Eunomia · December 2007

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Bloggers have had a name for political writing that defines a person’s moderation and reasonableness by his embrace of the most vacuous establishment truisms as his highest political truths.  We have called it High Broderism, in honour of one of the masters of the art.  Some of these truisms might include ”America is a nation of immigrants” or “diversity is our strength” or “our country is too polarised” and its corollary “we should work together in a bipartisan fashion to solve our country’s problems.”  By solve, of course, they mean compound, and by “bipartisan fashion” they mean “in slavish conformity to the status quo.”  In this view, “extremism” is that which threatens the establishment’s hold on political power and which proposes to challenge or dismantle levers of power that the establishment of both parties wishes to preserve.  Among the bugbears of such “centrists” are chiefly populists, the religious and the vehemently antiwar.  In the last few weeks, we have seen the Broders of the right getting very anxious about disgruntled religious conservatives and evangelicals and disgruntled lower-middle class voters who are propelling Huckabee’s campaign forward.  Over the past several years, we have become only too familiar with the “Very Serious” foreign policy establishment that dismisses the majority’s desire to end the Iraq war in the very near term.  Now we are being told once again that the elite is reasonable and all those citizens who are at odds with it are not, just as the rationality and decency of the latter were denied by the leaders of the political class during the immigration debate.   

A Kossack succinctly described it when he defined High Broderism as a “school of thought, best exemplified by Washington Post reporter David Broder, that Washington DC elites should provide the common wisdom to the ragged masses beyond the beltway. Moreover, Higher Broderism [sic] believes that the only acceptable politics is centrist. It’s not so much where the center is at any given time, it’s the centrism itself.”  In this context, “extremism” is any political position outside an exceedingly narrow range of permissible options, even if that narrow range includes policies that are in practice brutal, unjust or destructive.  In this view, it is “centrist” to maintain self-defeating hegemony overseas and launch aggressive invasions of other countries, while it is “extremist” to oppose these measures. 

So we have a new facet to this kind of political argument: the monopoly on rationality claimed by those who are deemed suitably centrist, responsible and, undoubtedly, serious.  This was always implicit in arguments for moderation and “centrism,” but now it is made clearly.  Peggy Noonan has provided us with this insulting political analysis, by which those candidates best known for their anti-corporate and populist arguments (i.e., Huckabee and Edwards) are cast as “non-reasonable,” and those most wedded to the establishment or those least likely to challenge anything about the way government and corporations operate are “reasonable.”  She declares Clinton “non-reasonable” to mix things up a little. 

What ultimately makes this analysis so thoroughly Broderian is its complete arbitrariness and subjectivity.  Noonan defines reasonableness largely by those candidates whom she finds agreeable for one reason or another, and imputes a lack of reasonableness to those whom she finds viscerally unappealing, which is not, as you may have noticed, a very rational basis for dividing up the candidates.  Most absurd of all is her assessment of Giuliani as “reasonable,” even if he is not “desirable,” when there is ample reason to think that this is one of the least appropriate ways to describe him even if you agree with him on policy. 

Benazir Bhutto’s assassination yesterday in Rawalpindi deserves some comment, and actually deserves much more than I will be able to give in the short time I have today.  Djerejian has interrupted his hiatus and said much that needs to be said.  In short, I am still convinced that Musharraf is a liability to the stability of Pakistan, as I have argued twice before in TAC, and I agree that it would be wise to watch what Kiyani does in the coming weeks.  With no disrespect intended to Bhutto, I think we have (as usual) personalised our view of Pakistan policy far too much and many now seem to assume that Bhutto’s death makes civilian government in Pakistan unfeasible.  That strikes me as a mistaken conclusion.  If the structures of Pakistani civil society, such as they are, are so weak that a single assassination can so badly undermine them, they will not be prepared for the task of a return to civilian rule in the next many years.  I think this places far too much importance on one party leader and stands as an example of how we routinely misunderstand the politics of other countries by investing hopes for reform, democratisation or Westernisation in a single person, who then is either killed or badly disappoints the people who foolishly placed so much emphasis on one leader.  That said, the current situation in Pakistan is unstable enough that any elections held in the next few weeks would be plagued with violence and be the cause of still more outbreaks of civil unrest. 

On the effects of the assassination on our presidential politics, Ross makes an interesting point:

Our Pakistan problem is a vexatious question, ill-suited to being addressed in sound bites and press releases. But it’s precisely because it’s so impossibly vexatious, and likely to remain so no matter who occupies 1600 Pennsylvania, that the news from Rawalpindi fleetingly inspired me to greater sympathy not for “ready to lead” politicians like John McCain or Hillary Clinton, but for the “come home, America” candidacy of one Dr. Ron Paul.

To the extent that most pundits and journalists are not reacting this way, but are instead playing up McCain and Clinton, any effect this assassination will have on our politics will be determined by the willingness of our media to accept at face value the campaign narratives of these candidates.  As it happens, McCain was saying some uncommonly sane and sober things about Pakistan yesterday in an interview with Laura Ingraham, swatting down Obama and Huckabee’s Kaganesque lunacy of ordering American soldiers to go inside Pakistan. 

If the events in Pakistan have any impact on caucus-goers and primary voters, which I very much doubt in light of the extremely limited attention most will have been paying to foreign affairs, much less Pakistani affairs, they will benefit candidates who appear to understand Pakistan and who have not made provocative or dangerous statements about Pakistan policy.  (Huckabee’s provocative statements cancel out his surprisingly well-informed grasp on Pakistan’s internal politics.)  By all rights, Paul, Biden and, indeed, McCain ought to gain if the late-deciding, uncommitted voters are actually moved to make their decision based on what happened on the other side of the world.  That is almost certainly not the case.  What it will change is the relative kid-glove treatment that all the major candidates have received concerning their foreign policy ideas.  The candidates coming out of Iowa who will likely have prevailed on their domestic policy agenda, namely Edwards and Huckabee, will have to demonstrate some competence on foreign affairs if they are to avoid even more intense criticism.   

This may be my last post in 2007.  As always with Eunomia, you can never be sure that a blogging hiatus will, in fact, be a hiatus, but I do intend to keep it to a minimum.  Tomorrow I begin my trek home for Christmas, and I probably won’t be checking in while on break.  This is what the blog-as-pastime has become: something from which sane people must take extended vacations.  Ilyen az elet.  Merry Christmas to you all, and Happy New Year!  S Rozhdestvom i S Novim Godom!   

On countless levels, however, 2008 is aeons away from 1996, let alone 1992. In each of his races, Buchanan was trying to topple a genuine, formidable front-runner: a sitting president, a Senate majority leader. But today it’s evident that, after a year of frantic campaigning, no such creature exists; indeed, Huckabee’s leap into the top tier is itself vivid proof of the point. The GOP too is a very different beast from what it was in the nineties: no longer the majority party in Congress, its foundations crumbling, its leadership dazed, confused, and helpless. When I recently asked a senior party operative if the Republican Establishment could block Huckabee from the nomination, he replied, with a tiny chuckle, “What Republican Establishment?”

More to the point, the conditions on the ground are arguably more conducive to populism now than in Pitchfork Pat’s heyday. In 1996, after all, the economy was in the midst of a historic boom, one that was on the verge of kicking into overdrive. Today, the situation is the reverse: Recession looms, the Dow sags, the housing and credit markets buckle. The economy has elbowed aside Iraq as the central locus of voter anxiety. ~John Heilemann

As of early this morning (around 5:00 a.m.), the Tea Party “moneybomb” had already raised over $1 million.  Go here to see the fundraising total for today, and go here to support the campaign.

Update: As of 2:45 p.m., the Tea Party has raised just under $3.5 million and the quarterly total now stands at $14.9 million.

Second Update: As of 6:15p.m., the day’s total is at $4.75 million and the quarterly total is now over $16 million.

Third Update: As of 11:25 p.m., the campaign has raised over $6 million, setting the one-day primary fundraising record, and the quarterly total is on the verge of reaching $18 million.

For the Republicans, I’m going to say that the obvious leader, Huckabee, wins the caucuses.  The GOP side will be, in order, Huckabee, Romney, Giuliani, Thompson and Paul.  For the Democrats, I will be a bit more daring and say that Edwards wins, Clinton comes in second and Obama finishes third.  That will probably prove to be horribly wrong, but those are my predictions.

He will lead our country in a way that will make us proud, not ashamed, to be Republicans. ~Sarah Huckabee

Via Michael Crowley

Right there Ms. Huckabee may have summed up why Huckabee is doing surprisingly well, and how many voters could resist identification with Bush (preferring instead Reagan) while at the same time rallying behind someone who is so much like Bush. 

