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How Bill Kristol Closed the Conservative Mind

When The American Conservative launched in 2002, co-founder Pat Buchanan explained [1] why it was needed: “there is no doubt the neocons have come to define the conservative movement, which bothers me. They do not represent traditional conservatism.” 

CommentaryNational Review and The Weekly Standard are nearly interchangeable in terms of foreign policy and empire,” said Buchanan. “It’s all degenerating into outright imperialism.”

“This is not conservatism,” he insisted.

Buchanan was right, of course. What was considered “conservative” back then was almost exclusively neoconservatism in all its pro-war [2], big government [3] glory. Support for the invasion of Iraq and George W. Bush were strict litmus tests. White House speechwriter David Frum even attempted to cast out [4] the small minority of conservatives and libertarians who questioned the neocon status quo.


For anyone who opposed the war—and especially dissenters on the Right—there would be no mercy. Bill Kristol never had any intention of showing any.

When it was announced that The Weekly Standard would shut down last week, many journalists and politicos lamented its end, and understandably so. The neoconservative flagship that Kristol founded and led for most of its existence was hailed as a “jewel of American conservatism [5]” and a home for “solid reporting and strong writing [6].” Its demise represented a “closing of the conservative mind [7].”

I do not intend to dispute or debate those sentiments. To build something that reached such prominence only to see it shuttered so rapidly [8] after 23 years [9] must be heartbreaking. I feel sorry for former staffers who now find themselves jobless. I’ve been in their shoes [10]. But for all the considerable good that his magazine did, it was Kristol who wanted to close the conservative mind, especially to antiwar thought.

Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, who worked for The Weekly Standard from 1995 to 2001, explains this in detail in his new book, Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution [11].

“What I didn’t understand at the time was that Kristol had an unstated agenda that informed much of what the Weekly Standard did,” Carlson writes. “The writers in the office thought we were engaged in conservative journalism.”

“Kristol was trying to remake the Republican Party,” Carlson says.

A significant part of Kristol’s GOP makeover project was portraying antiwar conservatives as heretics.

Carlson recounts, “Years later, writer Philip Weiss described a conversation he had with Kristol in which this [remaking the GOP] became explicit. There are Republicans, Kristol told Weiss, ‘of whom I disapprove so much that I won’t appear with them. That I’ve encouraged that they be expelled or not welcomed into the Republican Party.’”

“’I’d be happy if Ron Paul left and ran as a third party candidate. I was very happy when Pat Buchanan was allowed to go off and run as a third party candidate,’” Carlson recalls Weiss saying of his conversation with Kristol.

This is no secret. The most high-profile conservative proponents of a more restrained foreign policy over the last two decades—Pat Buchanan, Ron Paul, and Rand Paul—were constant targets of Kristol long before the rise of Donald Trump.

“A lot of people when they criticize Ron Paul have to preface their criticism by saying, ‘you know, he’s good guy, he brings a lot to the debate,’” Bill Kristol said [12] on C-Span in 2012. “I actually don’t buy that. I do not think he’s a particularly good guy…. I think it would be better for the Republican Party, if he left the Republican Party.”

“Ron Paul is a little different from Pat Buchanan—but he’s no better, in my view,” Kristol added. “We at the Weekly Standard are pulling up the drawbridge against the peasants,” Kristol told [13] The Washington Post after Buchanan won the New Hampshire GOP primary in 1996. “I may need to get myself pitchfork insurance.”

After Donald Trump criticized the Iraq war in a Republican primary debate, Carlson said Kristol was “as angry as he had ever been in public about anything. Kristol denounced not just Trump, but anyone who didn’t join him in denouncing Trump.”

“Once upon a time we had leaders who would have expressed their outrage at such a slander,” Kristol wrote [14] in The Weekly Standard. “They would have explained to the American people how extraordinarily irresponsible his slander was, and would have done their best to discredit a man who could behave so irresponsibly. They would have pronounced him unfit to be president of the United States, and they would have mobilized their friends, supporters and admirers to ensure so appalling an eventuality didn’t come to pass.”

