Ep. 124 - Bill Kristol

Update: 2017-02-23


Bill Kristol, the neoconservative commentator and founder of The Weekly Standard, talks with David Axelrod about his experiences as Dan Quayle’s chief of staff, the unnerving first month of the Trump administration, and why he believes nation-building and support of liberal democracies is in America’s best interest.

Following script is auto-generated by Speech to Text Technology:

the board for the acts files comes from rockin' mortgage my Quicken loans lift the burden of getting a home loan with rockin' mortgage and get a secure transparent home loan approval in minutes skip the bank of the waiting then go completely online at Quicken loans dot com slash X Files This podcast is brought you by sixty DB listen to conversations that go beyond the headlines business sports politics today's news plus all of your favorite podcasts download the free sixty DB at Today the the the and now from the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN The X Files with your host David Axelrod the the the if you are thinking of putting together a dinner party don't invite Bill Kristol and Donald Trump because one of them probably won't come bill has been a leading conservative commentator for several decades he was the chief of staff to then Vice President Dan Quayle and has a long history in the conservative movement but was one of the sharpest critics of Donald Trump throughout the campaign and to this day he's also a member of the board of the Institute of Politics and came by to participate in a pan on the future of the Republican Party in the Trump era and to sit down with me the bill Kristol welcome not only an eminent voices conservative voice in our country but also a member of the border the Institute of Politics which is equally important to me by far the most important matter the year they get to the review so you kind of come from New York City the sort of intellectual royalty you grew up in an interesting environment and you know I grew up in New York about the same time so your dad's name in particular was the one that I was familiar with talk about talk about your family and the way you grew up so I grew up in New York and a father was a writer publisher and editor my mother historian but like most kids I felt sportswear than anything else in the most memorable thing of my youth was a great year of nineteen Junior Senior High School sixty eight to seventy I guess I was there man you and that's with everything right with them as is the time is not the Jets just getting on winning the Super Bowl the first rate if Al Victory FC I guess with a victory over the over the Colts and then the Mets in that September and then culminating a chase just after seven years and graduated in the summer of seventy Willis reason at all like yours and everything since has been down hill basically well now I live life each day seven was an astonishing that was an astonishing run man to be in New York at the time I'm a Chicago in now so I have to keep it on the down low that I was a Mets fan back then because as you remember the Cubs collapse they made up for a now forty seven he hears so here's the four years later when it took was fantastic it took a while Claire McCaskill whose big Cardinals fan tweeted the other day that we are only entitled to a title every hundred years so I hope she's wrong about that but I was re cast the cups for the Indians I don't care much for either team but on the conservative grounds that why break out in a year out streak that's one of the great institutions in American life that the Cubs cannot win the World Series and now it's God just like someone has to be destroyed here in America traditions and norms you now but okay so back to the intellectual talk about you folks because they they made an interesting intellectual journey from the left the unit to conservatives the minutes it was there others who followed so talk a little bit about what they were kind of Cold War liberals I think one would say I remember and my father support comfy for example sixty eight so he was in for MacArthur Kennedy was that respect a kind of I support school Jeffers campaign I've mounted and scoop Jackson and seventy two so kind as old fashioned labor Cold War Democrats going down but back in the day yes they were sort of trust Trotsky way back in the day they were just gets in they were in college a matter of Trust meeting I think when they were my father made was already in college my mother's high school in Brooklyn so that was in the late thirties a little depression before we're too obviously my father actually considered Chicago my mother got her PhD here are the first women to get a PhD in Chicago history have got to Brooklyn College my father was in the war I think that you're to be he wrote later being in the war of FS of socialist delusions and about the world about us as fellow citizens these sorts of lives were complicated and they became its a traditional Cold War liberal though he always had more interest and kind of conservative critiques of progressive as many as I put it that way is sympathetic to religion sympathetic to doubtful of the kind of utopian is among some progress is the way to London in the fifties and edited a magazine called encounter which was a very well respected intellectual magazine lot of literary stuff as well as political things back to New York's regrets are you spending so you spend some time in line we left I was six years old so I am the only thing I remember at all I was told later that I had a British accent I'd been there from one of six muscles one of six years old I was told later that I had a British accent I came back six year old in first grade and of course I was ridiculed for it to be two weeks to lose very little is you can get rid of these new law said in a pickup baseball fact that they struck quickly to make myself a real American and that