Here Are 3 Bush-era neocons who are siding with liberals and progressives under Trump

Politics make strange bedfellows.

Bill Kristol (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

During the George W. Bush era, “neocon” (short for “neoconservative”) is a word that inspired feelings of contempt among liberals and progressives as well as the libertarian right (Ron Paul, Gary Johnson) and paleoconservatives (Patrick Buchanan). Neocons, during Bush’s presidency, became synonymous with the Iraq War, an abrasive foreign policy and huge federal deficits. But politics make strange bedfellows, and in the Donald Trump era—with the alt-right occupying the White House—liberals and progressives have been commiserating with prominent Bush-era neocons like Bill Kristol, Max Boot and David Frum.

Liberals and progressives frequently butted heads with Kristol, Boot and Frum during Bush’s presidency, but these days, they often show up as welcome guests on liberal-leaning MSNBC—and they share the left’s disdain for Donald Trump’s presidency. In 2018, it isn’t uncommon to find Rachel Maddow or another liberal at MSNBC engaging in some friendly Trump-bashing with a neocon from the Bush era.

Here are three Bush-era neocons who liberals and progressives often find themselves commiserating with during the Trump years.

1. Bill Kristol

Native New Yorker Bill Kristol is the son of the late Irving Kristol—who has been called the Godfather of Neoconservatism—and the founder of the Weekly Standard. Irving Kristol was a Trotskyist during his youth but later abandoned communism, became a right-wing Republican and championed an extremely interventionist foreign policy. And Bill Kristol was greatly influenced by his father, whose neoconservative ideology went way beyond believing in a strong military and peace through strength—neocons believe in nation-building, unlike libertarians such as Ron Paul and Gary Johnson or paleoconservatives like Patrick Buchanan (whose isolationist and protectionist views were a major influence on President Trump).

The neocon obsession with nation-building was very much at work when, after 9/11, Bill Kristol was encouraging the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of dictator Saddam Hussein. The Iraq War turned out to be one of the worst foreign policy disasters in U.S. history, and many liberal and progressive critics of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney’s foreign policy found common ground with anti-interventionist right-wingers ranging from Buchanan to Paul to Justin Raimondo (the libertarian/paleoconservative known for serving as editorial director of Antiwar.com and suffering a landslide defeat of 72% when he ran for a House of Representatives seat against Rep. Nancy Pelosi in 1996).

But in 2018, the liberals, progressives and centrists at MSNBC often find themselves bonding with Kristol in opposition to Trump’s presidency. Kristol hasn’t moved to the left politically; he is as right-wing as ever, but he views Trump as a foreign-policy disaster—and MSNBC’s hosts, from liberal Rachel Maddow to centrist Chris Matthews—agree. Whenever Trump attacks the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Kristol is happy to appear on MSNBC and defend NATO. And Kristol is so fiercely anti-Trump that his nonprofit Defending Democracy Together is seeking a Republican candidate to challenge Trump in a GOP presidential primary in 2020.

2. Max Boot

Journalist Max Boot has written so many anti-Trump commentaries and spent so much time bashing Trump in the presence of liberals and progressives on MSNBC and CNN that it is easy to forget how conservative he is. But Boot has a very right-wing background. Boot was a foreign policy advisor for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential run as well as a strong supporter of George W. Bush’s presidency and the failed Iraq War—and even though President Barack Obama was a war hawk who ramped up the U.S.’ military presence in Afghanistan considerably, Boot insisted that Obama wasn’t interventionist enough.

These days, however, Boot is way more critical of Trump than he was of Obama. Boot expressed his disgust for Trump by leaving the GOP and asserting that Trump has been so terrible for the GOP brand that he was hoping for a Democratic tsunami on Election Day. On November 7, Boot told NPR’s Noel King that while he was glad to see Democrats obtain a majority in the House of Representatives, the midterms still weren’t the “complete repudiation” of Trumpism he was hoping for. Boot wanted to see Democrats retake the Senate as well.

3. David Frum

Toronto-born David Frum is a rarity: a Canadian neocon. But he has been a U.S. citizen since 2007 (he holds dual citizenship), and he has been heavily involved in Republican politics for many years. Frum has a very right-wing resumé: he was a speechwriter for President Bush, he aggressively supported the Iraq War (which he now admits was a mistake), he endorsed Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential run, and he became a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (a neocon think tank). But Frum is not the type of Republican who is afraid to buck his party. Although he voted for McCain, he asserted that Sarah Palin was a terrible choice for a running mate. And in 2016, Frum voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton and made it clear that he was a NeverTrump Republican. 

Frum hasn’t warmed up to Trump’s presidency one bit. He detests the alt-right’s isolationism and considers Trump to be a train wreck on foreign policy. And when Rachel Maddow needs a conservative to join her in some Trump-bashing, Frum is often available for an MSNBC appearance.

 

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Alex Henderson is a news writer at AlterNet and veteran political journalist. His work has also appeared in Salon, Raw Story, Truthdig, National Memo, Philadelphia Weekly, Democratic Underground, L.A. Weekly, MintPress News and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @alexvhenderson.