She also says, “The majority of us got involved [in politics] for social issues in the first place.”  That highlights Huckabee’s strengths effectively, while also effectively de-emphasising all those areas of policy where Huckabee is perceived as flawed or weak.

Democratic and Republican sources say that Sen. Joe Lieberman, the independent Democrat from Connecticut and fierce supporter of the war in Iraq, will formally endorse Sen. John McCain tomorrow in New Hampshire.

A McCain spokesperson declined to comment.

A source familiar with the endorsement said that the two will appear of NBC’s Today Show tomorrow morning and at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire.

The endorsement could help McCain with independents in the state. Combine that with news that Rudy Giuliani is scaling back his advertising buy there [bold mine-DL], that the Boston Globe endorsed McCain, and that McCain’s rivals are spending most of their time in Iowa. ~Marc Ambinder

It’s not clear to me how this really helps very much with independents, and it could conceivably harm him.  New Hampshire voters have turned sharply against the GOP, in no small part because of the war, and independents in New Hampshire are unlikely to be receptive to the endorsement of a politician whose support for McCain is premised on McCain’s support for a war that aready hurts him with independents.  The important part of this story is that Giuliani is backing away from competing more actively in New Hampshire, where he had started trying to make a play for a decent finish.  As Huckabee has begun moving up more in N.H. and McCain maintaining a respectable second place, Giuliani was faced with the real danger of actively competing and still winding up in fourth (or worse, if Ron Paul has anything to say about it), so he has now retreated back to Florida where he vainly hopes to make his stand.   

P.S.  Here’s a classic Colbert moment from last year: “You cannot stop Joementum.”

Globalization is the closest thing the money-cons have to a religion. In addition to thinking that it’s good for them, they genuinely believe that it’s good for the world. Huckabee, by contrast, seriously believes that the U.S. should be economically autarchic, with high trade barriers. That’s what really sticks in the money-cons’ craw; the outpouring of abuse directed at Huckabee’s social background (he’s “Huckleberry” to some of them) and his religiosity is largely secondary to the fear of Huckabee’s Peronist economic tendencies. ~Mark Kleiman

Peronist?  That’s a bit of an exaggeration.  He’s more like a “Perot-nist” in some respects, and you would be hard-pressed to find him arguing for autarchy.  In his careless moments, I have heard him speak well of NAFTA (he said so in his interview with Ross in GQ, for example), so his corporation-bashing and rhetorical nods towards protectionism may not be as indicative of his policy views as we may think.  I agree that it is his trade and economic views (or at least what they think his trade and economic views are) that make him unusually unpopular with conservative elites:

What I think really bothers the mainstream about Huckabee, to the extent that they are bothered (and if he wins Iowa, you can expect them to come after him with guns blazing), is his view on trade.  Along with Hunter, he is really the only other protectionist in the GOP field.  Like Hunter, he has not had much luck raising very much cash, because his position on trade alienates wealthy donors and establishment figures.  The main orthodoxy Huckabee is running up against is not over the size of government, but rather the free trade orthodoxy that has almost completely captured the GOP (and which is, incidentally, killing them in the Midwest and elsewhere).  In practice, this is a much more important “orthodoxy” and politicians who go against it have a much harder time getting support.  What I think frightens the mainstream about Huckabee is that he may be able to smuggle in his protectionism under the cover of the big-government conservatism that the GOP has been practicing for years.  What is also frightening to them about Huckabee is that his views on trade are much closer to a strong plurality view within the GOP (his views on immigration, not so much), which gives him a decent shot at appealing to the voters in the primaries and the general election.  If he advances very far, Huckabee’s appeal will throw free traders into a bit of a panic, since it will mean that major candidates on both sides are openly talking skeptically about the benefits of free trade.         

This still seems right, but the other factors are still very important.  I think you also have the desire to marginalise or keep down social conservatives, subordinate their goals to those of economic and “national security” conservatives (as usual) and resist the takeover of the party leadership by someone who embarrasses urban sophisticates with his rusticity and creationism.

The calculation that a Huckabee nomination leads to epic electoral disaster for the GOP is naturally one that his opponents within the party would promote, but it is curious to see how readily it is being accepted on the other side.  Here’s Yglesias:

A Huckabee-led Republican Party would, even if it got its act together and started offering a well-briefed candidate with cutting-edge policies out of the conservative think tax universe, be very very very Southern and not even in a particularly “New South” kind of way. You could pull this off, perhaps, under generally favorable political circumstances, but given the bad overall climate it’d be a recipe for disaster.

Unless the nominee is Obama, I’m not sure I see how Huckabee’s Southern-ness becomes that salient, and if the nominee is Obama the Democrats are going to have their own electability problems.  How does his being from the South really impact a Clinton-Huckabee or Edwards-Huckabee race?  In any case, I don’t see the disaster happening.  I should qualify that: I don’t see a GOP electoral disaster happening because of a Huckabee nomination.  If the GOP are going to be blown out or at least defeated next year, it will be because of changes in the electorate brought on by disillusionment with this administration and its actions.  The Republicans are either unwilling or, in some cases, unable to fix that, so they have to find a nominee who gives them the most competitive chance.  According to the conventional (and wrong) wisdom that social conservatism wrecked the GOP and the Republicans needed to cut back on it to be competitive, Giuliani or McCain seemed the logical choices for making the GOP as competitive as possible.  Appealing to social moderates by nominating a social moderate made a certain amount of superficial sense.  However, as the economy became one of the main issues in the campaign and the leading issue of concern to voters, these two were never going to be particularly well-positioned to win over an electorate that will likely be in a much more populist mood.  Likewise, Romney and Thompson would also make poor standard-bearers, their other personal flaws and liabilities aside, given their rosy and positive assessments of the economy.       

What many observers seem to be missing about Huckabee is that he is very New South, which is what has informed his heretofore gushy “compassionate” views on immigration policy.  Unlike Bush, who has no more real claim to being a Southerner than I do (west Texas is not the South), Huckabee is someone born and raised in the South who has embraced much of the New South image, particularly as it pertains to race relations.  Like Bush, he has made appealing to minority voters something of a priority, but unlike Bush he has actually been successful in getting black voters to vote for him (this is itself partly a function of his heterodox policy views).  According to exit polls in his ‘98 re-election, he supposedly won 48% of the black vote, which is almost certainly too high, but he probably did get at least 20%.  His populism will be helpful in the Midwest, which the GOP has to hold to win the election, and his views on teaching creationism in schools are actually in agreement with the majority of the public.  He is in some ways the only candidate the GOP has on hand to appeal to “downscale” voters, and while the champions of Sam’s Club Republicanism don’t want to identify their cause too closely with him (understandably, given the current backlash and the man’s real flaws) he is nonetheless the most plausible candidate for what they are promoting.  

For all the people who are constantly chattering about how the GOP has to expand its coalition or go into decline, Huckabee is in some ways the obvious choice…except that he frightens off the money and the elites back East.  The hostility to Huckabee derives finally, I think, from the fear of a Huckabee victory and not fear of an electoral blowout by the Democrats.  As I have suggested before, this would mean GOP fratricide for four years.  This might then pave the way to a Democratic landslide, or it might not, but it would probably leave the GOP changed beyond recognition.       

Though Huckabee’s star is still rising, his southern populism on trade and economic questions — and the blatancy of his appeals as a ‘Christian leader’ to Iowa’s religious voters — are so irritating to most Republicans that he is uniting the party nationally against himself. ~John O’Sullivan

It is far from obvious that this is true.  This assumes that populism on trade and economic questions is an unpopular approach, and it assumes that most Republicans are not receptive to an evangelical who talks up his religion.  That is probably a mistaken view. 

He is uniting most conservative pundits and journalists against him, along with a number of activist groups, so from a certain perspective he does irritate “most Republicans,” if the Republicans you know write columns, work in think tanks, blog regularly or inhabit the I-95 corridor.  There is a candidate who, unfortunately, has high unfavourables among Republicans, and that is Ron Paul.  He unites most Republicans in opposition, since most Republicans support the war he adamantly opposes.  Paul challenges them radically and repudiates most of what the party has been doing for the last seven years.  That is how you get a majority of a party to unite against you–by attacking its most deeply valued policies.  By contrast, Huckabee irritates his enemies out of all proportion to his heterodoxies, because he represents not so much a deviation from what the GOP is as he is a reminder of what it became under Bush as well as being a reminder of who actually makes up a huge part of the GOP coalition.  This is irritating, since it reminds many of the pundits of the dreadful Bush administration that they have defended at one time or another, and it reminds them of the voters they would normally just as soon forget about once the ballots are counted.   

Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee has favourables that are nearly as good as, if not better than, the other major candidates in every state where measurements have been taken.  It’s possible that this will change as he becomes better known, but right now the people Huckabee is irritating seem to be concentrated among the highly unrepresentative people who are already extensively familiar with the details of his policy record and can quote his Cato Institute scorecard ratings as readily as Huckabee can cite Scripture.  (A contrast in references, by the way, that might sum up nicely just how divorced political observers may be from the voters whose opinions they are attempting to discern.)  In Florida, according to Rasmussen, he has a fav/unfav of 68/26, which gives him lower unfavourables than McCain, Thompson and Giuliani.  Even in New Hampshire, where you would expect his unfavourables to be highest on account of the general incompatibility of Southern candidates in the Granite State, they are only 35%, and his favourables are 59%.  In Michigan, the numbers are 67/22, and in South Carolina they are 70/21.  In Iowa, of course, they are an unbelievable combination of 81/16 with 51% who have a very favourable view.  These favourable numbers represent a lot of people who are not necessarily selecting him as their candidate, but they are also making it possible for him to compete or lead in every early state except New Hampshire.  All candidates should be so lucky to “irritate” a majority of their party’s members in this way. 

“Bush Hawks,” the second-largest group, are the president’s most ardent supporters, as Fabrizio found, the only voter segment that says the country is moving in the right direction. They believe in a militarily muscular foreign policy that spreads democracy.

Criticizing Bush’s foreign policy, as Huckabee has done, would definitely rub this group the wrong way. Which is why Romney is attempting to bring Huckabee’s statements to the attention of these so-called Bush Hawks. ~The Swamp

Romney must have forgotten that he is competing in Iowa, where even a slim majority of Republicans wants withdrawal from Iraq within the next six months.  Fabrizio’s survey is useful for understanding the make-up of the modern GOP and may explain why Huckaabee is doing as well as he is right now.  If you tally up the groups that seem to align with many of the positions in the campaign that Huckabee has been running on, you come up with a large part of the Republican Party.  Consider: “Heartland” Republicans (8%) are “[n]ot opposed to more government spending & regulation, and action on environment,” the bizarrely named “Dennis Miller Republicans” (14%) are focused on social issues and illegal immigration and are more likely to be gun owners (Huckabee is solid on two of these three and is pretending to be care about the third), the “Government Knows Best Republicans” (13%) are focused on social issues and are more supportive of government intervention on social and environmental issues and, of course, the “Moralists” (24%).  This group includes a majority of evangelicals.  They have lower income than the GOP average and are, as the name suggests, preoccupied with moral issues. 

This 24% alone could possibly account for Huckabee’s explosion in poll numbers across the country, and then you realise that another 35% of the GOP would be open to the kind of politics Huckabee offers.  That’s approaching two-thirds of the party.  The 28% of “Bush Hawks” and “Free Marketers,” who are overrepresented among conservative and Republican elites, clearly don’t like what Huckabee represents, but if these categories and descriptions are correct they are outnumbered by people who would theoretically be very receptive to Huckabee.  This advantage is increased still more in Iowa, where the potentially Huckabee-friendly segments of the GOP are likely to be much stronger in numbers than the BHs and FMs.  The groups that make up this 59% are also the groups that value positions on issues more than they value leadership qualities in a candidate (while “Bush Hawks” and “Free Marketers” give the two equal weight), which probably works to the advantage of the candidate who is “right” on the issues even if his rivals have better reputations for competence and management.  The “Moralists” naturally strongly believe that the GOP has not spent too much time focusing on moral issues, and it against the rest of the party’s belief that it has that the “Moralists” may be reacting in propelling Huckabee into the lead.  Even in June, Huckabee was getting 4% of the DMRs and 3% of the “Moralists” when he was considered a nobody and was barely getting 1% overall.  From those two groups alone, he may have a ceiling of 37% of the party, which would make him very formidable. 

There is something rather timid and unhopeful about all this. Mr Obama is not prepared to break ranks with his party in the same way that John McCain divides Republicans over immigration or Rudy Giuliani does over abortion. ~The Economist

Which is why he still has any chance of winning his party’s nomination, while McCain and, it appears, Giuliani have less and less hope of doing so every day. 

Ron Paul appeared on Jim Kramer’s CNBC show Mad Money.  They make for a very unusual pair, but just watch them as they bash the Fed!

The next Ron Paul “moneybomb” event begins tomorrow on the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.  If you haven’t given to Ron Paul’s campaign yet, I urge you to do so now.  The fourth quarter fundraising is already over $11.5, so there is a reasonable chance of a $16 or 17 million quarter.  Let’s make that happen.

Update: As of 12:26 a.m. Central Time, the $12 million mark had been passed.

Ghettoizing himself as a Christian warrior may win him Iowa, but it will only help Giuliani in Florida and on Feb 5. ~National Journal

This is the sort of thinking that propels the “Huckabee helps Giuliani” idea onward, despite its increasing implausibility.  Supposing that the Rasmussen result is a fluke, Giuliani is still in a lot of trouble.  Here’s one reason why:

“A lot of Florida’s social conservatives have been in somewhat of a wait-and-see mode,” says Florida Baptist Convention lobbyist and Tampa Bay-area Christian radio host Bill Bunkley, who counts himself among those waiting and seeing. “There hasn’t been a strong, viable social conservative candidate for them to coalesce around.” 

If social conservatives coalesce, they could play a decisive role in Florida’s Jan. 29 primary.

Quinnipiac University, which regularly polls Florida voters, estimates that more than one-third of state GOP primary voters [bold mine-DL] are “white, born-again evangelicals.”

If Huckabee can win over a large majority of these voters, which will also mean taking them away from Giuliani, Florida could conceivably be his, and he may have some built-in support networks in Michigan, where he is now apparently tied for the lead.  The establishment has six weeks to make Huckabee radioactive to his natural constituency before he is in danger of capturing enough delegates to make it a real contest.  Will they be able to do it without employing the sort of insults against evangelicals and Southerners that have started to gain currency?   

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has surged in support in other early-voting states, is tied with Rudy Giuliani for the lead among U.S. Republican presidential candidates in Illinois, a poll showed on Saturday. ~Reuters

Huckabee is strongest, the Tribune reports, in the suburbs and Downstate, which makes some sense.  What makes less sense is how Huckabee can even be competitive here when he has never even made one appearance here. 

For those keeping track at home, Illinois is one of the most delegate-rich states voting on February 5. 

The Des Moines Register’s editorial board has endorsed Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton for the 2008 Iowa caucuses. ~The Des Moines Register

This doesn’t matter much for the Republicans, but for Clinton it is a significant boost, and the rumours were that it might go to Obama.  The endorsement was a bit grudging, but it validates Clinton’s claims to experience and preparedness:

Indeed, Obama, her chief rival, inspired our imaginations. But it was Clinton who inspired our confidence. Each time we met, she impressed us with her knowledge and her competence.

Is there any chance that this endorsement will make McCain a threat to Thompson?  I’m doubtful, but if so this could be the editorial that sent Fred packing.


The war remains enormously unpopular and major political liability for the Republican Party. The new ABC-Washington Post Poll finds Democrats favored over Republicans on the war by a 16 point margin, slightly higher than the Democratic margin earlier this year and last year.

The claim that public opinion has shifted on the war appears to be based almost entirely on a small uptick on one measure–opinion about how the war is going. There has been a small improvement on this question, presumably in response to reports of decreasing violence and, most importantly, decreasing U.S. casualties. But this shift is not indicative of any broader shift in public opinion toward the war. Opposition to the war remains as high as ever as does support for a withdrawal timetable. And Iraq clearly remains the most salient issue in the 2008 election. ~Alan Abramowitz

Maybe something drastic has changed in public opinion in the last four weeks, but I don’t think so.  If there are larger liabilities for the GOP than the war in Iraq, they are in even worse shape than I think they are, since that would mean that they have at least two huge electoral liabilities.

I’m the last person to say that this administration is subject to an arrogant, bunker mentality that is counterproductive here and abroad. ~Mitt Romney

Where was it again, James, that Romney was “offering a greater departure from Bush’s foreign policy than any Republican save Ron Paul”?  This is someone who wants to try Ahmadinejad under the Genocide Convention for giving his anti-Israel speeches.  He prattles on about incipient caliphates just as the President does.  On any issue where he has put forward his own view, it is usually an endorsement of the principles of the current administration.  Most of Romney’s proposed changes to the status quo are improvements in managing and implementing Bush’s broken foreign policy vision. 

