Paul Begala, the former advisor to President Bill Clinton, shared a stage on Tuesday at the TD Ameritrade regional conference in Dana Point, Calif., with his political opposite, Bill Kristol, who served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. The two men regaled the advisor-heavy audience with good-natured jokes and jabs at the other’s expense, but also expressed serious comments on the state of the nation, the presidential campaign and the likely outcomes of the coming election.
After proclaiming what a “wonderful country we have,” evidenced by U.S. citizens’ ability to disagree with one another without resorting to violence, as has been the case in democracies like the U.K. and France, Begala began by saying “every time I look at the economy, I think Obama can’t win; every time I look at the Republicans, I think Obama can’t lose.”
On the economy, Begala pointed out that President Obama should be behind the 8-ball because voter behavior tends to be driven by two numbers: the unemployment rate and household income. However, he argued that Gov. Mitt Romney was only the “strongest candidate in a weak field” of Republicans, recalling that at one time, “Romney was behind Donald Trump” in the Republican polls, and prompted laughter among audience members when he reported that Romney had created “thousands of jobs” in his time at Bain Capital, pausing before delivering the punchline, “in Bangalore.”
Kristol, the co-founder and editor of the conservative publication The Weekly Standard, started his portion of the presentation by agreeing with Begala on how both men came to their political convictions. “We like to think we come to our political views by deep thinking,” Kristol said, “but a lot of politics is aversion.” He noted that he had grown up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where “Bella Abzug was my congressman.” (Left-leaning Begala noted that he grew up in a conservative Republican district of Texas, where Tom DeLay was his long-serving congressman, and that many members of his family were conservative Republicans.)
Kristol directly addressed his once lukewarm feelings about Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate. “I spent much of 2010 and 2011 talking about why Romney shouldn’t be the nominee, but I was wrong,” he said. After reciting a list of the relatively few incumbent presidents in the nation’s history who lost re-election bids, he argued that “it’s not that common for incumbents to lose,” and that it usually has happened only when the sitting president faces a primary challenge within his own party. That hasn’t been the case with Obama, he pointed out.