was over the sixty one York I was it like in your in your house were were there frequent discussions salons that kind of yeah for the New York collector world and I met people who I later realized were sort of famous by cool line trailing the great literary critic of Tata Columbia had aren't the political philosopher they were all friends Allen Blue Diablo remix with this but I of course was whatever I was ten or twelve or fourteen years old and I do a little bit about who they were and I was sort of interested in some of what they might have written but I wasn't for Coach was honestly so was mostly focuses a seance with what holiday was politics a frequent topic yes that one forgets back then and how much New York separate us from Washington I once took my father thinks so and so he never had he didn't know any congressman a senator he came to wash a couple times a forest honestly never came to Washington week of growing up once or twice to see the monuments he knew Pat Moynihan well as for his first people you and you worked on one of his cat so yes I went ahead and Kennedy Johnson had a not very high level assistance active labor but some position in the well known and so that was sort of the first people I think my parents knew who was in government and the Left and sixty five that my father said answered his call to some meeting of the Nixon White House may be about seventy of these let's have twelve people over for an hour and talk big ideas but I think the first time I'd been in the White House so the separation your car wash was much greater than that it was later met ya and so people think that growing up we talk politics and ideas a lot that I was not like an intimate follower of who was doing what in the Republican caucus and if you have a dude you had your full la so i was emerge I was sort of contrarian and I read of course if our parents Public interest a magazine my father started in sixty five commentary magazine which is left in the balls to the right actually I read National Review which came home to our house I think Bill Buckley gave the appearance of conflict you know buses if I knew it got later and not a kid and once twice and I was very charmed by Buckley and just tapped into certain contrarian streak in me and I would say the sixties I saw many of my classmates and teachers for that matter it collegiate the price go to New York work you know laughed you laughed actually laugh for everyone say I guess I rebelled against them rather than against my parents and so I I probably was a little bit to the right to my parents even in the sense of being a critic of the new laugh that hostile to the New Left and at that point I was safe comfy Jackson Democrat and seventy two the first election I voted on the head as for Jackson I work hard for scoop in Massachusetts he does hand out leaflets at very low level volunteer job it has became a successful political career I believe in seventy two the messages Friday was kind of important fact that it was earlier restaurant that you remember this and I think we all thought school had a chance to govern upset muskie in New Hampshire's was wide open race surely whatever was going to be the nominee that would be ridiculous and so we had a chance and scoop ran seventh in the Massachusetts primary behind Wilbur Mills and that was the beginning of my successful we're witches just got from one high to another over the last forty s Carl Bernstein on here are a couple weeks ago and one of the things that he said was that a little noted in the about the seventy two race was that the Nixon team were doing everything they could to help govern because they thought he'd be the easiest candidate to beat Jackson was the principal feature of his candidacy was anti communism was that what attracted you to him yeah and it was to the right of Nixon Kissinger some way critic of the top defender of human rights and of sort of let's call it morality is somewhat foreign policy you know not not simply making deals with dictators and mix it was more of a Let's Make a Deal with the Soviets maybe in retrospect that was a hell of a strategy may be too far but I was sort of more of the Should we stay up to the communist side of things that are well this time honestly I was in high school that I was in college I was studying political philosophy wasn't terribly involved politically II and seventy six when I was half way through grad school but again was more political philosophy than practical political things I did take a summer off to work for Pat Morin and it was a good friend to my parents and when he ran for the Democratic nomination for Senate in New York in the lab so by nine thousand votes out of two million sows surprisingly very close race for a fee at how often you know this very very well how often these big political careers begin with a very close result right now Bella never made that journey from left to right yes the fellow was soundly on the left bottom of things I did this is free internet free everything is go to the New York Public Library and go to the micro fee should think it was to look up things she'd done in the forties and fifties which were genuinely that's a fellow traveler defense which to prod to defend you know that the communist regime there in fifty one and I think we managed to lease some of that stuff and maybe made the difference I don't know some girls may be made to close you know exactly so anyway my little bit tell Matt that point and become a deadbeat about as that of Gen X was rather like the Buckley the incumbent one in that amazing three race in nineteen seventy volunteers from a three days just want to upset you someone who's working from was sort of vaguely about politics prophecy my own personal interest as much for political philosophy and I thought I'd become academic I did for a few years at Penn and Harvard and then like so many people came to Washington Bill