His attacks on Huckabee are also rather remarkable.  In his actual essay, his concrete proposals are almost all the same in principle as Huckabee’s, and his essay is much more deficient in addressing Iran and Pakistan or indeed much of the rest of the world.  Does Romney really want to get into a fight in an area where his experience is no greater and his ideas, especially on Iran, are demonstrably worse?  What Republicans seem to dislike the most about Huckabee’s essay are the unprofessional language and the attacks on Bush.  Certainly, serious foreign policy arguments might stand fewer references to Brer Rabbit, but you’d be very unwise as a candidate to tie yourself as closely to the President as Romney is doing.  Republicans apparently love this, but the other almost two-thirds of the country might have different ideas. 

I suppose one can say that Giuliani also offers a “departure” from Bush’s foreign policy, in that it is entirely, and not just mostly, divorced from the real world.

The news story covering Huckabee’s FA essay has taken his opening lines about the administration’s ”arrogant bunker mentality” and made them half of the entire story.  The blog right is, predictably, throwing a fit, with more than a few declaring that they cannot support Huckabee.  It probably cannot help Huckabee in the early voting that the only person I have seen praising the essay is…Joe Klein.  The remarkable thing is that Huckabee’s essay, while I have problems with a lot of it, does some of what the Republicans need to do politically (balance GOP support for the war with a broader break with at least some of the more egregious flaws of Bush’s foreign policy) and it demonstrates some reasonably good understanding of Iran and Pakistan.  Some of his proposals (launching attacks into Pakistan, remaining in Iraq, etc.) seem terrible to me, but they are exactly the kinds of things that Republican voters should appreciate about this essay. 

On the GOP’s largest general election liability and its worst policy position, the war in Iraq, Huckabee remains a loyal yes-man, so what do they really have to complain about?  His opposition to the Law of the Sea Treaty is red meat for the base, while his general interest in more robust diplomacy otherwise should satisfy more moderate Republicans.  Most of the opposition to the essay, I suspect, has been driven by a visceral reaction against the knock on the administration, as if criticising Mr. Bush were some unpardonable error.  If Republicans are going to make criticism of the current administration’s foreign policy completely off-limits and punish the candidates who make those criticisms, they are going to lose and they will deserve to lose.  My guess is that Huckabee’s foreign policy, whatever its substantive merits and problems, will sound reasonable and it will provide a refreshing departure for Republicans who don’t want to give up on the war but who also don’t want another four years of blustering militarism.  It isn’t the foreign policy I would prefer, but for a lot of disillusioned Republican voters it might be just right. 

Nonetheless, if he wants to shore up his reputation here, he really has to stop analogising international relations to family quarrels.  There is a way to make the argument he wants to make on Iran that doesn’t involve referring to reconciling with your estranged brother or what-have-you.

Update: James thinks the “arrogant bunker mentality” line has everything backwards–it is the administration’s enthusiasm muck about in the rest of the world that is the problem.  That’s true, but it doesn’t entirely rule out something like the mentality to which Huckabee is referring.  If I understood him right, the mentality in question is one that believes that the world is unipolar, we are indispensable and must be involved in everyone else’s business, but which also thinks that we are under dire threat from tinpot dictatorships on the other side of the planet.  The first part is the arrogance, and the second is the bunker mentality, and the administration displays elements of both.  Indeed it justifies its activist foreign policy in terms of its paranoia about overblown foreign threats.  Obviously, there must be a much, much better way to say it than he did (as with so many things Huckabeean), but there is something to this critique.

Philip Klein is also right that there is something in the essay to alienate all factions (conversely, there is something in the speech to reassure most factions).  It is true that it is incoherent, but that is what you will get when you are a candidate trying to shore up a pro-war base with a foreign policy that isn’t simply a reiteration of what we have now.  When every feint in the direction of realism is greeted by hostility, it will not be surprising that the would-be realist has to keep zig-zagging with promises to invade Pakistan and reject the Law of the Sea right after he denounces arrogance and the “bunker mentality.”  Also, the critique that he is proposing “a foreign aid program that would make Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society look like a trivial domestic initiative” must also be aimed at Romney, who proposed something very similar in his FA essay:

 I envision that the summit would lead to the creation of a Partnership for Prosperity and Progress: a coalition of states that would assemble resources from developed nations and use them to support public schools (not Wahhabi madrasahs), microcredit and banking, the rule of law, human rights, basic health care, and free-market policies in modernizing Islamic states. These resources would be drawn from public and private institutions and from volunteers and nongovernmental organizations.  

My guess is that Hillary Clinton would have preferred it had her husband not said the phrase “one of my impeachment managers” more than once in the course of a conversation about her campaign.  Then there was this:

That’s got nothing to do with the ’90s. That’s sort of a superficial, you know, bigotry. That’s like saying ageism or something. It’s like if you fought and did good things, we got to give you a gold watch and tell you goodbye.

Did he just call Obama an ageist bigot?  I think he did.  And a superficial ageist bigot at that!

But that wasn’t all:

The Northern Irish didn’t think that to turn the page, they had to throw out the people who had represented their respective points of view. They thought they were more likely to work together to effect positive change because of what they had done in the past.

There you have it: Bill Clinton just compared his wife to Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness.  For Bill, Hillary has the same kind of experience as the fanatical politicians of DUP and Sinn Fein. 

“If people are looking for somebody who’s a good talker, I’m not your man,” Romney said, knocking his chief rival but also alluding to his challenge. “If they’re looking for somebody who has demonstrated a record of solving difficult problems and making difficult situations into successful outcomes then I am your man.”  ~Politico

In recent presidential history, we have had someone who was primarily a good talker and someone who was neither a good talker nor a great problem-solver.  The public typically doesn’t seem very interested in effective leadership or management skill.  I’d say Romney is in a lot of trouble, and for the first time he seems to be acknowledging publicly how bad it is. 

Huckabee’s Foreign Affairs essay appears to be a rehash of the speech he gave at CSIS several months ago.  The people who hated that speech because it talked about containing Iran (one of Huckabee’s better ideas) will probably also hate this essay.  As I said about that speech, there are a few things that interventionists will reject (but they will reject them fiercely), a few things realists might find acceptable and virtually nothing that a non-interventionist would like. The entire essay is something of a grab-bag and reads very unevenly.  It has its moments, and it remains the case that his foreign policy views are much more substantive than conservative media outlets have acknowledged, but it still needs some work.  (The sections on Russia are not nearly detailed enough, and there is no attention paid to China, India or Latin America.) 

Once again, he supports the Powell Doctrine.  He also mentions Shinseki by name, which is one of those things that Republican loyalists hate.  

Huckabee said:

The first thing I will do as president is send Congress my comprehensive plan for achieving energy independence within ten years of my inauguration. We will explore, we will conserve, and we will pursue all types of alternative energy: nuclear, wind, solar, ethanol, hydrogen, clean coal, biomass, and biodiesel. 

I am reminded of Brownback’s pledge to cure cancer in ten years.  There is nothing necessarily wrong with this proposal, but you have to know that it’s going to take longer than ten years to develop our own sources to replace all foreign sources of energy.  That said, this is a big step up from his “no more valuable than their sand” line that he always uses about the Saudis, which is probably a great crowd-pleaser but which confirms in the minds of an informed audience that he is trivial.  Like Romney, he wants to expand the intelligence services and the armed forces. 

He admits the obvious about the strain on the military:

We still do not have enough troops in Afghanistan and are losing hard-won gains there as foreign fighters pour in and the number of Iraq-style suicide attacks increases. Our current active armed forces simply are not large enough. We have relied far too heavily on the National Guard and the Reserves and worn them out.

He then promises a huge increase in government spending:

Right now, we spend about 3.9 percent of our GDP on defense, compared with about six percent in 1986, under President Ronald Reagan. We need to return to that six percent level [bold mine-DL]. And we must stop using active-duty forces for nation building and return to our policy of using other government agencies to build schools, hospitals, roads, sewage treatment plants, water filtration systems, electrical facilities, and legal and banking systems. We must marshal the goodwill, ingenuity, and power of our governmental and nongovernmental organizations in coordinating and implementing these essential nonmilitary functions.

His views on Iraq are standard, party-line stuff:

Seeing Iraqi Sunnis in Anbar, Diyala, and parts of Baghdad reject al Qaeda and join our forces, often at tremendous risk to themselves, has been a truly extraordinary shift. Those who once embraced al Qaeda members as liberators now see them for what these radicals are: brutal oppressors who want to take Iraq back to the seventh century. And this development is serving as a model for turning Shiite tribes against their militants. Despite what the gloomy Democrats in the United States profess, reconciliation is happening in Iraq, only it is bottom up rather than top down, and since it comes directly from the people, it can end the violence faster. Benchmarks are being reached in fact, if not in law. As Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told Congress last September, oil revenues are being distributed, de-Baathification is being reversed, and the Shiite-dominated government is giving financial resources to the provinces, including Sunni areas.

