When Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol suggested on Sunday that Sarah Palin restart her political career by running for Senate, people noticed, because more than anyone else —more than John McCain, the candidate who picked her as his running mate, more than Steve Schmidt, the adviser who urged McCain to do it — Kristol is credited with launching Palin's career. On Tuesday, Kristol made it clear he does not want all that credit (or blame).
On MSNBC's Morning Joe, Nicolle Wallace, who was Palin's aide during the 2008 campaign, asked Kristol, "How did you feel as sort of being branded as the godfather of Sarah Palin, Inc.?" He responded, "It's not the worst thing that's ever been said about me. You know, I have a thick skin." Of his suggestion she run for Senate on Sunday, Kristol said he was not predicting or endorsing a Palin candidacy in 2014. "I was asked, 'Does Sarah Palin have a future?' and I just tried to give an analytical answer — which is, I don’t think she does…" They don't even chat these days, he said. "I haven't been in touch with her in a year or so."
Why does Kristol get so much Palin blame? By October 2008, Palin's vice-presidential candidacy looked so disastrous that The New Yorker published an explainer for how she got to be picked as McCain's running mate in the first place. Jane Mayer pegged Kristol as the No. 1 culprit. A circle of Republican commentators had developed a political crush on Sarah Palin during a luxury cruise to Alaska in 2007, she reported. Kristol was her "most ardent promoter… and his enthusiasm became the talk of Alaska's political circles." By the summer of 2008, Kristol was campaigning for McCain to pick Palin both on camera and behind the scenes. His endorsements were over the top: She was "fantastic," good at basketball, not just potentially a good veep but "an effective president" too, "like Andrew Jackson," and his "heartthrob." He couldn't take it if McCain didn't pick her: "I don’t know if I can make it through the next three months without her on the ticket." At one point, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace said, "Can we please get off Sarah Palin?"
Kristol defended Palin long after the 2008 campaign. He said she was "crazy like a fox" in 2009, predicted she would save John McCain from losing his reelection campaign in 2010. So that's why, in May 2011, the whole nerd world gasped when Kristol said, "I think she's unlikely to be the Republican nominee, and to be honest I think she probably shouldn't be the Republican nominee for president."
Kristol still hasn't totally given up on Palin. "She disappointed me a little bit a couple times in the campaign and she really disappointed me when she quit" her job as Alaska's governor, Kristol said on Tuesday. But she could redeem herself. "I’m not urging this," Kristol said, but "If she wants to have a serious future in American politics, as opposed to giving speeches occasionally, causing a ruckus with Facebook posts, she should run for office." Being a has-been doesn't have to be permanent, he said. But the role model he suggested isn't an entirely positive one. "Running and winning takes away a lot of baggage of the past… Richard Nixon after losing the governorship in '62, after losing the presidency in '60, was finished. He was finished. The way he wasn't finished was he ran for the presidency and won."