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Bill Kristol: Trump and George W. Bush were too compassionate — conservatives must stop being ‘nice’

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Bill Kristol speaks to ABC News on Dec. 21, 2014. (Screenshot)

The implosion of the Republican party this election season has prompted Weekly Standard editor William Kristol to do some soul-searching about the future of the conservative movement. Conveniently, this soul-searching leads him squarely back to the idea that conservatives should double down on “limited government” that’s less compassionate towards poor, working and middle-class people.

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Host Michael Graham opened up the week’s Weekly Standard podcast by noting the likelihood of a Hillary Clinton win on November 8th. “What next? I see this cavernous hole of doom!” he observes about a Hillary Clinton Presidency, in not-at-all loaded language. “Am I wrong?”

“Probably not, that’s usually the right thing to see,” Kristol giggles.

The conservative pundit proceeds to lay out what lessons Republicans should draw from Trump’s success.

“The obvious way to go is to say the populist sentiments were real, important—that Trump distorted them, Trump was a bad messenger, and … conservatives need to reach out, in a sense, and embrace some of those sentiments,” Kristol says. Not one for the “conventional” wisdom, Kristol disagrees.

“Part of me also thinks, though, that that’s sort of the obvious answer but maybe not the right answer. Maybe what’s needed is a bolder answer that cuts against, in a way, the Trump message and really tries to go back to constitutional-limited government.”

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The conservative pundit then traces the lineage of Trump’s brand of conservatism back to that paragon of compassion, George W. Bush. “Isn’t Trump’s conservatism kind of a funny bastard child of compassionate conservatism?” he asks. “Once you have the notion that the government can just do things for you … with Bush, it was to do nice things for poor people, in Trump, it’s to reflect the anxieties and unhappiness of working class, middle class people, but either way, maybe it’s time for more radical, sort of libertarian-constitutionalist agenda,” Kristol concludes.

Kristol lays out some of the policy proposals that would define this bold new conservatism: Portable health savings accounts, individual retirement accounts, “not one size fits all.” And “Decentralization, which fits with innovation and modernization.”

Host Michael Graham then frets that people seeing Republicans as the “bad guy” is bad for the party. Not so, according to Kristol.

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“It’s like bringing up kids. Sometimes it’s a little harsh to play by the rules, and to enforce a rule, and not to be kind and gentle all the time, but it’s ultimately very bad for the kid to indulge him and it’s very bad for society for people to be getting away with all these things so I don’t know, will conservatives take the lesson from Trump … that we have to be nicer? Or that we have to play by the rules?” Bill Kristol concluded.


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