Not surprisingly, he is against withdrawal.  His remarks on Iran are, once again, unusually sane, and then he says this:

I support going forward with the current plan to set up ten missile interceptors in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic to protect Europe from Iranian missiles.

This is a pointless proposal, and one that has been nothing other than a provocation to the Russians. 

Huckabee does seem to show some understanding of the situation in Russia:

But I see him [Putin] for what he is: a staunch nationalist in a country that has no democratic tradition. He will do everything he can to reassert Russia’s power — militarily, economically, diplomatically.

His fears of Russian imperialist ambitions (outside of its near-abroad at least) are unfounded, and I would have been interested to hear him say more about his views on what our policy towards former Soviet republics should be and whether he supports continued NATO expansion.  Finally, his views on Pakistan are some of the best and most informed I have heard from a candidate.  That may not be saying much, but it’s something.  Except, that is, when he borrows a line from Obama:

Rather than wait for the next strike, I prefer to cut to the chase by going after al Qaeda’s safe havens in Pakistan. 

This is a very dangerous proposal.  His rationalisation is worrisome:

The threat of an attack on us is far graver than the risk that a quick and limited strike against al Qaeda would bring extremists to power in Pakistan.

Actually, no.  If an American attack inside Pakistan brought about that result, it would be far, far worse than almost any attack.   

Those who have been spreading the idea that Huckabee’s foreign policy is that we “be nice” to everyone have basically been lying to the public.  There are sections where he talks about using American power in a less arrogant and self-defeating way, and he does want to engage Iran, but his foreign policy has much more to it than his establishment foes are allowing.  Arguably, Huckabee is starting to appear as the closest thing the Republicans have to a realist.  He is still locked into supporting the war in Iraq, but unlike his major rivals he occasionally displays some understanding.  In many other places, though, he is also just pulling together ideas that have no logical relationship. 

And I’m convinced the world will remember as well because you’re going to do something which people don’t expect, which is give me a victory.  And then I’m going to New Hampshire where I’m pretty solidly in the lead in New Hampshire, and I’m gonna be in Nevada, and I’m gonna win Nevada, and I’m gonna be in Wyoming, and I’ll win that one and Michigan. And we’re gonna do pretty darn well—that’s at least what I plan. ~Mitt Romney


The false meme lives on:

No one thought to raise objections to Mormonism when Mo Udall ran for president, nor even when Mitt’s father, George, made a bid.

In fact, some raised objections in both cases, and opposition to a Mormon candidate was approximately as strong then as it is now.  If it was never as central to the campaign as it has been this year, it is partly because Romney’s father and Mo Udall did not run as a religious conservative and as the spokesmen for religious and social conservatives.  Romney is appealing to a constituency that was always going to be less receptive to him.  It is also the case that the media have pushed this angle since before Romney announced his candidacy.

Giuliani has an almost impossibly high bar to cross, according to Ross:

At this point I’d go further: No matter who wins Iowa, Huck or Romney, Rudy needs to finish ahead of Mitt in New Hampshire [bold mine-DL] – either by coming in second to McCain or winning outright - or else he’s going to drop completely off the map before Florida rolls around.

Rudy also needs a new personality, but neither that nor this favourable outcome is going to be forthcoming.  There were two approaches to the front-loaded primary system: it was either going to magnify the importance of the early states immeasurably, or it was going to make the early states irrelevant.  Right now it appears as if the first view was correct.  Giuliani’s campaign, indeed the entire rationale of his candidacy, relied on the second being right.  It is still too early to say for sure, but if this marks the beginning of the end for Giuliani it will come as a relief for millions of conservatives who really never wanted to have to accommodate such a nominee. 

We are all naturally inclined to see the candidates we dislike strongly as also being the most unelectable, disastrous candidates who will doom our preferred party to oblivion (or something to that effect).  This makes a certain amount of sense, since you see a candidate’s positions, weigh them, find them wanting and then assume that similar scrutiny from the general public will lead them to the same rational conclusions.  Likewise, candidates whom we support or favour always seem much more broadly appealing.  People who are thrilled by Obama believe that he is actually electable nationwide (and that he will magically heal our national divisions and reverse the aging process as well), and those who are horrified by Huckabee believe that he will be the cause of an electoral catastrophe.  Let’s test the latter proposition that nominating Huckabee would be a disaster.  Let me say up front that I think it would be a political disaster of a different kind, because I think many of Huckabee’s ideas are terrible, so I am not advocating a Huckabee nomination, which I see as a continuation of the errors of the Bush Era.  (I am on the record in any case as a Paul supporter who thinks that the GOP support for the war will doom it to defeat in any case unless the nominee adopts a different position.) 

First, some anecdotal evidence: Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio, the essential battleground state for next year, says that Huckabee would be the best and strongest Republican candidate, particularly in Ohio.  This could be an attempt at deception, I suppose, but on the face of it there really is something to the idea that a socially conservative and economically populist Republican would do well in Ohio.  Obviously, it doesn’t help Huckabee’s attempt to cast himself, implausibly, as an “authentic conservative” that Strickland says that Huckabee would be his preferred Republican candidate, but what it shows is that Huckabee may have the kind of cross-party and cross-ideology appeal that the GOP nominee will have to have to recover from the disastrous Bush era.  Strickland and Brown both capitalised on populist themes in their campaigns last year, and a Republican who could poach on that territory could keep Ohio in the GOP column.  A golly-gee venture capitalist and proponent of globalisation and pro-immigration free traders will not fare well there, just as they will not fare well across the Midwest, where the election will likely be decided. 

Obviously, it is Huckabee’s perceived flaws in fiscal policy that drive conservative pundits and some voters up the wall, but the question to ask is this: are moderate and independent voters really going to be put off by someone who has Huckabee’s fiscal record?  If not, then Huckabee’s poor record from the Club for Growth and Cato Institute perspective may be an asset in the general election to the extent that the general public is not really on board with CfG and Cato ideas.  You may view that, as I do in many ways, as regrettable and frustrating, but I think that is the political reality.  Fiscal and business conservatives who are not enthusiastic about Huckabee’s tax-hiking, corporation-bashing, vague nods to protectionism and pro-labour rhetoric should consider the possibility that these are the very areas where Republicans are weakest in the current environment.  Perhaps they, rather than the social conservatives, will have to make compromises and hold their noses while voting for the “lesser of two evils” for a change.  But just imagine for a moment a variant of Bushism that is not necessarily closely wedded to corporate interests and which supports enforcing immigration laws–that is what Huckabee is beginning to offer on paper and in his rhetoric (however cynical and opportunistic and craven his move to the right on immigration is).  This may be an undesirable ideology in many ways, but what it is not going to be is unpopular. 

The reality is that the GOP is in hideous shape for the next presidential election and will almost certainly lose.  It is not as if Huckabee would be jeopardising the Republicans’ advantageous position.  The question is then this: which candidate currently realistically gives the GOP the best chance to compete and possibly win next year?  It is not at all ridiculous to suggest that the GOP’s best chance at this point may, in fact, be Huckabee.  Jim Pinkerton, who has been talking up Huckabee for some time, has made a related argument.  That may be a commentary on how horrible the GOP’s chances really are, or it may reveal how distorted conservative views of the electorate have become that they think that it is an electoral liability that Huckabee is not a doctrinaire tax-slashing, small-governmennt conservative.  As someone who supports the quintessential tax-slashing, small-government conservative in the race, let me tell you that I feel confident that this is not the part of the message that is inspiring most of the enthusiasm for Ron Paul.  I wish we lived in Ron Paul’s America, but the frightening truth is that we may very well be living in Huckabee’s.  There are plenty of arguments against nominating Huckabee, but it’s not at all clear to me that an argument about his electability is one of them.  I would like nothing more than to see Bushism repudiated forever, so I don’t want Huckabee to win the nomination.  However, as perverse as it sounds, a Bushism that did not contain its open borders, corporatism and aggressive foreign policy elements would be one that a lot of Americans would support.    

That rumour about a foreign policy endorsement for Huckabee was probably somehow confused with the plan to announce Ed Rollins’ role as campaign chairman.  The endorsement was supposed to happen today in New Hampshire, which is where the Rollins press conference was.  Jason Zengerle has more details on Rollins and why he may not be as good for the campaign as he might at first appear to be.

Rollins has said of Huckabee: “I was with the old Reagan and I can promise you that this man comes as close as anyone to filling those shoes.”

