Kevin Drum writes about the question of Bill Kristol’s replacement: “It shouldn’t be a ‘liberal’s conservative,’ it should be a genuine, dedicated, smart, reality-grounded, conservative’s conservative — someone who will drive liberals crazy. Who best fits that bill?”
Honestly, one thing that drives me crazy is the idea that “x drives liberals crazy” is a form of praise for a conservative writer. If that’s what you’re looking for, you really can’t do better than Mickey Kaus. He’s not a genuine conservative, and he’s not that dedicated or reality-grounded but he is smart and precisely because he’s neither genuinely conservative nor dedicated he has both the skills and inclination to spend a lot of time pressing liberals’ buttons. But the goal in finding a conservative writer should be to find a writer who’s not a liberal but who liberals enjoy reading. That doesn’t need to be columns that make liberals feel good about themselves (e.g., conservatives writing about how brain-dead the GOP is, etc.) but it needs to be columns that liberals find not maddening but challenging. When I read Tyler Cowen’s skeptical notes on the stimulus, for example, I don’t become infuriated, I become better-informed about the issue. At his best, this is what David Brooks contributes on that page—he’s raised issues about public choice and so forth that liberals tend to neglect but that are genuinely important.
That’s the standard you should be reaching for, though, people who can take on strong liberal arguments and raise strong doubts about them. Not someone who “drives liberals crazy.” But that’s not just a matter of finding “someone” who can do it, but of trying to frame the job in such-and-such a way — I bet there are a lot of people on the right who could do a good job if a good job is what they were being asked by editors to do. The Times seems to have decided when it hired Kristol that what the page needed was a direct channel to Conservative Movement Central Command or something, but it would be easy enough to save money and just republish Bill O’Reilly transcripts occasionally if that’s what you want to do.