College Republicans host Bill Kristol to discuss future of the Republican Party

Kristol said there are many reason for conservatives to be optimistic about the outlook of the GOP

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Kristol, who has regularly spoken against Trump as a guest commentator on CNN and Fox News, briefly spoke about why he does not support Trump’s presidency, despite believing in a conservative agenda.

Nick Zugris | Cavalier Daily

The College Republicans hosted Bill Kristol, conservative commentator and editor at large of The Weekly Standard, Tuesday night in the Physics Building for a discussion on modern conservatism and the future of the Republican party.

Kristol — who started The Weekly Standard magazine in 1995 and has served as its editor for 21 years — considers himself a neo-conservative. He is an open critic of President Donald Trump and was invited to speak to students by Adam Kimelman, a third-year College student and chair of the College Republicans. 

“He has been one of the most prominent voices in the Republican Party for a very long time,” Kimelman said. “He’s also been a prominent critic of President Trump and we think that’s pretty important to have here.”

Kimelman said the College Republicans have typically hosted speakers who are strong supporters of Trump and his agenda, but added that he wanted students to hear from a more traditionally conservative perspective.

“Ultimately we wanted to have him here because we think College Republicans should encompass the entirety of the Republican party, all of the different viewpoints, all the different ideologies,” Kimelman said. “We’ve heard some very pro-Trump speakers, and we wanted to hear from the other side to get another opinion. Little differences in the party never killed anybody.”

Kristol started his talk by discussing the importance of students having difficult conversations with each other on topics such as differences in political opinion.

“I have a high regard for U.Va.,”  Kristol said. “Partly because I think it has kept up the tradition of civilized discourse and disagreement and debate, and I’m glad the College Republicans are doing that.”

He added that it tends to be a burden to identify as a conservative on college campuses today, which Kristol experienced as a student at Harvard University in the 1970s where he said only 2.5 percent of the student body supported President Richard Nixon. 

“Don’t be depressed if you’re a Republican or a conservative,” Kristol said. “There will be a huge conservative revival. One reason I am pretty confident there will be a conservative comeback is that … we’ve really had a test [for] the last 40 or 60 years of conservative ideas and liberal ideas.”

Kristol said that he believes the “tough, hawkish” stance on foreign policy that many conservatives have embraced is more effective than the more passive approach that he said Democrats have embraced. However, he added that former U.S. President Barack Obama’s foreign policy approach is very similar to that of Trump’s.

“There’s actually more continuity between Obama and Trump’s foreign policy than either of those two would like to admit,” Kristol said. “I think we paid a big price, especially for Obama’s second term in Syria and elsewhere. Hopefully Trump might revert to a more traditional Republican policy. Foreign policy, generally, I think, a tough, hawkish stance has more than less worked.”

Kristol, who has regularly spoken against Trump as a guest commentator on CNN and Fox News, briefly spoke about why he does not support Trump’s presidency, despite believing in a conservative agenda.

“I just don’t think he should be president, really, and I’m dubious that the Trump presidency will end well,” Kristol said. “Like all Americans, I hope it works out okay, and I admire some of the people in the administration who have prevented some bad things from happening. There actually have been some good things happening, but I remain a Trump skeptic I would say.” 

Kristol argued that Trump is an unconventional president during an unusual time in United States politics. He said that there has been a growing dissatisfaction between members of both political parties which he said caused Trump to win the 2016 election despite running against his own party in many ways.

“It could get more intense if Trump fails,” Kristol said. “It’s not clear to me that Trump voters will say ‘Gee, we need to go back to Rubio or Jeb Bush or Scott Walker.’ They might say we need to double-down on Trumpism.”

He added that Democrats have failed to learn from their mistakes in the 2016 presidential election which he thinks could be a source of optimism for the Republican Party. In the future, Kristol said that Democrats should field a more moderate candidate for the presidency who is in touch with middle America. 

“The next 20 years will look more like 1960 to 1980 … in terms of just the kind of political turmoil regarding the shaking up of the established norms and established people,” Kristol said. “I would argue that by the end of that period from the ‘60s to ‘80s, we ended up a stronger country. We had a civil rights revolution, we had a feminist revolution, we had an environmental revolution, we had a Reagan revolution in terms of economics and foreign policy.”

Kimelman said he agreed with Kristol’s analysis of the Republican Party and shared his optimism for the future. He added that he hopes liberal students at the University do not hold negative views of Republican students due to differing political views. 

“I can’t tell you how many students I’ve never met before that know I’m chair of the College Republicans, and when they meet me they have a bad first impression and then I talk to them a little bit and they’re like ‘Oh, you’re not a terrible human being,’” Kimelman said. “I think that talking to people is a good start. In general, I think we need to do more activism. We need to have more debates with people on Grounds and we need to have more things like that.” 

Daniela Bernstein, a first-year College student and member of University Democrats, said she attended the meeting because a professor challenged her class to seek out different viewpoints.

“There were things I disagreed with, but it was still interesting to see the other side,” Bernstein said. “I disagreed with what he said about the direction the liberals are going in. There were some things I agreed with, like he said that the Democratic Party is a little bit disorganized at the moment. He thinks that the future will be more right-leaning, in general. I don’t know if I agree with that or want to agree with it.” 

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