For Kristol, foreign policy is always the flashpoint. Before Trump, arguably no other [15] Republican exercised hawks [16] more than Rand Paul [17].

The neocons tried in vain to repel Paul from the get-go. David Frum fretted [18] in 2010 after Paul won his Senate primary: “How is it that the GOP has lost its antibodies against a candidate like Rand Paul?” Dick Cheney intervened in that primary race to basically say [19] Paul wasn’t a real conservative. Paul rattled [20] the neocon universe to such a degree that a former Cheney aide and future Marco Rubio chief of staff sounded the alarm [21] in a private email: “On foreign policy, [global war on terror], Gitmo, Afghanistan, Rand Paul is NOT one of us.”

Kristol has insisted that Paul isn’t a real Republican for the senator’s entire political career. He’s accused Paul of being a “liberal Democrat [22]” for holding foreign policy views similar [23] to Trump’s. He’s compared Paul to Code Pink [24]. He’s called Paul a “McGovernite [25].” He’s labeled Paul an “isolationist [26].”

Kristol has even deliriously claimed that neoconservatives somehow “beat back Ron Paul and Rand Paul [27],” a prediction that looks less prescient now [28], especially as stories emerge [29] about the younger Paul having the president’s ear [30], particularly on foreign policy [31].

This is not what Kristol envisioned.

“Unbeknownst to his staff, Bill Kristol had no intention of being merely a magazine publisher, or a disseminator of conservative ideas,” Tucker Carlson writes. “He saw himself as the ideological gatekeeper of the Republican Party.”

Carlson says he wished he’d understood that when he was working for Kristol. “Kristol was always encouraging me to write hit pieces on Pat Buchanan, and on a couple of occasions I did,” Carlson wrote. “At the time I had no idea this was part of a larger strategy, though it did strike me as a little odd.”

It’s a strategy that looks much less certain to succeed than it once did.

Jack Hunter is the former political editor of Rare.us [32] and co-authored the 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington [33] with Senator Rand Paul.

28 Comments (Open | Close)

28 Comments To "How Bill Kristol Closed the Conservative Mind"

#1 Comment By Sid Finster On December 18, 2018 @ 1:10 pm

Why the constant articles mourning the demise of TWS? It’s like mourning the passing of Der Stuermer.


n.b. Sarin has a very short shelf life, something like two years, and that using state of the art containment technologies. Any Iraqi sarin would be unusable in the alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria. If Kristol claims otherwise, then he is being dishonest so that he can get the war that he so evidently craves.

That said, I don’t agree with the entire list of TWS’ Greatest Misses.

#2 Comment By Arlen On December 18, 2018 @ 1:28 pm

Kristol is first and foremost a Zionist apparatchik. Whatever ‘conservative’ credentials he possesses are coincidental.

#3 Comment By Mary Myers On December 18, 2018 @ 2:39 pm

Kudos to Tucker Carlson for stating what Kristol is.

Kristol is now a darling on the very liberal MSNBC “Morning Joe” show.

#4 Comment By Connecticut Farmer On December 18, 2018 @ 2:48 pm

Kristol never met a war he didn’t like. And his support of unbridled immigration was unacceptable. For those two reasons I do not lament the end of this magazine.

#5 Comment By Fran Macadam On December 18, 2018 @ 3:30 pm

Kristol was a “neo” for the same old con.

#6 Comment By Whine Merchant On December 18, 2018 @ 3:47 pm

“Cheney aide…in a private email: “On foreign policy, [global war on terror], Gitmo, Afghanistan, Rand Paul is NOT one of us.”

The neo-[pseudo] cons regard the GOP as a cadet branch of the Likud Party.

