Kristol Ball: TNR Presents ‘Dan Quayle’s Brain,’ Circa 1990

The New Republic performed a service for journalists and bloggers the world over by posting Jacob Weisberg’s oft-cited March 12th 1990 article "The Veep’s Keeper" in which he dubbed then-chief of staff to the vice president William Kristol "Dan Quayle’s Brain." (Mr. Weisberg’s article comes via a post by Christopher Orr on TNR‘s blog The Plank.)

The piece is a little dated—references to John Sununu and the invasion of Panama are unlikely to ring bells with younger readers—but it definitely sheds some light on Mr. Kristol, who is now a New York Times columnist who writes spectacularly pro-Sarah Palin columns for the paper and shows his fondness for the Republican vice presidential nominee in his magazine, The Weekly Standard, and during TV appearances.

Here’s what Mr. Weisberg wrote back in 1990:

Kristol thinks that word of Quayle’s competence is bound to spread once it has solidified within the White House. ‘The key thing in the first year was to establish himself as an important player within the administration and on the Hill,’ says Kristol. ‘The second-level audience it was important to pay a lot of attention to was the Republican Party. The third circle is the public.’

This time around, the public seems to have been first level, with the Republican Party holding steady at second. (The White House is entirely dependent on voters.) As Mr. Kristol wrote in The Times on September 7th with Governor Palin’s Republican National Convention speech fresh in his mind, "A Wasilla Wal-Mart Mom a heartbeat away? I suspect most voters will say, No problem. And some — perhaps a decisive number — will say, It’s about time."

Then there’s this:

For this reason, some prominent Republicans believe Kristol should steer the veep on a more aggressive course. They want Quayle to dispel his bimbo image by choosing a target and showing some teeth, Spiro Agnew-slyle. ‘He was burned so badly in the campaign that he’s programmed for caution,’ says one conservative consultant. ‘He’s decided if he doesn’t screw up he’ll be on the ticket in ’92. Kristol’s job is to get him to take some chances.’

That neatly echoes what Mr. Kristol thought about Governor Palin on October 6th when he wrote, "As for the campaign, Palin made clear — without being willing to flat out say so — that she regretted allowing herself to be overly handled and constrained after the Republican convention. She described the debate on Thursday night as ‘liberating,’ and she emphasized how much she now looked forward to being out there, ‘getting to speak directly to the folks.’"

In his tee-up to Mr. Weisberg’s archival piece, Mr. Orr wrote, "there’s little reason to imagine that Kristol would want to give up any of his lucrative media gigs. But if you believe the people Scott Horton has been talking to, he sees Palin as a blank slate, a charismatic but unformed political figure who could be an effective messenger for the tenets of neoconservatism, just as soon as she’s been taught them. "

Will Mr. Kristol get a chance to be another vice president’s brain? That depends on whether voters recall the words of Mr. Kristol’s original vessel who once said of… well, something,"The question is whether we’re gonna go forward to tomorrow, or past to the back?"