Why Bill Kristol and the Republican elites simply don't get it

The ever-polite Bill Kristol tweeted:

Well, good heavens! President Trump, why he was just mean to the Democrats! I mean, he wasn’t oh-so-civilized, like when then-Senator Barack Hussein Obama (D-IL) said that President Bush was “unpatriotic”, or when they said that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), the 2012 Republican Vice Presidential nominee, wanted to push granny off the cliff!

Dr Kristol was born into privilege, the son of Irving Kristol, once the managing editor of Commentary, one of the New York Intellectuals, a Trotskiite group, but who later became one of the first neo-conservatives. Bill Kristol first attended the tony Collegiate School, a Manhattan prep school for the well-to-do (current tuition: $49,800 per year, K-12), before matriculating at Harvard, from which he was graduated in 1973, and later earned his PhD in 1979. Dr Kristol then taught at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He was an Ivy Leaguer, through and through. He served as chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle for his entire four year term.

Following the Republican victories in the 1994 election, John Podhoretz and he founded the neo-conservative journal The Weekly Standard,¹ of which he was the editor for 21 years, and remains an ‘editor at large.’

Dr Kristol has made a life and a career out of civility, having worked for the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and with George Stephanopoulos, the former communications director for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, and later as White House Communications Director.

The neo-conservatives, having been originally an American left splinter group which remained socially fairly liberal, but opposed to the pacifism and defeatism of the core left, Dr Kristol has many, many friends among the Democrats. He gets along famously with everyone. Indeed, with his comment describing the GOP under President Trump as “a once decent and principled political party,” he reminds me of the go-along-to-get-along Republicans like former Senators Hugh Scott and Everett Dirksen, who were unfailingly polite, and led a GOP which maintained what seemed to be a permanent minority status. They were, in effect, Democrats Lite.

It was House Minority leader Newt Gingrich who started the change. An aggressive bomb thrower, Mr Gingrich led the way to a hostile Republican takeover of both Houses of Congress in the 1994 elections, by adopting the hard, confrontational posture that was needed to push the voters away from their long-time acceptance of the Democratic Party. Alas! Mr Gingrich’s political mistake in pushing the impeachment of President Clinton, a move that everyone knew would not result in his removal from office,² led to GOP losses in the 1998 elections, and he resigned as Speaker of the House.

In 2008, the very decent Senator John McCain (R-AZ) did not fight very hard — at one point, he suspended his campaign — and Senator Obama, who was willing to fight, trounced him. In 2012, former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) was very much a decent and principled opponent, so much so that he could be excoriated for the secretly taped 47%’ comment which was used to hammer him down, and he, too, joined the ranks of defeated presidential candidates.

In 2016, Donald Trump was not polite, he was not a decent and principled opponent. Rather, he was a fighter, even responding to pinpricks that any other politician would simply have ignored. And, unlike Messrs McCain and Romney, he did not join the ranks of defeated presidential candidates. Instead, he did what Republicans, and not a few independents, wanted most of all, which was keep Her Inevitableness, Hillary Clinton, a private citizen. In an election in which Mrs Clinton was not only supposed to win in a landslide, but lead the way to flipping the Senate to Democratic control. Dr Kristol himself stated that Mr Trump’s nomination would result in “an independent candidate — an impressive one, with a strong team and a real chance.”

The real reason that virtually all of the pundits were wrong? The reason that even, even today, Dr Kristol does not and cannot understand President Trump and the Republican Party? While they ‘know’ that Mr Trump is a fighter, they really don’t understand what a fighter really is. Men like Dr Kristol, who has never had callouses on his hands, who has never had to work out in the cold of winter or the boiling heat of summer, who has never had to pick himself up after a loss, never worried about which bill to pay first, electric or water, to keep one from getting shut off, could never really understand that people do sometimes lose, and have to pick themselves up again, and resume the struggle. To people like Dr Kristol, failure has never been a problem, and even possible losses in business would never mean real personal loss for them. Had The Weekly Standard been a business failure, Dr Kristol would have been disappointed, but he still would not have been poor.

But the people who voted for Mr Trump, in both the primaries and general election,³ do understand fighting, because they’ve had to fight for most of their lives. The working class men and women in this country have bitter experience in having to pick themselves off the ground, from being laid off or fired, from having some sort of financial catastrophe wipe out their savings, and the elites who told us that Mr Trump had no chance simply have not had these experiences; such are wholly outside of their paradigm.

Dr Kristol is not a stupid man; no one can whiz through Harvard and be graduated, magna cum laude, in just three years, and not both intelligent and hard working. But he has failed to understand something very simple: the Republican Party is not an organization in which the elites can just tell the great mass of the voters what to do, and (reasonably) expect them to just follow along. If that were the case, former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) would have been the GOP presidential nominee, after which he’d quite possibly have lost to Mrs Clinton in the general election.

Dr Kristol was the ‘villain’ I used for this article, but he was just a convenient target on which to base it. His frequent tweets expressing his disgust with what the Republican Party has become, due to the voters — though that isn’t how he expresses it — make him an easy foil, but he is just one among many who think the same way, who simply cannot — or refuse to — understand that the working-class voters can and do think differently from the elites.
¹ – Full disclosure: Though no longer the case, I have previously subscribed to both Commentary and The Weekly Standard. Both were excellent journals, but, to be blunt, the internet has made subscriptions unnecessary.
² – Republicans should be grateful that it failed; I would imagine that, in a time of prosperity, President Al Gore might have managed an additional 600 votes in Florida than Vice President Gore was able to earn in the 2000 election.
³ – I did not support Mr Trump in either the Pennsylvania primary (I voted for Ted Cruz, even though by then it was obvious that Mr Trump would win the nomination) or the general election (I voted for Libertarian candidate Governor Gary Johnson).
Cross-posted on The First Street Journal.