As I said when I reviewed his book, I think Sullivan’s entire theory about the GOP as a “religious party” dominated by “fundamentalists” gets things badly wrong.  The “theocon consensus” to which Sullivan refers is one against which the party and movement establishment has been violently protesting for the last year, and one that prominent figures in the movement consigned effectively to the margins over ten years ago when the actual “theocons” were perceived to be questioning the legitimacy of “the regime” over the issue of abortion.  Party and movement elites really don’t want religion to have much of a meaningful role, and not just in the selection of candidates.  They prefer to use it largely for symbolic appeals and GOTV efforts, and things have reached a point where Christian conservative voters may have had enough of empty gestures and manipulation.  The drive to marginalise social conservatives and blame them for the party’s defeat last year and the Giuliani candidacy both showed that a significant part of the Republican Party’s leadership was trying to become even less focused on religious and social issues than it had been.  These attempts are failing, but that they were made at all shows the priorities of the leadership of what is still a very secular party.  What exacerbates the cultural hostility to Huckabee is the association of his evangelical Christianity with a politics of what Reihan has sometimes called the “lower-middle”–this makes Huckabee both culturally different and potentially somewhat opposed to the interests of corporations and leads him to favour trying to secure the economic interests of these voters.

Sullivan perceived galloping fundamentalism when religion was used mainly a stage prop by the GOP.  Now other secular conservatives are freaking out at the prospect of voters backing a religious conservative who seems to take religious conservatism seriously.  The general conservative rejection of Sullivan’s thesis was partly an acknowledgement that the GOP was very far from being anything like a “religious party.”  The current backlash against Huckabee is part of the effort to make sure that religious voters don’t upset the current arrangement, in which religious conservatives receive lip service and are supposed to accept gratefully whatever they are given.    

While the attacks are on valid issues, at heart, the attacks appear to be because he is a former preacher from the South — a country bumpkin and a Jesus Freak. ~Erick Erickson

Via Ponnuru

Well, yes, that is a very large part of the reason for the GOP and conservative movement establishment’s reaction against Huckabee.  Additionally, their problem is that he is primarily a social conservative candidate in a party and in an election cycle where the social conservatives were supposed to sit down, be quiet and support the appropriate “national security” candidate.  People in the heartland were, as usual, supposed to accept whatever the coastal elites–in this case, conservative coastal elites–threw at them. 

There are two ways to express this frustration with Huckabee: to focus on his poor tax policy record and basically non-existent foreign policy credentials, or to belittle the college he attended and deplore his religiosity.  The latter approach has started to become more popular.  This is why many conservative pundits have focused their criticism on the “Christian leader” reference, his views on evolution and his alleged “insults” towards Mormonism.  Religion is all very well and good for some of these elites, provided that it doesn’t get taken too seriously and doesn’t become too central.  There are some in the conservative movement and the GOP who could in one breath defend evangelicals against the old insult that they are “easily led,” and who in the next will complain that those same evangelicals are not keeping in their place.   

Some of this reaction is tied together with some pundits’ support for a Huckabee rival, and some of it is tied to legitimate criticisms of Huckabee’s record, but I think a lot of it is cultural hostility of some Republican and conservative elites to the broad mass of evangelical Christians who make up a significant bloc of the GOP.  The latter are useful allies, but are otherwise treated as the unwanted stepchild that the elite would prefer to banish to the basement whenever possible.  Thompson was an acceptable Southerner, because he was a Southerner who had adapted to Washington and was a lobbyist and actor, and he was someone who rarely attended church, while Huckabee represents, for good and ill, a lot of Southern Republican voters.  Thompson was the sort of candidate who could, for some reason, get the base excited and appease the elite at the same time, except that he was, in practice, an awful candidate.  Huckabee has captured Thompson’s supporters, but cannot satisfy the elite. 

Combine some inherited distaste or unfamiliarity with the South among some pundits with the fear that the GOP is already too defined by its Southern wing and that it risks becoming a regional party (an overblown fear that once again tries to blame the GOP’s woes on cultural and social conservative politics of the Southerners), and you have a recipe for tremendous opposition to a Southern evangelical candidate.  It is absolutely true that the reaction against him by the establishment has been disproportionate, considering how ready so many conservative pundits have been to give Giuliani free passes and the benefit of the doubt in every case: “He has indicted friends with mob connections?  Why worry?  He’s pro-choice?  So what?  Don’t you know there’s a war on?!”  Huckabee’s rise was tolerable to these people so long as they could persuade themselves that it might help Giuliani capture the nomination, but now that he has become a more credible threat to Giuliani it has become open season.  Support for Giuliani’s rise had already shown social conservatives that they and their agenda were not very important to the party leadership, and the withering contempt for Huckabee simply confirmed that understanding. 

Erickson continues:

The New York-Washington Corridor of Conservative IntelligentsiaTM bristles at the idea that a back water social conservative from Arkansas has excited the base in a way the others haven’t. We were, after all, suppose to go for Romney or Rudy. They told us so.      

Huckabee’s creationism is one of the things that I suspect irritates conservative elites the most.  After all, how can they really accept someone who doesn’t accept evolution?  Acknowledging the theory of evolution here really serves, as Rod mentioned in a recent bloggingheads in a slightly different discussion about Huckabee’s views, as a “cultural marker” that shows that you are sufficiently urbane and sophisticated.  It is a mark of belonging to a certain set of the educated elite and a way of showing that you are not really one of those people who literally believe the Genesis account of creation.  (Now there are perfectly good and correct exegetical and theological arguments against reading Genesis this way, but that is not what we’re talking about.)  It is fine to humour those people with preposterous notions such as teaching Intelligent Design in science class (a position that has quasi-intellectual respectability), but letting them take prominent national leadership roles is really going too far.  If voters perceive supporting Huckabee’s candidacy as a way to stick a finger in the eye of the party leaders, I think they may be just angry and disaffected enough to do it.  As I said earlier today, the hostility of East Coast pundits may translate into an advantage for Huckabee’s popularity.

Update: John McIntyre has the elite anti-Huckabee roundup.

Ross coins the term Huckenfreude:

Pleasure derived from the outrage of prominent conservative pundits over the rising poll numbers of Mike Huckabee.

There are moments when I feel this, but it is balanced by an equally powerful feeling of Huckenschreck, the gnawing horror that Mike Huckabee might just be nominated and have an outside shot at acquiring immense power.  As a wrecking ball who smashes the rest of the field and drives the establishment into fits of insanity, Huckabee is great.  As a candidate for President, he is just about as awful as the people he is tearing down.  If he could just clear the field of its more objectionable members and then go away, that would be ideal. 

Huckabee. It sounds like one of those American restaurant chains popular across the South, the kind of place where on All You Can Eat Tuesdays the patrons down buckets of barbecued ribs and fried chicken while sucking on 32-ounce tumblers of diet soda. ~Gerard Baker

The chain restaurant meme continues, but from this sentence it is clear that Gerard Baker has never actually been to these chain restaurants.  There is also something strange about the association of Huckabee, weight-loss fanatic, with restaurants that are renowned for serving people excessive portions.  If this meme gets around, I can see it aiding Huckabee in small but important ways.  If most Republicans are suburban voters, and since these restaurants cover the suburbs like locusts during a blight, linking Huckabee in their minds with these restaurants would make him just a bit more attractive to them.  Plus, as weight-loss guru, he represents the kind of popular therapeutic self-help culture (which is in turn fueled by the overindulgence that the chain restaurants represent) that Michael long ago feared might make him popular:

I don’t want a President whose primary qualification seems to be the self-mastery of weight loss, spurred by diabetes.  I fear also that this is exactly what the American people do want. 

I have never given Fred Thompson much of a break this year, and from the beginning I thought the enthusiasm for him was an irrational outburst, a kind of mania that revealed despair among Republicans.  Simply put, it never made any sense.  But if I had to choose among all the non-Paul Republicans in contention right now, I would probably still have to say that Thompson was preferable to the rest.  What a pity, then, that the recent commentary praising his debate performance while saying that the debate is proof that he may not be finished yet is just not correct.  It really is over.  He just hasn’t acknowledged it.

Hotline/Diageo’s December survey has Thompson in fourth place in Iowa behind Giuliani, who isn’t even really campaigning there (a critic would say that Thompson isn’t really campaigning, either), and he has a fav/unfav of 37/42.  As a second choice, he still trails in fourth.  This is not the beginning of a comeback. 

Question 29 is also revealing about Huckabee’s advantage in Iowa: “Which of the following people, if any, do you think best represents strong moral and religious conviction?”  Huckabee receives 50%, Romney 24, and everyone else is in single digits.  The survey was taken between Dec. 7 and 12, so these are post-speech results. 

P.S.  Some small consolation for Thompson is that Research 2000’s Iowa poll has him tied for third with Giuliani at 9%.

