Conversations with Bill Kristol

Conversations with Bill Kristol

Conversations with Bill Kristol features in-depth, thought-provoking discussions with leading figures in American public life.

  • 1 hour 12 minutes
    John DiIulio: A Second Trump Term and the Civil Service

    What should we make of Trump’s plans for the federal bureaucracy in a second term? In recent days, there has been extensive reporting about “Project 2025,” an agenda and road map that openly aims to politicize the civil service and render it more compliant with the executive. In this Conversation, we are joined by University of Pennsylvania political scientist John DiIulio, one of the leading experts on the civil service and bureaucracy in America. DiIulio takes the Project 2025 proposal seriously. But he argues that attacks on the permanent bureaucracy as a “Deep State" are misleading, because the federal agencies all are accountable and subject to Congressional oversight in meaningful ways. DiIulio considers the threat of a second Trump administration prioritizing loyalty over competency in the bureaucracy, the history of the civil service in the US, and what meaningful reforms of the bureaucracy might look like. DiIulio argues that above all we should focus on reforming the use of federal contractors, which remains the most unaccountable part of American government.

    9 July 2024, 2:18 pm
  • 56 minutes 56 seconds
    Jason Furman: Where is the Economy Now—and Where Will it Be in November?

    What is the state of the economy today and where might it be at the time of the November elections? To discuss, we are joined again by the distinguished Harvard economist Jason Furman, who was deputy director of the National Economic Council during the Financial Crisis and then served as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in President Obama’s second term. As Furman puts it, in spite of the inflation of the past few years and other longer-term challenges, “We really are right now economically the envy of the world. So I think it makes a lot of sense that we worry about our problems and figure out what we can do to make it even better.” In a wide-ranging analysis, Furman shares his perspective on inflation, employment, debt, and both Biden and Trump economic policies regarding immigration, tariffs, and other questions. While highlighting the strength of the US economy today, Furman notes how public policy choices and domestic and world events could affect us in the long term.  

    25 June 2024, 1:30 pm
  • 48 minutes 7 seconds
    Anne Applebaum on Ukraine, Russia, Europe, and the US

    Where do things stand in Ukraine? How are European democracies faring? How should we think about the challenge from autocracies around the globe?  

    To discuss these questions, we are joined again by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Anne Applebaum. Applebaum shares her perspective on recent developments in Ukraine, Russia, and Europe including the recent EU elections. She points to Ukraine’s continued resilience in the face of serious challenges, and Europe and America’s support for Ukraine in spite of domestic pressures against it. But she notes that we only have begun to think seriously about the challenges from autocracies, and that much more needs to be done to defend democracy at home and abroad. As Applebaum puts it: “Communist China, nationalist Russia, theocratic Iran, Bolivarian socialist Venezuela, whatever North Korea is… these aren’t countries that share an ideology... but they do share a common interest—undermining us—and by us, I mean America, Europe, the liberal world, the democratic world.” 

    14 June 2024, 5:25 pm
  • 51 minutes 36 seconds
    James Carville on Biden v. Trump

    Where do things stand in the race as we head into the summer?  

    According to veteran Democratic strategist James Carville: “It’s clearly very close. There clearly can be events that can impact the outcome. But we’re headed to an election that not many people are very excited about.” 

    Carville argues that the Biden campaign needs a message on the economy that is forward-looking, and suggests it isn’t enough for the president to frame the election as a referendum on Trump. Carville considers how abortion and unpopularity of the MAGA movement are potentially winning issues that the Biden campaign might use more effectively. But he notes the Trump operation has been more disciplined than in 2016 or in 2020, and reflects on the limitations to date of Biden’s campaign as incumbent. Kristol and Carville also consider how the outcome of Trump’s New York trial, a debate in June (if it happens!), the conventions, and other upcoming events could shape the race.  

    30 May 2024, 3:21 pm
  • 1 hour 19 minutes
    Robert Kagan on American Anti-liberalism, from the 1920s to the 2020s

    Is today's anti-liberalism a new phenomenon in American politics? What might earlier eras in US history have to teach us?

    To discuss these questions, we are joined, again, by Robert Kagan, the historian and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Drawing on his new book, Rebellion: How Antiliberalism Is Tearing America ApartAgain, Kagan argues that we “don’t realize that the [anti-liberal] movement we’re looking at today has been visible in every generation since the founding.” Kagan draws particular attention to the 1920s, when anti-immigration sentiment, white identity politics, and sympathy for authoritarian figures were prevalent in America. Kagan notes that the MAGA movement can be understood as a part of a long history of anti-liberalism that runs counter to the tradition of the founders, yet remains endemic to American democracy. Liberal democracy in America thus needs to be fought for and cannot simply be assumed.  

    15 May 2024, 3:37 pm
  • 1 hour 7 minutes
    Frederick W. Kagan on Ukraine: Where Things Stand and Where Might They Be Going

    Where do things stand in Ukraine? How will the recently-passed aid package help Ukraine on the battlefield? How does the war in Ukraine relate to rising threats from adversaries around the globe?

    To discuss these questions we are joined again by Fred Kagan, director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute. Kagan explains that Ukraine continues to face serious difficulties, in part because of a critical shortage of weapons as a result of the delay in US support. Yet the recently-passed aid package should bolster defenses against Russia’s anticipated assault this summer, and potentially help Ukraine to make gains in a counteroffensive early next year. Reflecting on the war and the world situation more broadly, Kagan points to the rising alliances among Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea as a comprehensive threat to the free world. As he puts it: “These countries disagree about a lot of things. They don’t share a common ideology. But they do share a common enemy: us.… We have to recognize [it] is an entente that aims to take us down, and we have to be resisting every part of it.”