#7 Comment By Kolya Krassotkin On December 18, 2018 @ 3:55 pm

The Democrats want to burn down the US. Kristol is one of those Republicans, all too common now, who wants only his chance to loot it when the conflagration cools.

#8 Comment By A DC Wonk On December 18, 2018 @ 4:00 pm

Tucker writes: “He saw himself as the ideological gatekeeper of the Republican Party.”

Yeah — but he wasn’t. The GOP rushed headlong into war and would have done so without Kristol. Almost everybody on the right, certainly the politicians, excoriated liberals and Democrats for not getting on board with Iraq invasions immediately, and accusing Dems of being in bed with, or tacitly supporting, the agenda of Osama bin Landen.

Exhibit #1: Anybody remember the Georgia Senate race, GOP Chamblis vs triple-amputee (from Vietnam) Cleland, and that disgusting commercial that showed Cleland’s face morphing into pictures of Osama bin Laden, for voting against Bush and his war?

Kristol was one of hundreds, or more, of GOPers who marched in lock-step with Bush on this, and gleefully attacked others’ patriotism for disagreeing.

#9 Comment By Thrice A Viking On December 18, 2018 @ 5:05 pm

LOL, cute pun, Fran Macadam! Unfortunately, I don’t think “was” is properly used, as it apparently is still his present frame of mind.

Good article, Jack Hunter, it helps us understand how Donald Trump – for all his many, many faults – could appeal to such a large proportion of those who consider themselves conservative.

#10 Comment By Thrice A Viking On December 18, 2018 @ 5:09 pm

Mary Myers, is the Morning Joe show now very liberal? I don’t watch it, so am asking sincerely. It seems strange that it would be, considering that Joe Scarborough was a Republican US Representative.

#11 Comment By TR On December 18, 2018 @ 5:16 pm

I’m betting tired of praising Fran M, but I would give anything to have written his remark at 3:30 p.m.

#12 Comment By Ted On December 18, 2018 @ 5:20 pm

Oh, come on. Isn’t this a little too much power to ascribe to one individual? What about AIPAC? Fox News? Limbaugh? Hannity? The op/ed page of the Washington Post?

#13 Comment By the funny papers On December 18, 2018 @ 10:23 pm

Weekly Standard dead.

Rand Paul’s still got his senate seat. Walter Jones still got his house seat.

Things are looking up.

To do: hose out Wall Street Journal editorial board, a nest of globalist vipers and foreign agents. Identify strong primary challengers for Rubio and Cotton.

#14 Comment By The Dumbwaiter On December 18, 2018 @ 11:11 pm

“Rand Paul is NOT one of us.”


Who does Kristol mean by “us”?

People like Kristol? Who race back and forth between Washington and Tel Aviv catering to Israel? Who make sure Israel gets what it wants from the American political process?

Thank God Rand Paul isn’t part of that “us”!

No American politician should be part of that “us”.

#15 Comment By Bankotsu On December 19, 2018 @ 2:48 am

“Dude, you’re garbage”:

Sen. Rand Paul does NOT hold back in bidding farewell to the Weekly Standard


#16 Comment By Bruce Bourgeois On December 19, 2018 @ 4:55 am

Considering how they have Failed Post Kuwait, and self sabotaged every conflict since in the middle east, Rand Paul is the Real Patriot,the Deep State is clearly the UnAmerican

#17 Comment By John Smith On December 19, 2018 @ 7:41 am

Thanks for a very illuminating article.

#18 Comment By EliteCommInc. On December 19, 2018 @ 8:50 am

” . . . The GOP rushed headlong into war and would have done so without Kristol. Almost everybody on the right, certainly the politicians, excoriated liberals and Democrats for not getting on board with Iraq invasions immediately, and accusing Dems of being in bed with, or tacitly supporting, the agenda of Osama bin Landen. . . .”