With Rich Lowry’s scathing “Huckacide” column in National Review today and two Huck-bashing pieces in the Post, doesn’t it feel like the backlash against Huckabee has reached a critical saturation point? Does this start to show up in the polls? ~Eve Fairbanks

I think not.  It’s a fair question to ask, but I think it overestimates the power of conservative pundits, especially those who, like Krauthammer and Gerson, are not exactly speaking the language that current Huckabee supporters will understand or accept.  It also misses one of the reasons why Huckabee is doing so well.  He is most definitely not the establishment’s preferred candidate, and he is making the establishment go crazy.  Many of the criticisms against him are completely sound, but when his flaws are compared to the flaws of his rivals you begin to see that the establishment hostility to Huckabee is disproportionately great.  This image of Huckabee as the populist and the anti-Washington candidate, which he is cultivating assiduously, is one that I think is helping him tremendously, so every Washington and New York-based pundit who attacks him is contributing to that image.  (Incidentally, if Obama were in any danger of radically changing anything in Washington, I think you would see a much more concerted backlash against his candidacy.)  Huckabee’s support may start to weaken as his lack of organisation and money bring him back to earth, but I don’t think it will be because the pundits have rejected him.

Public political discussion of Governor Romney’s faith in recent weeks, however, has been marked by so many flagrant misstatements about that faith, and the repeitition of so many long-conventional bigotries about it, that it seemed to me to far beyond the limits of fair discussion. ~Michael Novak

So many flagrant misstatements?  Which misstatements are these?  Even if this is were tue, Novak’s point here seems to be that a little-understood religion is not well understood and open to mischaracterisation, so it is high time that we stop talking about it.  I confess that I don’t understand the complaints about unfairness at all.  Is it unfair to state publicly what a religion teaches?  If it is indeed the case that someone in this debate has erred and misrepresented LDS teachings, it seems to me that it is all the more important for those who see these statements as misrepresentations to step in and correct the record.  In the course of any other discussion, that is what would happen.  The natural response is not, “Everyone is being unfair to this presidential candidate, so I will endorse him.”  By the same token, I should endorse Obama if I think that it is unfair that people spread the falsehood that he is a Muslim.  This is, to put it mildly, a strange approach to political endorsement. 

Via Noah, Rasmussen reports its latest Florida poll in which Giuliani trails Huckabee and Romney.

And, besides, the thinking goes, people far from the border really don’t care. ~Peter Brown

Brown’s article makes a lot of sense, but I think it overlooks that the crucial thing that is driving the new wave of opposition to immigration is the response from voters in both border states and in states that are far in the interior.  If anyone does still think that people in interior states don’t care about immigration, this is incorrect. 

Open borders advocates often cite polling on immigration from border states as evidence that the issue is a losing one, which ignores intensity of the opponents who live in these border  states.  Meanwhile, the farther away from the border one is, the more troubling a broader mass of voters tends to find illegal immigration to be, especially as it begins to affect their communities.  I think this is because it strikes them as evidence of just how out of control things have become.  Obviously, Iowa is pretty far away from the Rio Grande, but immigration is a burning issue there, and not just among the activists.  The same was true for western Massachusetts and even among some Democratic voters, as the special election earlier this year showed.  Part of this, as Lizza’s story on immigration politics explains, is the reaction to recently arrived immigrants in places where there had not been large numbers of them before.  The shock of sudden change combined with the underlying dissatisfaction with government failures in this area of policy make for a fearsome political reaction.  Add to that the long-standing unhappiness of a significant number of very intense opponents in the border states.  As a result, enforcement and restrictionism become much more attractive throughout the country. 

Peggy Noonan has an interesting column today.  There was an enjoyable part about the Clinton campaign:

It is a delight of democracy that now and then assumptions are confounded, that all the conventional wisdom of the past year is compressed and about to blow. It takes a Potemkin village.

A lot of observers have been declaring the Clinton campaign to be in real trouble.  Her position in New Hampshire has been weakening.  She is occasionally being compared unfavourably to Howard Dean, but it is actually these early signs of weakening that may hint that she will not suffer the Vermont governor’s fate.  Dean was riding high in state and national polls until he slammed straight into the brick wall of actual vote tallies.  The dashing of high expectations may do more damage to a primary campaign (especially if it has an extensive organisation and deep pockets) than setbacks at the polls.  Now there is some reason to think that Clinton could lose Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and that has started to be factored into assessments of her chances.  Pundits have already been running scenarios for what happens if she finishes third in Iowa, and her anointed status as “inevitable” has been rescinded by many of the same geniuses who bestowed it upon her in the first place.  All of this makes it easier for her to survive disappointing results and what might otherwise be a sudden collapse of confidence in her candidacy.  Even if she ”wins ugly,” so to speak, and just ekes out a victory, she can then play Mondale to Obama’s Hart and the nomination will probably go to her. 

If she now wins in two, or maybe in just one, of these contests, her campaign remains alive and you will then begin to see stories that describe how her campaign has avoided disaster and has been strengthened in the process yadda yadda yadda.  I think it is true that she cannot realistically lose all three of those contests and hope to succeed (just as it is ludicrous to think that Giuliani can succeed after going 0-for-4).  However, she may just need one win, and I think Obama’s current lead in these three states makes it much more crucial for him to win in all three.  The real danger to both, as I’m sure others have already pointed out, is that Edwards’ strength in Iowa may be greater than the polls suggest, which is where his potential for shaking up this race is obviously greatest. 

The candidate chose to occupy his snow day with a moral blunder of the first order — accepting the endorsement of Jim Gilchrist, the founder of an anti-immigrant group called the Minuteman Project. ~Michael Gerson

Gerson has turned on the “compassionate” conservative candidate pretty quickly here.  Not because of the man’s real moral blunders (see Wayne Dumond et al.), but because he associates himself with restrictionists and adopts restrictionist proposals.  In Gerson’s moral universe, opposition to illegal immigration and support for border security seem to be among the worst errors one can make (”a moral blunder of the first order,” he says).  Ironically, Gerson’s criticism of Huckabee’s embrace of Gilchrist is just the kind of thing Huckabee needs in the nomination contest to shore up his reputation as an “authentic conservative” (as his advertisements refer to him).  Anything that will distance him from Gerson and “compassionate conservatism” is a plus for him, since it undermines the argument that the rest of us are promoting that Huckabee is in many ways not conservative and is not the candidate that conservatives should want to support.  Gerson’s disapproval may become for some people another reason to give Huckabee another look, when they should not even give him a first look.  

Considering Huckabee’s incredibly small campaign staff, this question was quite amusing:

Did someone vet Gilchrist’s past statements?

The candidate doesn’t even have someone to brief him about leading news stories on national security, and we’re supposed to expect a rigorous vetting process of endorsers?  The strange thing is that Huckabee’s transparent flip on immigration probably won’t hurt him that much, despite what Gerson thinks it will do to his reputation for “authenticity.”  The beauty of a politician having a reputation for authenticity is that it is almost always undeserved.  In any case, it can be effectively faked by clever performers, and there’s no doubt that Huckabee is that if he is nothing else.  Further, all of his main rivals have been as bad or worse on immigration than he was.  I was going to say, “except for Fred Thompson,” but Thompson isn’t really a main rival anymore.  This means that their collective stampede to the right on immigration gives him plenty of cover to transform himself cynically into an anti-amnesty, border-enforcing champion.  Unbelievably, Iowan restrictionist voters are buying into it right now. 

And it matters that so much of his gorgeous rhetoric is devoid of actual meaning. ~ Eugene Robinson

Quick–guess which candidate Robinson is describing.

Read the rest of this entry »

It’s two centuries since the passage of the First Amendment and our presidential candidates still cannot distinguish establishment from free exercise. ~Charles Krauthammer

It seems clear to me from the article that it is exactly these things that Krauthammer seems unable to distinguish, or rather he seems unable to understand that they do not even apply to the role of religion in this campaign.  The establishment clause concerns a prohibition against any law establishing a religion at the federal level in the United States.  That is what it meant and what it still means.  It is elementary, which is why it is tiresome that so few people seem to grasp that this has nothing to do with expressions of public opinion or political preferences.  The hollowness of the objection Krauthammer and others are raising is evident once you notice that the only kind of political judgements about someone’s religion that they really find unacceptable is a negative one.  They may find positive judgements in favour of a candidate on account of his religion undesirable, but they do not usually make an issue out of it. 