Bennett became Reagan's education secretary to begin a second term an eighty five called me up and said Hey come to watch for year be a special assistant write speeches and stuff unlike so many people I can't wash for year in thirty years later still there how we will return to the things that attracted you to scoop Jackson in the context of today's administration in today's politics but had you come to know Bill Bennett he's got a Yale guy you're a Harvard guy right he was Williams' I think in an ideal grad sort of slightly randomly from Reich I guess it's a conservative ish academic enterprises use of odd that a little late seventies my parents a little bit kind of mutual friends I guess this is actually funny is this a little like you I think for the transition of journalism in my case the anatomy to politics the reason I got to know was the summer of eighty some of the Kennedy School I teach put phosphate and they recruit me to go to the Kennedy School where a British political philosophy for public policy students that are that we probably not a great idea but as I read Ice me was a pleasant place to be ready for they say I think it is when someone says want to go regulation knew I was pro Reagan see what there may be is an interesting article written about sort of how they're doing and who is doing well he's not so I went to Washington for about a for just a bunch of interviews really an eighty for a few stretches of several days and move there anything I did a piece which is possible to find if they want to add today on his threesome with the thesis was as a middle ground between being a balm for the blows oneself up and Reagan had some of those is first term does an effective change anything and being a somewhat accommodates the bureaucracy to the permanent government it doesn't change which a lot of conservatives are choosing parts of the Reagan administration of me and my thesis was you could do both you could you could you could be intelligent change agent as we say today and not play yourself up cause trouble make real changes et-cetera and so I found three people I thought were success stories in that respect one was Jim Miller who later became OMB Director Bill is that I think FTC head of a deregulated free market type second I'm blanking on what was even and the third was Bill Bennett who had been head of the National down of humanity so these were all people running pretty small a second tier agencies but doing interesting things yet service yesterday conservative point of view and doing it successfully so that actually making changes not just complaining about the bureaucracy or about the median stuff and so I wrote one article said Look here's how the figure down to work with him through the bureaucracy not just a scream and yell at it here's how they figured out a work that it was for to get work in the media though yeah I would say so I mean yeah it's a pretty flamboyant conservative yes but also managed to avoid you know to say scandals and downs of what that is that's why I spent some time without it we got to know each other and then six months later when he got promoted education sector he said When you purchase in practical politics which at the Kennedy School courage is that kind of thing so want to come to Washington so that's when Reid first came I have those stories go there was a guy in town here just passed away Jack Fuller who is the editor and publisher of The Chicago Tribune when Jack was a young boy had gone to Yale Law School e come from a journalistic family when Tia law school then came back and worked at the City News Bureau got a job at the Tribune and Edward Levy was appointed Attorney General the President the universe is caught in the middle of the Watergate cry in the wake of the Watergate crisis to try and restore the integrity of the Justice Department Fuller was assigned to go down and talk to him read a profile of them and leave you read the profile and ask them to come to Washington with them based on that conversation that profile and so these are the things that change change lives these kinds of Commerce I always tell young people that you know these days try to plan their careers and people do that a lot more than I think we did Now Generation sometimes it's a wise thing to do and some some ass some professions you do that of law medicine and much warmer source set career path and if you want to become an orthopedic surgeon you have to do ABC get a sort of swift into that you know one hopes yet what ho ye may seek right now for this deregulation ago but I'm hoping that that continues to be the case that point but in our kinds of things you do sort of move horizontally and ran somewhat randomly write and I think that's an I person like that aspect of Washington and that aspect of politics in that so I always tell young people which I do want to become a political person they're million things you could do and the main thing is to find a good boss I think that's extremely important when you learn about find a good boss who will hopefully be successful in for you with and also from you learn you'll enjoy working for but don't over think and that the picture of these things is don't over plan your career basically if you like doing and tried to eat while your eyes open for opportunities obviously but a lot of it is very unpredictable well it's a real privilege to be able to follow your passion and make a living doing it absolutely will also enjoy the absolute to me that you're ah you're you're a baseball fan you these ballplayers say I can't believe I get paid to it now I actually can be what they do get paid to do it now but it's fun it's great if you can pursue your passion in fine and fine even if it's you know you may find it makes for happier life thing I found it leases I think it helped me some water wash and I was behind a lot of people had worked on the hill like a washer I was