Excuse my whine here. But no one and i mean no one hot the high hat more than members of the GOP or those who were conservatives —

–and they got that treatment from democrats, liberals, republicans, independents . . . in fact, the top tier designers of the PA were democrats, whose executive representative turned into a political weapon as mere sport internally as well as embroiling the US in Syria, the Ukraine, Libya, Iran, Yemen,

went as far as murdering US citizens in violation to anything remotely akin to to a due process — its no wonder liberals treat citizenship with such cheapness.


No. I am unmoved by the rah rah rah cheering for Sen Rand Paul. Which seems to the articles main point.

#19 Comment By Nathan On December 19, 2018 @ 9:10 am

Wow an entire article about Kristol and his eagerness to send Americans off to die without even touching the third rail; Israel. Not a single mention of that? His intentions ran no deeper than his NeoCon aspirations? Not a single mention of his “Emergency Committee for Israel” PAC? This article is a miss.

Bring back Phil Giraldi please.

#20 Comment By Flavius On December 19, 2018 @ 10:32 am

The damage this deranged Quixote Kristol has done to our nation and the world with his mad advocacies has been incalculable. Good riddance to him, his magazine, and if the cancer he introduced into the GOP can’t be excised, good riddance to it as well. Speaking for myself, I’ll take my chances with the ashes.

#21 Comment By Ed On December 19, 2018 @ 11:27 am

@ A DC Wonk:

You are reading a magazine that is published, edited and written by “people on the right” who did not “excoriate liberals and Democrats for not getting on board with Iraq invasions immediately, and accusing Dems of being in bed with, or tacitly supporting, the agenda of Osama bin Landen.” Maybe a bit less hyperbole is in order when writing about those days.

If some people are mourning the magazine’s demise, that may be more for the “back of the book” articles on books and the arts. National Review was not that good with book reviews, having a rather narrow focus and scattershot coverage. One might even venture that the Weekly Standard’s cultural pages were better than the American Conservative’s.

For the rest, I wonder how seriously people really take the Standard’s political pages nowadays. There’s a lot more skepticism about political journals than there was in the past. We assume that somebody is trying to sell us a political line that may not be truthful or in our own best interests or the country’s. That goes for neocons, paleocons, liberals, socialists and everybody else in the opinion game

#22 Comment By A DC Wonk On December 19, 2018 @ 1:14 pm

is the Morning Joe show now very liberal? I don’t watch it, so am asking sincerely. It seems strange that it would be, considering that Joe Scarborough was a Republican US Representative.

No, it’s not. But, see, in the eyes of many, being anti- or Never-Trump means that it must be liberal.

#23 Comment By TR On December 20, 2018 @ 11:11 am

Nathan: I agree: Bring back Phil Geraldi.

#24 Comment By Donxon On December 20, 2018 @ 11:19 am

Kristol and his whole posse and just a bunch of vindictive little darlings who want to play tough guy. It is a testimony to the spinelessness of most conservatives that they weren’t laughed out of the room from the get go.

#25 Comment By Mary Myers On December 21, 2018 @ 12:19 am

Thrice a Viking, I am of Danish Viking descent also and love your name.

I’ve been watching “Morning Joe” since its inception, and I can tell you that Joe Scarborough is no longer a Republican as he succumbed to Mikka’s leftist views. Watching Joe’s metamorphosis has been quite interesting. You will have to watch the program if you think Joe is still a Conservative. I guess you could chalk it up to “pillow talk.”

#26 Comment By Stewart Schwartz On December 21, 2018 @ 11:45 am


#27 Comment By WorkingClass On December 23, 2018 @ 12:02 pm

The Neocon war mongers are the scum of the earth. Good riddance to their disgusting club house news letter.

#28 Comment By morganB On December 31, 2018 @ 1:46 pm

WOW! Carlson seem to have it…
“Kristol was trying to remake the Republican Party,” Carlson says. However, Carlson overlooks the real reason we are no longer Republicans… Trump! Conservative?