Kristol Is Clear

Republicans are lining up behind Donald Trump, but Bill Kristol is still trying to stop him. Too bad pundits are conflating his chances of success with its virtue.

Robert F. Bukaty / AP

I opened my Twitter feed on Tuesday night to find liberals ridiculing Bill Kristol. Nothing unusual there. But this time, they had fresh ammunition: The news that Kristol’s much-hyped third-party presidential candidate will be little-known National Review contributor David French. By Thursday morning, the mockery had migrated to television. On Morning Joe, the mere mention of Kristol’s name evoked laughter. “Bill needs to take a vacation. Like a long one,” declared cohost Mika Brzezinski. Later she added, “He’s been wrong. Sorry. He’s been wrong about Trump, and if you’re going to get behind someone who can really rival Trump, you need to get behind somebody who can really rival Trump.”

No, actually, you don’t. In general, I’m not a Kristol fan. His foreign-policy views have not changed in the last 15 years, which is dumbfounding given that the views he held 15 years ago have caused such epic misery. By refusing to admit that the Iraq War was a catastrophic error, Kristol and other GOP foreign-policy elites helped create the vacuum that Donald Trump now fills.

But in his search for a third-party alternative to Trump, Kristol doesn’t deserve derision. He deserves praise. All around him, GOP commentators, operatives, and politicians are coalescing behind a man who daily screams his unfitness to be president. (Yesterday’s highlights: The Donald’s threats against the judge overseeing the Trump University case and his unfamiliarity with the term “Brexit.”) Kristol could have joined the herd, as have allies like Sheldon Adelson and Marco Rubio. Instead, he has hunted for an alternative. Given that most conservatives won’t support Hillary Clinton, he’s taking tangible steps to prevent the complete collapse of #NeverTrump.

Sure, David French isn’t a strong candidate. But in laughing at Kristol, pundits are conflating the success of his initiative with its virtue. Many did the same when Mitt Romney came out against Trump. When it became clear that Romney’s denunciations weren’t influencing voters, commentators mocked the former GOP nominee as “impotent,” “pathetic,” and “sad.” But Romney, like Kristol, was trying to stop a man he rightly considers dangerous to the republic. That’s admirable regardless of the outcome.

In scorning Kristol and Romney because their anti-Trump efforts aren’t likely to succeed, the media is surrendering to the logic of Trump himself. For Trump, what matters, above all else, is winning. That’s why he jeered at John McCain for getting captured in North Vietnam. It’s why he talks incessantly about the size of his crowds and the strength of his poll numbers. It’s why he so often insists that the newspapers that write critical stories about him are losing circulation.

For Trump, being victorious is proof of being right. Journalists should reject that vile ethic, not make it their own.