Back in late 2014, Bill Kristol foresaw that Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky wouldn’t get very far in the forthcoming Republican primary season. He also forecast that Jeb Bush, then the presumed Republican front-runner, would struggle to secure the nomination.
He was correct in both instances.
This is newsworthy in the same sense that a man biting a dog is newsworthy. It’s an unusual, even aberrant event, a violation of the usual order of things.
Kristol, 63, the eminent conservative commentator, has made so many wrong predictions that he’s become a kind of cult figure of wrong, at least among some media watchers.
Kristol’s Twitter feed has an active following of hecklers and harassers, ready to pounce when his Kristol ball fails him. They usually don’t have to wait long. Kristol, for example, has been consistently wrong in predicting the trajectory of Donald Trump’s presidential bid. Although he’s certainly not alone in this, he has been wronger longer than just about anyone. According to New York magazine’s tally, he has predicted “peak Trump” — Trump’s crest as a candidate — 11 times since July, including most recently on Jan. 29. That was three days before Trump finished second in the Iowa caucuses and 11 days before his crushing victory in New Hampshire.
In an interview, Kristol suggests his Twitter predictions carry an implied caveat — for amusement and/or discussion purposes only. “My predictions are lighthearted,” he says. “I try to predict long shots. I don’t take it very seriously.”
He continues: “People get too attached to the conventional wisdom. Provoking people to think things might turn out differently, I’ve found, is generally a useful thing. . . . It’s sort of educational. I do try to be provocative.”
If that’s the case, Kristol has done a lot of provoking, and not just on Twitter. Over a long career as a writer, editor and prominent figure in the conservative establishment, Kristol has made many calls that clanked.
Like the time in 2006 when he predicted on Fox News that Barack Obama wouldn’t win a single primary against Hillary Clinton. Or when he predicted that Obama would appoint then-Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to the Supreme Court. Or when he said repeatedly in October that Vice President Biden was about to jump into the 2016 presidential race. Or when he predicted a victory by Marco Rubio in New Hampshire earlier this month.
Or that time he said in the Weekly Standard that Rudy Giuliani would run in 2012. Or that time on Fox when he said convicted Sen. Ted Stevens would be re-elected. Or when he said in 1993 that a march on Washington that year would be “the high-water mark” for the gay and lesbian rights movement . Or the time he championed Sarah Palin’s vice presidential candidacy, writing in the New York Times, “A Wasilla Wal-Mart Mom a heartbeat away [from the presidency]? I suspect most voters will say, No problem. And some — perhaps a decisive number — will say, It’s about time.”
The son of the late conservative intellectual Irving Kristol , Kristol was an academic star before turning to punditry. He served on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government before joining the Reagan administration as chief of staff to Education Secretary William Bennett. He later held the same position under Vice President Dan Quayle, wherein he became known as “Quayle’s brain.”
He gained wider renown in later years as a television talking head and as the founding editor of the Weekly Standard, the lively journal of conservative opinion that was owned for years by Rupert Murdoch.
Perhaps Kristol’s wrongest and most consequential predictions were those involving the war in Iraq.
As an advocate of the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq, he said, among other things, that the war “could have terrifically good effects throughout the Middle East”; that Saddam Hussein was “past that finish line” in developing nuclear weapons; that “if we free the people of Iraq we will be respected in the Arab world.” He also said, “Very few wars in American history were prepared better or more thoroughly than this one by this president.” He predicted on C-SPAN that it would be a “two-month war, not an eight-year war.”
When Bill Maher mentioned to Kristol on his HBO program in 2014 that Kristol had made “some bad predictions” about the war, Kristol neither explained nor apologized. “I certainly did,” he said.
“With Kristol what I love are not so much the big, grand predictions that are always wrong, but the smaller ones that really demonstrate how poor his actual grasp of politics is,” says Alex Pareene, the editor of Gawker, one of Kristol’s regular tormentors. “He is sort of ideologically motivated to make certain ridiculous claims — Iraq will be a huge success, Romney will win — and even his ‘peak Trump’ predictions are based on the fact that he can’t abide the ongoing rejection of his entire ethos by Republican voters. But it’s when he makes claims that are just wrong but not motivated by the advancement of his worldview . . . that we see just how bad he is at his ostensible job.”
Kristol says he sometimes sees the pushback his predictions draw on Twitter or on the Internet. But usually he doesn’t. “I don’t look at the [Twitter] notifications,” he says. “I don’t get Google alerts on it, so I’m a little oblivious.”
The larger question about Kristol is how much it matters that he’s been wrong as often as he has been. Stock-market columnists, weather forecasters and horse-racing touts might never survive so many blown calls. But Kristol hasn’t just survived his errant predictions, he’s thrived.
In addition to editing his magazine over the past two decades, Kristol has been at various times a columnist for the New York Times and The Washington Post, and a longtime commentator on Fox News Channel. He was a 2009 recipient of the $250,000 Bradley Prize, awarded to conservative thinkers. He is currently a regular panelist for ABC News’s “This Week.” (ABC News did not respond to requests for comment.)
As for Trump, Kristol is sticking to his guns, despite all the earlier misfires. “If I had to bet, I’d still bet against him getting the nomination,” he said.
Yes, Bill Kristol is predicting again. Treat it accordingly.