In the Donald Trump era, some liberals are confounded by their affection for a figure they would otherwise despise. He is known to them, after all, as one of America’s most enthusiastic warmongers—and as the man who first vaulted Sarah Palin to national fame. Yet for all his many episodes of villainy, it’s possible to concede the pleasures of his impish company, especially when he breaks ranks to join your political side. His current career as a pithy critic of the president led liberal Twitter to endow him with a grudgingly affectionate moniker: He is “Woke Bill Kristol.”
Today the magazine Kristol founded, The Weekly Standard, is not awake at all. The owner of the magazine, Phil Anschutz, has snuffed it out. He folded the Standard at the very moment it was enjoying newfound relevance as the house organ of the Never Trump wing of the Republican Party. On the eve of its death, the Standard exhibited a cover-to-cover vibrance that had eluded it for more than a decade.
For many years, I enjoyed The Weekly Standard with a swirl of mixed sentiments, similar to the ones that now greet Woke Bill Kristol. The publication, which Kristol edited until 2016, perfectly reflected his personality and ever-shifting enthusiasms. It carried an amiable wit, albeit one that didn’t always hit the mark. (Covers often featured bombastic cartoons in a style that evoked the work of bar-mitzvah sketch artists, which made political enemies look like abject idiots.) The magazine itself combined high intellectual seriousness with the crass mentality of a political operative. A single edition of the Standard might contain gonzo reportage, erudite cultural essays, and op-eds filled with gross clichés that made you want to force the whole thing down the garbage disposal.