Bill Kristol landed in Israel this week to an inbox full of messages and invitations to various political programs. The prominent American conservative and Weekly Standard editor, who has stalwartly opposed presumptive Republican candidate for the US presidency Donald Trump, tweeted on Monday: “Just a heads up over this holiday weekend: There will be an independent candidate – an impressive one, with a strong team and a real chance.”
Then Trump responded with a tweet calling him a “dummy” and the political press pounced.
“I thought nothing of it. I wanted to reassure people that there will be a third candidate,” Kristol said in Jerusalem on Tuesday. “I think we’ll have a good, impressive, independent candidate, not necessarily a traditional politician, but maybe there’s a market for that this year... a citizen who steps up to present a stark alternative to Trump and [Hillary] Clinton.”
At the time, Kristol would not name anyone specific. A close associate of the editor said soon after that Kristol did have someone in mind, “a writer and a doer” with a military record.
Several hours later, Bloomberg News reported that Kristol was supporting David French, a constitutional lawyer and writer for the National Review and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom who received a Bronze Star.
Kristol all but confirmed the report Wednesday, telling The Jerusalem Post via email: “I think David would be great.” On Twitter, he quoted Herzl: “If you will it, it is no dream.”
Kristol said a third candidate would have an “outsize chance” to win.
“It would be difficult and challenging, but not miraculous,” he said. “I do think a lot of the polling shows most Americans would like a third choice. More than a majority are unhappy with Clinton or Trump.
“If someone could get more exposure, a reasonable center, center-right, mature person, avoiding Trump and Clinton’s character defects, you’d have a [Kulanu chairman Moshe] Kahlon or [Yesh Atid leader Yair] Lapid situation. You’d... get a respectable number of votes.”
The most important thing, he said, is for the third candidate to get into the televised debate.
“If 80 million people watching see some guy they haven’t heard of is more impressive than the two famous people, I think anything is possible.”
Kristol argued that a third candidate is better than either Trump or Clinton: “It’s a heck of a choice. More of the policies that aren’t working or more of someone who’s not appropriate because of his character.”
Trump’s policies are unclear, but that’s not his biggest problem, Kristol said.
“I don’t think he has the character or judgment. Even if I thought he would make some good appointments and have a good cabinet... at the end of the day there’s only one commander in chief. Congress can check him to some extent, but he has a lot of discretion. I don’t believe he’d be a mature and sober commander in chief.”
Clinton’s problem is her policies, he said, calling her “more of Obama in a slightly more moderate way, and she has some character defects, too.
Let’s be honest.”
Kristol challenged the media narrative that he could somehow anoint a third candidate and all conservatives would then follow.
“These decisions aren’t made.
I don’t make them. People can choose to run without calling me up, and other people are trying to urge other people to run, so it’s not like this is all wonderfully coordinated. It’s very inchoate, an ad-hoc process,” he explained. “This notion that I’m recruiting them – What am I offering them? I don’t have any money. A lot of people would like a good candidate, and I’m one of them, and I’ve been in touch with such people, but it’s very informal.”
The image Kristol has as someone leading the charge against Trump has led to waves of abuse from the candidate’s supporters, including anti-Semitic comments that have plagued social media in recent months, targeting Trump opponents.
Kristol was hesitant to respond to attacks on himself, such as a column in which farright firebrand David Horowitz called him a “renegade Jew” for not supporting Trump, saying “I’m not a victim... If some jackass calls me something, it doesn’t move me.”
“I’m happy to be a renegade, that’s not such a terrible phrase,” he quipped. “What does ‘renegade Jew’ even mean? I know what it would mean in Mea She’arim, but that’s not what Horowitz means. He’s just there to provoke and get attention.”
Kristol would not ignore the spreading phenomenon of online anti-Semitism, saying he doesn’t want to “laugh off something with terrible historic precedence.”
According to Kristol, Trump inherited the supporters of past Republican primary candidates Pat Buchanan (1992, 1996) and Ron Paul (2008, 2012), who entertained anti-Semitic and anti-Israel conspiracy theories.
While Kristol said it’s “unfair to say Trump personally rallied them,” the candidate’s inflammatory language created a situation in which they “feel psychologically welcomed.”
“Most members of Congress think they’re supposed to keep [anti-Semites] at bay, but Trump doesn’t signal that,” he said.
Kristol does not necessarily think anti-Semitism is a growing phenomenon in the US, but the Internet and social media amplify it by allowing more people to work together in a more visible way.
In addition, he pointed to a “letting down of standards and relaxing of guards against extremism. Certainly on the left, with BDS and other such things, it became respectable to say things about Israel that weren’t once acceptable, and to some degree against Jews, as well, and now it’s on the Right...I think there’s been a kind of general sloppiness about enforcing what seemed to be old-fashioned standards.”
Kristol said the moving of conspiracy theories into the mainstream started with leftwing opposition to the Iraq War, and repudiated those who accused then-president George W. Bush of intentionally lying to start a war.
“That’s astonishing, and it wasn’t really repudiated on the left. It was made respectable on NPR and the pages of The New York Times. People with kooky views became heroes...
Ron Paul was the equivalent on the Right... I think historians will look back and say the years 2006, 2007, 2008 there was a legitimizing of things that hadn’t been legitimate before,” he stated.
Israelis need to be concerned, too, Kristol said, because if Trump or Clinton win, “Americans will have a president who won’t be very good.”
“I think a weak America – in Clinton’s case on the path of Iran, in Trump’s case erratic and unpredictable – is not good for Israel.... Our democratic allies depend on American strength of leadership,” he said. “Israel should be alarmed at what’s going on, because of what it says about the US and American leadership and strength.”
As the interview took place, Trump held a press conference, during which he was asked about the possibility that Kristol would support an independent candidate.
Trump said Kristol is “not a smart person” and said to the media: “Why do you put this guy on television? I see him on the different shows. He’s got no credibility…He looks like such a fool... Bill Kristol’s a loser. His magazine is failing.”
Kristol laughed off the insults, but said Trump’s style of “personal, high school, degrading rhetoric” is unique in US political campaigns and symbolizes “the degradation of the American discourse.”