Matt Bai’s new New York Times Magazine column, “Does Anyone Have a Grip on the G.O.P.?,” has sparked a lot of conversation and conflict on the right this week. Rush Limbaugh, for example, wasn’t pleased with some of the quotes from the “Republican elite” interviewed by Bai.
There’s some quotes from various people in this story. Bill Kristol on the Tea Party: ‘It’s an infantile form of conservatism’…
… The only problem is that Kristol never said that.
Here’s the actual quote from the first paragraph of the magazine piece:
Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, worried in early August that a “large number of Republican primary voters, and even more independent general-election voters, will be wary of supporting a Republican candidate in 2012 if the party looks as if it’s in the grip of an infantile form of conservatism.”
First, Kristol was talking about the Republican Party — not the tea party. Second, he included a huge qualifier — the word “if.” And third, Kristol may well have been correct in his analysis.
This strikes me as an unfair representation of Kristol’s remarks.
Later in the show, Limbaugh added this:
So here’s Bill Kristol, who once thanked me for defending him against some attack that had been launched against him at a party at Bill Bennett’s house. That would never happen today. There wouldn’t be a party at Bill Bennett’s house and Kristol wouldn’t thank me for anything.
Anyway, I’m forced to ask here: How many constituents does Bill Kristol have at the Weekly Standard? How many readers? What’s the reach there?
He might as well have asked, “How many divisions does the Pope have?”
The notion that size matters is perhaps a convenient argument for Limbaugh to make. There is little doubt that his radio audience dwarfs the readership of The Weekly Standard, but Kristol arguably influences more opinion leaders.
This is not to say Limbaugh’s work is not important for the conservative movement — it is — but it is to say that Limbaugh and Kristol serve different functions within the conservative movement.
Just as 20th century Christianity benefited from having evangelists to the masses (like Bill Graham), it also benefited from having evangelists to the academics (like Malcolm Muggeridge.) Advancing conservative ideas requires a variety of different types of leaders who can reach different audiences. Limbaugh should know this.
It’s also fair to note that Kristol, of course, isn’t merely editor of The Weekly Standard — he’s also a regular contributor to Fox News where his opinions are given a huge platform.
It is not inconceivable to imagine that, had things gone differently, Kristol’s prodding on the network might well have led either Rep. Paul Ryan or New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to run for president. One might argue about whether or not either would have been a good thing — but the point is that Kristol has a large reach as an opinion leader.