10.10.08

Palin's Talent Scout

No wonder Bill Kristol has remained so positive about her while other neocons have fled. He helped push her to the veep ticket—and won out against Karl Rove.

No wonder Bill Kristol has remained so positive about her while other neocons have fled. He helped push her to the veep ticket—and won out against Karl Rove. (With an update after a Weekly Standard blog post Friday night critiquing this piece.)

In June 2007, a cruise hosted by the political journal The Weekly Standard set anchor in Juneau, Alaska. Standard editors William Kristol and Fred Barnes then lunched with Governor Sarah Palin. It was a moment of discovery to equal Hernando Cortez’s landing at Veracruz.

The Daily Telegraph’s Tim Shipman saw this encounter as the launch of a Neoconservative project surrounding Palin. He interviewed a former Republican White House official now at the American Enterprise Institute about Palin:

“She’s bright and she’s a blank page. She’s going places and it’s worth going there with her.” Asked if he sees her as a “project,” the former official said: “Your word, not mine, but I wouldn’t disagree with the sentiment.

Kristol appeared on Fox News on June 30, 2008, confidently predicting that McCain would select Sarah Palin and as a public display of support, oil prices would miraculously fall.

Kristol can fairly lay claim to having “discovered” Palin for Washington political circles. Palin’s name appeared in 41 Weekly Standard articles since the Juneau meeting—starting with a paean entitled “ The Most Popular Governor” that ran right after the reception.

Indeed, Kristol, who was a loyal McCain supporter in 2000 and is often thought to have suffered exclusion from Bush’s inner circle as a result, may have played a key role in McCain’s decision to tap Palin as his running mate. A McCain campaign insider described to me a tight three-way competition between Palin, Joe Lieberman, and Mitt Romney in the final days. McCain himself, it was no secret, wanted Lieberman to be his running mate, but his senior advisors were adamant that Lieberman could not be sold to the Republican base. A Lieberman nomination might risk exposing serious fissures in the party at the convention in Saint Paul.

The inner circle broke down between two choices. Those close to Karl Rove united around Romney. Rove engaged in heavy lobbying in an effort to get McCain to embrace Romney. Others, of whom Kristol was the most prominent, pushed Sarah Palin—arguing that she was young, popular, vigorous, unknown and had the right connections to the Religious Right bloc which had proven so important to Republican wins in 2000 and 2004. Karl Rove himself recognized, with typical insight, that Palin was the real challenger. He attacked Virginia Governor Tim Kaine as an ill-suited candidate for the vice presidential slot on the Democratic ticket. Kaine, of course, had a resume almost identical to Palin’s—he had been a small city mayor and then had served, for less than two years, as governor—and McCain campaign insiders understood the swipe differently from others. Did Rove really care about Kaine’s darkhorse candidacy for the Democrats, or was he launching a cloaked attack on Palin? (In a recent appearance, Rove was asked if he thought Palin would make a good president. “I don’t know” was his unenthusiastic answer.

Kristol, in any event, was quick to press the campaign for the Palin candidacy with the party’s faithful. Taking a cue from the Straussian handbook, Kristol appeared on Fox News on June 30, 2008, confidently predicting that McCain would select Sarah Palin and as a public display of support, oil prices would miraculously fall.

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And indeed, weeks after the Palin pick, oil prices did tumble—though analysts link this to concerns about the crisis in financial institutions and not Sarah Palin.

After the nomination, conservative columnists have been very critical of the Palin candidacy. Some have openly distanced themselves from it, such as National Review’s Kathleen Parker, who called on Palin voluntarily to quit the ticket. David Brooks referred to Palin as a “cancer on the Republican Party.” Peggy Noonan was overheard grumbling about the choice as “political bullshit” on an open mike on MSNBC. George Will told a gathering of Senate aides that Palin was “obviously not qualified” to be vice president. Former presidential speechwriter David Frum called the choice a gamble and then said he felt it was “disturbing.” Charles Krauthammer called the choice “near suicidal.”

Kristol is one of the few conservative columnists whose support of Palin has been unflinching. He has used his space as a New York Times columnist to tout her candidacy repeatedly. But in the process Kristol has never bothered to disclose his role in the decision making process that led to the Palin pick. Kristol’s Weekly Standard has figured as Palin’s chief defender, and its writers have gone after even those who dare to pose questions about Palin’s candidacy. Bill Kristol, it seems, has much at stake in the Palin candidacy.

This article has been updated and corrected in response to a post at the Weekly Standard blog by Jonathan Last, which details the Juneau meeting and notes that the Daily Telegraph piece was not quoted in proper context. The corrections are appreciated and the post is worth a gander.