CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Cuyahoga County Republican Party has booked a prominent conservative critic of President Donald Trump for an upcoming fundraiser, a move that has irked some within the county party ranks.
William Kristol, founder and editor-at-large of the The Weekly Standard, a conservative opinion magazine, will speak at the private event, scheduled for 11 a.m. on May 5 at the Cleveland Marriott East in Warrensville Heights, according to an event invitation obtained by cleveland.com.
Kristol is a former Reagan Administration official with a long history in conservative journalism and politics. But he was perhaps best known this past election cycle for being a steady voice in the #NeverTrump movement, going as far as to recruit another conservative journalist as a (short-lived) protest candidate in the presidential race.
His criticism of Trump has continued into the Trump presidency.
Every time you think the Trump Administration could be semi-normal, there’s something like this, and it feels like Nixon ’73 all over again. https://t.co/nMliofY89Y
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) February 24, 2017
Born on third base, now standing on second, and thinks he’s a great base runner.https://t.co/PqtLONjBHb
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) April 6, 2017
However, Kristol more recently has praised Trump for his nomination of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, as well his recent airstrike in Syria.
Gorsuch confirmed, Assad attacked: Best day so far of the Trump presidency.
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) April 7, 2017
County Party Chair Rob Frost in an interview acknowledged that there’s been some internal backlash over the choice of Kristol. He said Kristol has addressed the party in the past, and he felt that bringing him in will help local Republicans — composed of members with divergent viewpoints — focus on the things that unite them.
“I too am concerned that he has been and still is to some degree a Never Trumper,” Frost said. “But to me, that’s part of party unity. What are the things we agree on?”
He added: “We embrace the diversity of opinion. It’s part of our strength. Does it become uncomfortable at times? Sure, but we’ve got to have those discussions and we’ve got to work on building trust within the party.”
In a Thursday phone conversation, Kristol himself was curious about the reception, according to Frost.
“He said, ‘how’s the reaction?'” Frost recounted. “And I said, ‘Well there are some here asking why are you bringing that guy in?’ And he said, ‘Well that’s a valid question.'”
“But it’s about having the dialogue, having the discussion, and remembering that the enemies are the liberal media and the liberal left, not other conservatives who may have different opinions about certain particular issues,” Frost said.
Bonnie Dolezal, a Cleveland Heights central committee member who chairs a GOP group there, said she has heard from “many” party members who are displeased with Kristol’s billing for the event.
“I am opposed to the RPCC inviting this man,” she said in an email. “It is an insult to the grassroots that worked hard to elect Donald J. Trump.”
Brian Wollet, a county party executive committee member who served as a local field representative for the Trump campaign, said the choice of Kristol as a speaker for a party event is “puzzling.”
“He’s the guy who said Trump couldn’t make it even to the Iowa caucuses,” Wollet said of Kristol. “I kind of wonder if in things like this, and even in commentary, why there’s never a penalty for being completely wrong.”
He later added: “I don’t know how they get themselves into these situations.”
Kristol will speak at an 11 a.m. roundtable discussion that’s available for high-dollar party donors. At noon, he will headline a luncheon with a $300-per-person price tag.
“We’ve encouraged members who are critical of bringing Bill in, and I even told him this yesterday… that they’re welcome to attend and have their voices heard,” Frost said. “Ask Bill the questions you’ve got and give him your criticism. We’ve got to have these sorts of discussions, and this is going to be a good one.”