thirty two thirty three a lot of people get their the twenty what you know work networking and building their resume and all that but I think it helped me that I'd studied political philosophy and history even a lot of it wasn't terribly relevant in any direct way talk for a few years which gives certain kind of skills doing that and so I encourage undergraduates particular you study what you want to study and study some bright bored and don't necessarily feel that every summer you have to be interned somewhere or something if you want to wear if you like classical literature learn Greek excited for two with his water you it might help you and I think a lot of people our age have done pretty well in journalism or government or whatever they didn't start off this though incredibly hard working you know Gophers on the hill at age nineteen Yet a lot of other interests as Krauthammer went to medical school George Will went to school and political philosophy just think of people I know great baseball fan and you're a Cubs Cubs fan yeah the no I think you know if that is the that is the mats maybe that's obviously the key here the um no I think being a great general is being someone with broad intellectual curiosity is to me the key to being a good journalist and a sense it's also the key to being a good office holder and a good policy maker of so I I agree with you there talk about Reagan you arrive there in the Age of Reagan Reagan's name gets invoked a lot now um you know and I think sometimes it gets invoked without real understanding of who he was and what he represented people on CNN a lot my colleague Jeffrey Lord worked for Reagan likes to invoke Reagan all the time in defense of Donald Trump but that's a big gap that's a big leap well that is vaguely conscious of the phrase simple comments as a way this is Reagan was a guy who benefit from being a minor celebrity trial actually less one that room but then spent ten years ago of educating himself a conservative thought leaders I do read books articles and give speeches then became governor of California and not a trivial thing for eight years mad for president and primary loss to then became president he had a lot of actual governing experience a lot of deep understanding of certain ideology that was limited and people can criticize the ideology but he really had a basis of theory that informs his governing theory foreign policy is viewed in a theory about free markets a theory about a lot of things Constitution and Supreme Court really has none of that so I think both in personal character but also just sort of grounded this Reagan is really one of them wore grounded presidents when he came to office not unlike President Obama in the sense that he spent a lot of time agree or disagree thinking about what he thought was wrong or deficient about the current situation how things needed to be fixed now for my generation of conservatives Reagan was so big just because conservative been a protest movement either gadfly Thai protest movement Bill Buckley running for mayor of New York and sixty five goal Waterloo get crushed and sixty four I was looking for my time to something about that much would biblical order against Johnson and honestly but um and then in the seventies of course Nixon sweet sort of a conservative that sort of offer of you might say it blows up in any case and it looks kind of hopeless so that when Reagan won in eighty the sort of surprise and the opportunity was amazing and then that he govern successfully again people can agree or disagree been elected vice president gets elected we win the Cold War by the end of that decade pretty good economic performance I mean that was just a huge deal I know people now take it while core so that was the Reagan era and that went okay and that that's been corrected by Clinton whatever you want to save it was obvious that was going to go k people thought it might just be a fiasco in chaos yeah and there was a yes the use of that course but there was Brewer's when Reagan got elected a lot of the apprehension I mean he was in a big agent of change and he was the line of demarcation between New Deal liberalism and and the next epic in our history and there was a land there was a lot of concern about that he represented big change but as you say it was it was change that had he thought through it was and it came with a respect for sort of institutions and history so it seems to me distinguished him from what we have today but in honor of President Reagan in free markets will take a short break for word from our sponsor be right back with Bill Kristol rocket mortgage by Quicken loans proudly supports the X Files when it comes to the big decision of choosing a mortgage lender is important to work with someone you can trust leisure best interests in mind with rockin' mortgage you'll get a transparent online process that gives you the confidence you need to make an informed decision to give the bank of the waiting and go completely online at Quicken loans dot com slash X Files equal Housing lender license in all fifty states and MLS consumer access dot org Number thirty thirty you talked about that piece that you wrote that led to your relationship with Bill Bennett just on Reagan one more minute it seemed to me that he showed them a pragmatism that was that that was consistent with his conservatism but Reagan's big you know that the philosophy that people owe his share of governance was if I can get eighty percent of what I wanna go for that and he made deals said he made compromises of compromises that I'm not sure would be accepted today by some who consider themselves conservatives but in the sort of populist movement within the Republican Party within the evangelical movement and so on wood how did Reagan have fared in today's political climate if you approach politics the way he did incredibly skilled guys are so skilled it's hard to maybe