A May 1 symposium sponsored by Michigan State University’s Institute for Public Policy & Social Research (IPPSR) presented a somewhat moderate take on the current state of U.S. politics, even if it was decidedly cool towards President Donald Trump.
The Kellogg Center discussion was entitled “The First 100 Days of the Administration.” Featured were neoconservative commentator Bill Kristol, founder of The Weekly Standard magazine, and Ron Fournier, the newly-installed editor of Crain’s Detroit Business. Zoe Clark of Michigan Public Radio was the moderator before a scattered crowd of roughly 80 attendees.
Fournier referred to Trump at one point as the “most dishonest” politician he has ever encountered. Kristol was more restrained than he was on the “Detroit Today” program earlier in the day, when he called the election of Trump “a regression to various forms of populism and pseudo-conservatism and even authoritariansim.” In February, Kristol told the American Enterprise Institute that he considered white working Americans, considered to be the backbone of Trump’s support, to be “decadent, lazy and spoiled” and Kristol applauded their replacement by immigrants.
Neoconservatism is notable for its promotion of democracy and American national interest in foreign affairs, particularly with respect to Israel, including use of military force and disdain for communism and political radicalism. Neoconservatism was considered a driving force behind President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. Conservative critics have described neoconservatism as a “globalist, interventionist, open borders ideology” and questioned whether in fact it is really a “conservative” philosophy at all.
The Ballenger Report (TBR) sat down with Kristol for a brief interview before the IPPSR forum. Here is how it went:
TBR: So, what about those first 100 days of the Trump administration?
Kristol: They’re only 7% of the first term of a President — you can’t draw many conclusions from that. How have things gone so far? Not particularly well, but not disastrous. In foreign policy, which was always my greatest concern about Donald Trump, I have been somewhat reassured by the replacement on Day 27 of Michael Flynn with H.R. McMaster as the National Security Advisor. That was such a huge upgrade from my point of view … I worked in the White House, and I can tell you this is an extremely important job — you’re coordinating all the foreign policy, you’re guiding the President. I feel much better with McMaster in that job than I would have been with Flynn … Otherwise, if you came down from Mars after the first 100 days of the Trump presidency, you’d have to conclude that things haven’t changed very much (from when Barack Obama was president) …
TBR: What about Trump’s legislative agenda?
Kristol: It’s very hard to tell where these policies go … On health care, the President has deferred to the House Republicans, and I think they had a very foolish strategy (Editor’s note: two days after these remarks, a partial repeal of Obamacare was in fact narrowly approved by the House). Health care is very hard to do, as Obama himself found out.It took him 15 months to get the Affordable Care Act through, and then it had a very mixed record of success in the first few years … Health is a very difficult issue, and it has been for both Democrats and Republicans for 30 years. I would not have begun with that. I know there are some technical reasons why (House Speaker) Paul Ryan thought they had to do that first, but I think there is a much stronger case that could be made for going for some pro-growth tax reforms. I’m not crazy about the infrastructure package, but that’s something Trump campaigned on and that’s something Democrats could be somewhat in favor of. .. I think he could have gotten some bi-partisan support, or at least discussion (with that) … Instead, he led with the most partisan issue, health care, an issue that has defined both parties for 6,7, 8 years. I just don’t think that was technically very smart … Yes, you can say they had a learning curve and that the second hundred days will be better than the first, but I think they have lost some opportunities …
TBR: Are the Republicans already in trouble going into 2018?
Kristol: Historically, the first off-year election for a President who has just won the presidency and his party controls Congress is pretty tough. Voters have high expectations. It turns out to be hard to do things even when you do have control of Congress … Then voters get frustrated. I guess I have a conventional view that it’s going to be kind of a rough year for the Republicans in the House and Senate races …
TBR: How about the president’s use of social media?
Kristol: I don’t object to a POTUS using new and modern means of communication and being a little more informal than we were in the stuffy old days. Still, one of my disappointments is that he doesn’t seem to have internalized the fact that he’s POTUS, and it’s just different. Yes, he can say he wants to continue to be as free-wheeling as he always was, but the world is watching these comments and they have real effect … He says he’s going to keep doing it. He says, “People like Kristol said it didn’t work, and it did work, so I’m just going to keep on using it.” But I’m just worried that this Tweeting leaves aside not really thinking through the implications of all he’s saying. I just wish he’d be more presidential. I know that sounds very stuffy and old-fashioned to say. I served in a very different White House. I had a very presidential President, George H.W. Bush He didn’t get re-elected, so maybe (the way he comported himself) was a mistake. But he was sober and careful …
TBR: What about the presidential invitation extended to President Rodrigo Duterte to visit the White House?
Kristol: I’m a little shocked. if it’s a serious matter of building a coalition to deal with North Korea and the Philippines are (supposed to be) part of that, OK, but I’m a little doubtful that’s the case. The way it was done —he didn’t lay the groundwork. It was sort of like “I like Duterte because the media doesn’t like him, so I’m going to give him a White House visit as a result.”
TBR: How do feel about your role in boosting Sarah Palin as the Republicans’ vice presidential nominee in 2008?
Kristol; I’m disappointed in her post-2008, and I was a little disappointed in her in the (2008) campaign. She was a very popular bi-partisan governor of Alaska, even though I would have preferred Joe Lieberman (as a vice-presidential choice for John McCain). But (the McCain campaign) wasn’t willing to cross that partisan bridge. I thought that would have been a bold pick by McCain … (The way it turned out), I think McCain lost by a predictable number given the desire for change, given Obama as an attractive candidate, and above all the economic collapse on September 15 (2008). I don’t think ultimately it made any difference who McCain picked. Sarah Palin is an attractive person, but as a candidate she became a less serious person (than I would have hoped)…
TBR: What about the candidate for president last year, Evan McMullen, that you were given a lot of credit for championing? Was he a credible candidate, like maybe John Anderson in 1980? Or was his candidacy just an attempt to undermine Trump?
Kristol: He’s a good guy. I give him a lot of credit for doing it. He worked hard. It was totally uphill. I would have preferred Romney or (Michael) Bloomberg, but that didn’t happen … Evan McMullen was a legitimate protest candidate against both the (major party) candidates, against both parties. I’m not sure which candidate he ended up helping or hurting more. I’m not sure he took any more votes away from Trump than he did from Clinton … It makes you wonder about the two-party system and whether there may be more independent candidates in the future, but that’s a bigger topic and I don’t know what the situation is with that …