On June 30, 2008, Kristol confidently predicted that McCain would select Sarah Palin and as a public display of support, oil prices would miraculously fall.
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 righ t 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.)
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.
Scott Horton is a law professor and writer on legal and national security affairs for Harper's Magazine and The American Lawyer, among other publications.