get educated people to say he he campaigned for the sake of governing he wanted to govern the country we want to change things and that's pretty different from some politicians today who campaign for the sake of making a statement or two then get an office just think all this was to do is keep making statements Trump's case is both less ideological than Reagan and less interest in governing which is sort of a weird combination you know what people what Robert Wyatt's friends were much more for Trump is that I wasn't there so excited this is comparable to the Reagan Revolution and eyes that look the Reagan Revolution was not winning city that was important and necessary at impressive Reagan Revolution was governed for eight years maybe twelve if you give credit for Vice President Bush and what he did in those years and get people can agree or disagree with what he did but that was the accomplishment and to think Trump really thinks you see so much ladies is now governing we still think his campaign well in fact logically you know he called some of his support I think to signify that he still owe the man he called some of his supporters over to the White House today congressional supporters who had been really supporters of his and talk to the hen them as seriously about how he did in their districts you know and you if there is the sense that winning the election was sort of a goal right it sort of a weird kind of bizarro world version of the candidates were at the end of the movie Robert Redford gets elected this is what we do now I don't recall Reagan talking much about the election once it was over a dozen guests to forget about it the ward supporters for them to people who had supported him all that's normal politics obviously also reached out however and his chief of staff Jim Baker had been of course Bush's campaign chairman that's pretty amazing unusual fact I would say and show something about the Reagan understood about about governing but that something is really to just recently he tweeted It's it's it's everything all the time he was one of his attacks on the intelligence community was like you know the terrible FBI and NSA think it was our leaking as against you know against illegally leaking a mass stop he really thought as he not far from it or that He is present United States if he thinks there's illegal leaking going on for minutes from the FBI which is supervised by the Just apartment which is supervised by Shu Gen he just appointed the sessions by the NSA which is supporters I suppose supervised by the Director of National Intelligence and Dan coats another appointee of his is about to confirm the next week I am probably wondering whether did the right thing yeah I mean if he thinks is illegally leaking on the president should do something about it he should say this but he doesn't think this is what really I find sort of jolting about Trump doesn't even think as president he said I would never internalized you were there with President Obama and the teachers know what you think how this happened for him but you know eight or nine but he has not internalized the fact that he is now Pres the state said he has to think differently than if you're running for president or even a transition sort of shocking a little bit with the interest the current administration about when you're going to take over and how he's president I'm really shocked by the degree to which she and the people around to Shellie haven't internalized that I came into the White House I was domestic policy advisor technology has been so much not the highest staff and senior staff of a season since the president but still not in the highest ice levels but still the degree to which was hammered into us that you were in the White House you are not a campaign you are not in the business you are not having fun is a professor pop in often things you gotta be careful what you say both affix reasons but also just because people might give what you say is the policy of the country ever being told you've got a little girl parties a picnic with your friends here in Washington you know you got some dinner with something and not the you shouldn't have free fun conversation although you do need to be careful you can repeat things that were said Here you go you never know what's going to take out contacts and publicize this before social media incidentally so it's much worse today and I remember taking it pretty seriously I did and the idea that you just kind of wander out Kelly Ann Conway or something give interviews every three hours on cable news and if Barca trumps being attacked you're going to know and I don't really blame her for this and some serious swag s jokingly defend her line of clothing that I mean that is it isn't appropriate yeah and if you have internalized the notion that you are now working in the White House not a campaign aide and not for the Trump Organization you wouldn't do that they accept another that something clicks in their head everything flows from the top White House you worked in administration in the administration of George H W Bush he had been a congressman he had been ambassador to China ambassador to the UN head of the C I A and vice president and chairman by the way the Republican National Committee there was nobody you may not have been anybody ever elected president who had more institutional experience then he didn't obviously have very high regard for it here is the son of a senator so he was steeped in institutional history and had regard for and I'm sure that that was something that he insisted on among all the people who who work for him I know Shannon Kelly and its infomercial for Yvonne has clothing line was that she was speaking to an audience of one and for Donald Trump I'm sure he found that the you know very p
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Ep. 124 - Bill Kristol

The Axe Files with David Axelrod