story

Conservative columnist Bill Kristol criticized potential smear campaigns on Trayvon Marton from right-wing websites Sunday morning.

Appearing on his usual role as a panel guest on Fox News Sunday, Kristol did accuse the media and activists bringing more attention to the incident as those promoting “demagogugery.” But he then chastised those along his same ideological beliefs.

“It is just demagoguery,” Kristol said. “I think, mostly on the side of those who want to indict the whole society for this death, maybe very unjustified shooting of this young man. And then some counterreaction by some on the right who feel this is unjust and now weren’t going to attack Trayvon Martin, which is really ridiculous as well.”

Kristol also voice concerned over Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, questioning whether the controversial legislation is “sensible.”

WATCH: Video from Fox News, which was broadcast on April 1, 2012.

Bill Kristol concedes 2012 presidential race to Democrats

After viewing the GOP candidates, I can understand why Bill Kristol laments a likely loss to President Barack Obama.  He waxes nostalgic over what was (Ronald Reagan’s election) and what could be, in his column.  However, he concedes that 2012 will not be the year of the GOP.

But…Bill Kristol has rarely been right on his predictions.  Here’s hoping he knocks this one out of the park!

The Raw Story

In a column at the Weekly Standard website, former New York Times columnist Bill Kristol opines that “assuming that presidential field remains as it is” for the GOP, “2012 won’t be a repeat of 1980″. He is referring to the election of Ronald Reagan after Jimmy Carter’s single term in the White House.

The column itself is a semi-rhapsodic invocation of what is apparently to Kristol a sacred date, “November 4, 1980, the instant when we knew Ronald Reagan, the man who gave the speech in the lost cause of 1964, leader of the movement since 1966, derided by liberal elites and despised by the Republican establishment, the moment when we knew—he’d won, we’d won, the impossible dream was possible, the desperate gamble of modern conservatism might pay off, conservatism had a chance, America had a chance”.

Kristol quotes a passage from William Faulkner’s 1948 novel, Intruder in the Dust which says for a certain species of Southern teenager, it is permanently the eve of the battle of Gettysburg, the high-water mark of the Confederate effort in the Civil War. Kristol casts the Southern struggle in 1863 as that of the American conservative, the victory in 1980 forming a kind of bulwark in their ongoing war to win out “over decadent liberalism”.

Many on the right are dreaming that the next presidential election will return the country to Republican rule, but Kristol’s column appears to pour cold water on those hopes. “(W)e’re not going to have a chance to replay that election,” he says, with the current crop of candidates, in spite of the fact that he refers to President Obama as “an icompetent incumbet”.

These candidates are going to be the only ones the Republicans have, however. The filing deadlines for the primary elections in Florida and South Carolina were October 31 and November 1, respectively.

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Behind the Right’s Glenn Beck Backlash

The Daily Beast

Bill Kristol criticized the Fox News host’s Egypt coverage, and Rich Lowry and others are piling on. But the condemnations are unlikely to spread to the GOP mainstream—and favorites like Rush Limbaugh and Andrew Breitbart are two reasons why.

Is the right turning against Glenn Beck?

This week in Commentary, Peter Wehner became the latest conservative commentator to call out the Fox News host’s absurd ramblings. He joined Bill Kristol, who criticized Beck’s coverage of the uprising in Egypt, Rich Lowry, who piled on, and Matthew Continetti, who called Beck’s oeuvre “nonsense” last summer.

That brings us to their fellow conservative Jennifer Rubin, who writes for The Washington Post. “What should thoughtful conservatives do? I’ve said it before, but it is especially relevant here: Police their own side,” she advised this week. “Rather than reflexively rising to his defense when questioned about Beck, why don’t conservatives call him out and explain that he doesn’t represent the views of mainstream conservatives? Conservative groups and candidates should be forewarned: If they host, appear with or defend him they should be prepared to have his extremist views affixed to them.”

As a Beck critic who criticized the creepy aspects of his on-air personality even when he was touting awesome Friedrich Hayek books, I’d love to see more folks in the conservative movement adopt Rubin’s attitude. But they won’t. One reason is that it’s difficult to condemn Beck in isolation. Acknowledging that his show is indefensible—that’s the core of her critique—means confronting the fact that Fox News under Roger Ailes knowingly broadcasts factually inaccurate and egregiously misleading nonsense every day. How many conservatives are willing to stipulate that?

It also means departing from the conservative movement’s standard approach to its entertainers: It’s verboten to criticize anyone on “your own side” in an ideological conflict many see as binary.   Continue reading here…

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Kristol Calls Christine O’Donnell ‘A Bit Of A Flake’

Think Progress

Discussing the firestorm around Christine O’Donnell’s surprise victory in Delaware’s U.S. Senate GOP primary last week, Bill Kristol insisted on Fox News Sunday today that he had no problem with where O’Donnell stood on the issues. He explained that as a “fellow wing-nut” he would “agree with all the votes she would cast in the Senate” and he therefore would be inclined to vote for her if he lived in Delaware. But Kristol’s praise was fleeting. He noted that he would have voted for her establishment-picked opponent Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) in the primary because “Christine O’Donnell is a bit of a flake I think… or has been in the past.” Watch it: