NASHVILLE— Pundit, activist and Donald Trump critic Bill Kristol is laying odds that the former president will run again in 2024.
"I assume he's going to run," said Kristol, editor-at-large of The Bulwark website and onetime chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle during President George H.W. Bush's administration.
"He wants to be president again," Kristol said. "He's clearly chafing down there in Mar-a-Lago. And he's not going to sit there and enjoy watching a whole bunch of other people running for president. He can try to be kingmaker, but it's not quite the same ... as being the candidate and 20,000 cheering you."
Kristol's comments came Monday evening during an event sponsored by the Tennessee Democracy Forum and held at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. It was hosted by David Eichenthal, a forum board member who was active in Democratic politics before moving to Tennessee, where he worked for then-Mayor Bob Corker of Chattanooga, a Republican later elected to the U.S. Senate.
On Thursday, Trump is scheduled to be in Nashville, where he is expected to give the keynote speech at a conference hosted by the Faith and Freedom Coalition at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.
Monday's event with Kristol followed the second hearing of a U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters as congressmen and senators were certifying results of the 2020 presidential election in which Democrat Joe Biden defeated Trump.
"I really just thought [Trump] was totally unqualified to be president, both in terms of background and experience, but more importantly, character and judgment and a willingness to be a demagogue," Kristol told Eichenthal.
"Demagoguery is a very dangerous thing," added Kristol, who founded The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine, and earlier worked for then-U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett during President Ronald Reagan's administration. "You know, the willingness to stir up passions and incite people. Everyone does it a little if you're in politics. It's a gray area, you might say, with a little bit of political leadership and a little bit of exciting people, having a kind of a straw man you criticize.
"I do think Trump has made everything much, much worse. We had already a lot of resentments, a lot of issues, the financial crisis, people from the center of the country feel like they're being neglected," Kristol said. "Then you have a politician who purposely stirs that up. We've had demagogues many times over our history — usually senators, governors, troublemakers restricted to particular parts of the country.
"But still," Kristol added, "not a president for four years, a candidate for a year and a half, purposely poking every sore spot."
Eichenthal asked Kristol about movement in the U.S. Senate on a bipartisan gun safety deal in response to the latest outbreak of mass shootings across the country. Senators announced a framework Sunday that offers some modest curbs on guns while boosting support to improve school safety and mental health programs. Eichenthal said some will be disappointed it doesn't go far enough.
"But the ability of a group of Democrats and Republicans to actually get something in terms of legislation on this issue, do you see that as sort of a positive sign with regard to partisanship and leadership?" he said.
"I do," Kristol replied. "I mean, it's minor, you might say, and on a lot of other issues, they're not getting agreements on. But I think it's important, and when I talk to people on the Hill, I always try to say that even if it's kind of on the merits, you're not getting nearly as much as you want. It's not going to solve, I wouldn't say, even most of the problem. Still, the very fact of having such a deal is itself a positive. Given our politics, it's a very good signal to send to the state and local politicians."
Kristol also noted there might be a deal in the works on the Electoral Count Act, which he said "would be a fix to some degree, not perfectly, the guardrails that Trump was trying to maneuver around."
Trump and his allies allegedly sought to pressure top leaders in a number of Republican-led states won by Biden to change the vote tallies. Among those who felt pressured was Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who refused. Trump later backed U.S. Rep. Jody Hice's GOP primary challenge to Raffensperger, but Raffensperger won.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told CBS News of proposed legislation that would make clear that the vice president's role is ministerial in the process of counting Electoral College votes. And the proposed measure would raise the threshold for triggering a challenge to a state's slate from one member in each chamber to 20% of the members in each body. There would be a majority vote required to sustain an objection.