William Kristol on the Future of the GOP

Monday, 27 Jan 2014 06:57 AM

By Robert Feinberg

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During the run-up to the State of the Union address and the opening of the 2014 congressional session, with the parties holding their winter meetings, William Kristol appeared on C-SPAN's Washington Journal on Jan. 23 to talk about the future of the Republican Party with host Pedro Echevarria.

I have thought of Kristol as the single best Republican strategist in the post-Rove era and for a time thought that if there was any way out of the mess in which the party has been mired, Kristol would find it.

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Echevarria asked what the main topic should be for the party going forward, and Kristol replied, simply, the elections of 2014 and 2016, because the focus of parties is always to win elections. The Republicans want to win the Senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016.

Asked about the ideas that are in the forefront, Kristol observed that at the end of the day, the party has a large pool of candidates, who differ from the run of Bush, Dole, McCain and Romney, although Kristol hastened to say he voted for all of them. However, a generational change is taking place.

Echevarria pointed to some competitive primary races, and Kristol allowed that "a lot of fighting, pulling and hauling is taking place." He emphasized that he is comfortable with contested primaries and believes the party benefits from having two or three credible candidates, because this shows health and energy in the party. Granted that donors hate this and prefer to "clear the field for their favored candidates," he recalled that Marco Rubio upset the favored Charlie Crist in Florida, Ted Cruz upset the favored David Dewhurst in Texas and Mike Lee defeated the sitting senator Bob Bennett in Utah. Kristol found these outcomes preferable to taking whoever is "next in line" in the party establishment.

Asked to comment on Gov. Chris Christie as the presumed front-runner in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, Kristol pleaded that he is not good at projecting trends and asserted that "facts matter," as scandals and missteps pop up between now and the elections. A cautionary tale is the memory of the reaction in the first Bush White House when Mario Cuomo, whose plane was gassed up and ready to begin a primary bid in 1992 dropped out, and the White House was pleased and confident about the prospect of running against Bill Clinton. He suggested that while the media have touted Christie, there are a lot of potential candidates, and this is good.

Asked by an audience member how the Republicans will deal with signs of low public confidence in the party, Kristol pointed to the 2016 campaign as the real test and to the success the party has enjoyed at the state level. The always-optimistic Kristol took comfort in the fact that the government shutdown is over, so that Obamacare is now in the forefront.

However, he warned that the party still has chances "to mess up" the debt ceiling and immigration. He advised that Republicans do a deal on the debt ceiling despite the inclusion of an insurance bailout, and that they wait to deal with immigration until after the 2014 election.

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(Archived video can be found here.) http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/317287-5

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