It’s that time of the year when business leaders, dignitaries, educators, scientists, officeholders, journalists and others of national and global import descend upon Aspen.
It’s also that time of the year when cracks are made, whether fair or unjust, that the Aspen Ideas Festival and the organization behind it, the Aspen Institute, cater to the left.
That’s hardly the case this week, however.
Discussions on Monday’s agenda, for instance, included journalist Judy Woodruff interviewing the prolific columnist George Will in the Greenwald Pavilion in a discussion called “Conservatism Under Threat.” During the same noon hour at the Hotel Jerome, USA Today’s Susan Page discussed her biography “The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty,” with Eric Motley, the Institute’s executive vice president and corporate secretary.
“The second half of the festival is about conservative thinking in America,” Kitty Boone, the Institute’s director of public programs, said while introducing Will and Woodruff. Boone noted that Paul Ryan, former House speaker and the GOP’s vice presidential nominee in 2012, spoke Sunday, while former New Jersey Gov. and Republican lightning rod Chris Christie talked Monday night at the Jerome.
Also in town is Karl Rove; National Review Editor Rich Lowry is scheduled to interview him at 9:10 a.m. Thursday at the Hotel Jerome.
As well, a 10-member panel discussion at 1:20 p.m. Thursday at Paepcke Auditorium is titled “From Reagan to Trump and Beyond: The Future of Conservatism in America.”
“Some people ask why aren’t we doing a track on liberalism,” Boone said. “Maybe we’ll do that next summer.”
Make no mistake, however, that this week’s Ideas Fest is a love fest for conservatives and the GOP. There’s plenty of intellectual pie to go around for the left-leaning crowd, as well.
Not that Ideas organizers want attendees only to attend events that subscribe to their beliefs. On Sunday night at Paepcke Auditorium, Aspen Institute President and CEO Dan Porterfield and his predecessor, Walter Isaacson, discussed the importance of inclusion and of finding common ground. And the topic of discussion at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Belly Up is “What Liberals and Conservatives Can Learn From Each Other.”
Whether the discussions address liberalism or conservatism, another one of this week’s evident themes is that both sides of the political spectrum are doing some soul searching.
“That is really what Ideas is supposed to be about,” said political analyst Amy Walter, editor of The Cook Political Report and a frequent guest on such programs as “PBS Newshour” and “Meet the Press.” “It’s supposed to be about this sort of introspection and taking time to take a step back from the day-to-day and think about these issues in a more comprehensive way.”
Walter will moderate the panel discussion “Formidable or Fracture? The Democrats and the Road to 2020” with journalists Jonathan Capehart (Washington Post), Art Cullen (The Storm Lake Times [Iowa]), Adam Gopnik (The New Yorker) and Jemele Hill (The Atlantic). The talk starts at 7 p.m. today at Belly Up.
Also of political interest this week — the Democratic presidential debates Wednesday and Thursday. Walter and others will hold a watch party and discussions from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Hotel Jerome Ballroom, and 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Limelight Hotel.
The cast of contenders is so large that the debate is split into two nights. Twenty candidates, 10 each night, will debate; four candidates did not qualify.
Walter noted that the second day has the bigger names with Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris. But the campaigns of candidates Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren — who are in Wednesday’s debate — have been building momentum, “at least polling in the higher digits at this moment,” she said.
Coloradans interested in the debate also can take note: Candidates Sen. Michael Bennet and former Gov. John Hickenlooper are on Thursday’s slate.
With not much time to go around for all of the debaters, the voting public might not have a full grasp of their political positions, but at the very least they will have a better sense of who they are, Walter said.
“I do think it will give folks the opportunity to size these folks up in a way that gets us beyond the one-on-one interviews or the town halls,” she said.
Will, who left the Republican party in 2016, denounced President Trump but suggested the Democrats not go too far to the left if they want to unseat him in 2020.
“I think the Democrats are making a huge mistake if they think the country wants a transformation,” he said. “I think the country wants restoration.”
Will’s latest book, his 15th, is called “The Conservative Sensibility,” which makes no mention of the president by name, Woodruff pointed out. Yet Will, a Goldwater Republican in 1964, said he would have written the same book even had Trump not been elected.