Before the GOP candidates auditioned for the Republican nomination, the Campaign for America’s Future held a great debate between the American Prospect’s Bob Kuttner and the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol on an apt subject: "Can Conservatives be Trusted to Govern?"

Kristol had the misfortune of standing behind a podium with a large red "Con" sign. That pretty much summed things up. "I feel that I’m here to adopt that poor orphan," he joked at the beginning.

The crowd–and the political momentum–was on Kuttner’s side. "The Bush era was conservatism’s moment," he said. "It all crashed and burned."

Like the GOP candidates, Kristol’s opening statement included a spirited defense of Ronald Reagan yet barely mentioned George W. Bush. "Reagan stopped being President eighteen years ago," Kuttner rebutted. He should tell that to the Republican presidential hopefuls in California.

Kristol wouldn’t back down from his vociferous support of the war in Iraq, which he helped engineer. But he was pessimistic about the GOP’s chances to retain the White House. "I bet right now that the odds are better than 50-50 that Republicans will lose in ’08," he said.

And for a man who edits the Weekly Standard, Kristol seemed almost praiseworthy toward the Clinton’s. "A decade of Rubinomics followed by a decade of Reaganomics–I’m fine with that," he said of the Clinton’s economic policy and their guru Bob Rubin. On Iraq, he yearned for a Democrat who’d make George Bush’s war a bipartisan affair. Sadly, Joe Lieberman is not running for President again.

Kristol ended by invoking his father Irving’s old saying that a neoconservative is a "liberal mugged by reality." Soon it might be the other way around.