    1 May 2024, 6:23 pm
  • 51 minutes 59 seconds
    Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Trump’s First Term—and a Second?

    What was it like serving in the Trump administration—and what might a second Trump term look like? To discuss these questions, we are joined by Mark Esper, Secretary of Defense from 2019-2020. In this Conversation, Esper considers Ukraine, China, and other foreign policy challenges facing the United States, and reflects on his experience leading the Department of Defense during the Trump administration. Esper discusses accomplishments of American foreign policy during those years, but also raises deep concern about Trump’s attempts to politicize the military and his placing unsuitable personnel at the center of key foreign policy decision-making. And he argues that these tendencies, which were kept partially under wraps in the first term, could prove to be more alarming in a second—especially considering Trump’s increasing priority of selecting personnel based on personal loyalty. In a time of what he calls “great power competition with Russia and China,” Esper argues it is vital to have a strong foreign policy team in place—and dangerous to have a bad one.

    18 April 2024, 5:39 pm
  • 1 hour 5 minutes
    David Axelrod on Biden v. Trump 2024

    Where do things stand in the 2024 race? What campaign strategies might increase Joe Biden’s chances? How might the economy, the border, wars in Europe and the Middle East, Trump's trials, and third-party campaigns affect the race? To discuss these questions, we are joined by David Axelrod, chief strategist for Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012. Axelrod explains: “I would not count on the shock and dismay of people over the fact that [Trump] is under 91 criminal indictments, or that he engineered an insurrection, and so on. I think you’re going to get that [vote] for free, but it’s not enough to win.” According to Axelrod, the Biden campaign also should not be complacent in thinking that touting Biden’s achievements during his first term will be enough. Instead, he argues, Biden needs to focus on the economic challenges people face today—while framing the election as a contrast between Biden and Trump, and not simply as a referendum on Biden’s presidency. 

    3 April 2024, 1:48 pm
  • 1 hour 7 minutes
    Joe Klein: Can the Democrats Get their Act Together?

    What do Joe Biden's successes, failures, and poll numbers reveal about the state of the Democratic Party today? In an era of polarization, can a spirit of moderation and bipartisanship be rediscovered?

    To discuss these questions, we are joined by Joe Klein, the veteran reporter, author, and analyst of American politics. Klein reflects on the changes of the Democratic Party over recent decades, including his perspective on the elevation of identity politics over unity. According to Klein, the Biden administration has been reasonably effective, but often has not been able to move the Democrats, or the country, beyond narrow interest-group politics. In the face of demagoguery from the Trump movement, Klein calls for a reinvigorated politics of moderation that can draw on the best traditions of both parties. Klein also shares fascinating personal reflections about reporting on and interacting with leading figures including Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  

    15 March 2024, 4:04 pm
  • 55 minutes 28 seconds
    Timothy Snyder on Ukraine, Russia, America—and What’s at Stake

    Two years into the war, where do things stand in Ukraine? What are Vladimir Putin’s war aims and how is attempting to undermine American commitment and resolve? 

    To discuss these questions, we are joined by Timothy Snyder, a Yale historian and leading expert on Russia, Ukraine, and Eastern Europe. Noting impressive successes in recent weeks despite the lack of weapons supply from the United States, Snyder argues that “this is still a war that Ukraine can win. But it depends upon whether they have allies who are capable of seeing the political stakes and capable of behaving in a way which is consistent with simple military logic, which is what do you need to do to help your ally to win.” 

    Persuading Americans that Ukraine cannot win, or even that a Russian victory would be preferable, is an integral part of Vladimir Putin’s war strategy. According to Snyder, Putin knows he cannot win on the battlefield if the West musters its collective energy to Ukrainian victory, but believes he can win by influencing our political debates about international engagement and support for the war. Defeating Russia, Snyder explains, is vital not only for Ukraine, but also for America and our allies. Kristol and Snyder also discuss how understanding fascism might help us to comprehend contemporary Russian politics and other political developments around the world.

    8 March 2024, 8:44 pm
  • 1 hour 13 minutes
    Doug Sosnik on the State of the Race: Trump, Biden, and 2024

    Where does the 2024 presidential race stand? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates, and how might such an unpopular rematch play out? What could happen if it's not Biden and Trump?

    To discuss these questions, we are joined again by veteran political strategist Doug Sosnik, former political director in the Clinton White House and author of this week’s important New York Timesop-ed,“Biden Can’t Count on Trump’s Unpopularity Anymore.” According to Sosnik, a Biden campaign strategy of aiming to “disqualify" Trump in the minds of voters is insufficient: Biden also must make an affirmative case for a second term while overcoming doubts about his age and health. Because the polarization in the country remains so intense, another Biden v. Trump race would be a world of “high floors and low ceilings.” According to Sosnik, Trump—now slightly ahead in the polls—is "bumping up to the high end of his ceiling,” while “Biden is bumping up to the bottom of his floor.” Kristol and Sosnik also consider the possible effects of a third-party challenge in a polarized environment, and how the race might take shape if either Trump or Biden is not renominated.

    15 February 2024, 6:29 pm
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