If voting is an exercise of political speech (it is), and freedom of speech is guaranteed under the same First Amendment, there is nothing illicit or impropr in exercising that freedom, so long as it does not endanger public safety under very specific circumstances and conditions (e.g., inciting to riot, etc.).  The implicit complaint in this debate is that somehow disapproval of a candidate’s religious beliefs is a curtailment of that candidate’s religious liberty, which is not true.  The argument seems to be that free speech should, as a matter of practice and custom, end where there are strong disagreements and that this applies only to questions of religious difference, which I think is an appalling idea.  Mind you, this is not a violation of anyone’s First Amendment rights, because it is not the government that is trying to impose this rule.  Nonetheless, it is a very deliberate attempt to stifle one particular kind of political expression through the deployment of social pressures and the implied or explicit accusations of prejudice.  Conservatives who rebel against the principle of thought-policing rules on campuses and elsewhere should reject this argument, which is based on the same principle.  All thhose who constantly tell us how interested they are in intellectual diversity and open debate should have no problem with a debate that also includes religious beliefs.  If voters believe these things are irrelevant, they are perfectly capable of selecting candidates who do not engage in this kind of politics. 

What is so frustrating about this debate is that neither establishment nor the free exercise of religion is at stake here.  Religious liberty is not endangered, and no one is proposing an established religion.  We do indeed live in an increasingly religiously diverse society.  It seems bizarre that this would be the one aspect of our society that we would refuse to talk about in our political discourse.

In the same way that civil rights laws established not just the legal but also the moral norm that one simply does not discriminate on the basis of race — changing the practice of one generation and the consciousness of the next — so the constitutional injunction against religious tests is meant to make citizens understand that such tests are profoundly un-American. ~Charles Krauthammer

No, the injunction was meant and is still meant to prevent federal offices from being dependent on whether or not you confess a particular creed or religion.  When it was written, there were many state religious tests (because there were still a few state established churches), and there were likely members of the Constitutional Convention who had no problem in principle with religious tests in their own states.  What they would not accept is the religious test that someone from another church in another state might try to impose on them through the federal government.  Krauthammer does at least admit that the prohibition of religious tests is a prohibition against what the government does, not a statement about what citizens may or may not do in selecting their representatives.  It’s a funny word, representative.  Taken at face value, you might even think that it is supposed to mean that citizens select those whom they believe best represents them.  All this complaining about prohibitions against religious tests is a concerted effort to make people feel guilty for wanting what they regard as their best representation. 

But there is some hope for common ground: both Krauthammer and Huckabee seem to be of the mistaken view that laws establish moral norms.  This is particularly bizarre in the American context, since such laws would likely have never been enacted by elected representatives unless there was already some considerable moral consensus behind them that enacting the law, and enforcing existing moral norms, was the appropriate and right thing to do.   

In a sense, Huckabee is the second coming of former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), who now seems about as relevant as a typewriter at a bloggers’ convention. ~Stuart Rothenburg

A typewriter at a bloggers’ convention would at least have the advantage of being unusual and something of a curiosity.  Some of the younger bloggers may have never seen one outside of a museum.  I’m afraid Fred Thompson is no longer that interesting.

The word is that Huckabee will be getting a big foreign policy endorsement tomorrow that is supposed to shore up his (non-existent) credibility on national security and foreign affairs.  If it’s anywhere as surprising and incomprehensible as the Gilchrist endorsement, I think we should fully expect to see Henry Kissinger up there in the snows of New Hampshire alongside him.

P.S.  The Kissinger bit was a joke, of course, but now that I think about it more it occurs to me that the recent Chafets profile may have given us the answer.  The profile said something about how Huckabee had ”visited” with Richard Haass once.  So, for lack of any plausible alternative, I am going to guess that it will be Haass.  That would be something of a feather in Huck’s cap, but it would also reinforce the loathing for him in the party.  Just consider–Huckabee consorting with realists!  Then again, a Haass endorsement would deflate a lot of the ill-informed “his foreign policy is just like Jimmy Carter’s” garbage that establishment voices are spreading around. 

The sound you hear is Ross screaming in horror.

Reid Wilson reports on the Thompson campaign’s continuing woes:

Thompson has effectively focused his entire campaign on Iowa, a state which, thanks to the caucuses, requires more organization than most. If his campaign can’t manage 500 signatures in Delaware, Thompson could be in for a rude surprise on January 3.

Thompson will not be on the Delaware primary ballot because his people could not round up 500 signatures?  It sounds like time to call it all off.

Merry Christmas!

It seems to me that accepting the resignation of Bill Shaheen, Clinton co-chair in New Hampshire, is the kind of stupid move that a panicked, desperate campaign makes.  It is a sign that Obama’s gains in the polls have completely confused the Clinton campaign.   Letting Shaheen resign is a mistake.  He is the husband of a popular former governor and favoured Senatorial candidate.  His remarks about Obama’s drug use may have been idiotic, but throwing him overboard is a very questionable move when Clinton needs New Hampshire Democrats to deliver for her more than ever.  If she loses New Hampshire, this will be part of the reason why. 

Scott Richert has some additional thoughts on Mormon theology at Taki’s Top Drawer

Huckabee’s immigration flop hasn’t fooled everyone:

Jim Gilchrist here speaks only for Jim Gilchrist, he does not speak for the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, nor is he nationally representative of most patriots in the “Minuteman movement” – who under no circumstances could ignore the failed record nor endorse the duplicitous “plan” recently rolled out by candidate Mike Huckabee. The national media needs to recognize that Jim Gilchrist’s endorsement is his own personal statement, nothing more.

I should also apologise for any misleading statements on my part that claimed that the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps had collectively endorsed Huckabee.  As the letter points out, they are legally barred from making political enndorsements as an organisation.

I don’t define those events as you do. And I don’t think you have any right whatsoever to establish yourselves as the arbiter of what constitutes an event. I will do that in a way that reflects the best needs and purposes of the people who are working with me. Because as I see it, every time somebody comes forward and takes the pledge, that’s an Iowa event. ~Alan Keyes


Unleash weapons of mass instruction. ~Mike Huckabee

You have to be kidding me.  No wonder he received the New Hampshire NEA endorsement

This is a shorter, simplified, terminologically flawed version of what I was saying last month:

The plutocrats got showered with riches, and the theocrats got lines from hymns dropped into speeches.

More than that, once the GOP met its electoral reckoning the so-called “theocrats,” which the rest of us on earth know as the social conservatives, were blamed for having wrecked the GOP, which, so we were told, they had so thoroughly dominated during the Bush years.  This was a classic error of identifying the base of the party’s electoral strength with the control of its leadership and agenda.  Having attributed to them supreme power over the party, it was inevitable that the media, both mainstream and conservative, would wrongfully tag them as scapegoats for the party’s failure, just as they had falsely described them as the masters of the party.  As Huckabee’s performance at the “values voters” summit and the Huckabee surge have shown, many of the rank and file social conservatives are not following the movement leaders and activists to endorse candidates deemed safe or acceptable by the establishment. 

Indeed, the one thing that makes me think Huckabee can’t be all bad is that the party and movement establishment leaders seem to loathe and fear him, but I am under no illusions that just because he is some kind of anti-establishment figure that he is therefore also a desirable one.  In most respects, he is Bush’s natural heir and would be another Bush, but a Bush without the corporate ties.  Were he somehow nominated and elected, this would not ultimately herald the movement of the GOP in a more populist direction, but would set the stage for internecine GOP warfare as conservatives would turn against him quickly and seek to oust him as progressives tried to do with Carter.  The Carter parallels are already overused, I know, but they seem eerily appropriate. 

Lately, I have been very down on Huckabee, since he now has a decent shot at prolonging his campaign into the spring as a real contender.  But I did say a few weeks ago:

I don’t like Huckabee, and I don’t want him to do well, but both he and Paul drive different parts of the establishment crazy and could throw the entire race into disarray, which would be a good thing for many reasons.   

Well, we have disarray now, and it is good that Huckabee is challenging the notion that blatant opportunism and money can dominate our political process without any resistance.  Unfortunately, what he offers in its place (feel-good quips and charismatic, personality-driven politics) is worrisome for different reasons.  I still don’t want him to win, but I think his candidacy may make the eventual nominee, whoever it is, have to take social conservatives much more seriously and offer them the kinds of concessions and influence that their leaders seem unwilling to extract on their behalf.

This line from Waldman is a summary of part of what I was saying yesterday:

This primary battle is a symptom, not a cause, of a crumbling conservative coalition.

He shows a Wikipedia-level appreciation of other religions, admiring “the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims” and “the ancient traditions of the Jews.” These vapid nostrums suggest his innermost conviction of America’s true faith. A devout Christian vision emerges of a U.S. society that is in fact increasingly diverse. ~Roger Cohen

I don’t think the speech presented a “devout Christian vision,” and indeed he was at pains to present anything but that.  The entire speech was premised on arguing for pluralism and against religious homogeneity or the cultural hegemony of any particular religion, boiling down the many religions to our “great moral inheritance” and a vague and minimally demanding theism.  It was a typical expression of the sort of superficial, smorgasbord approach to diversity that we have all grown up with in America.  For some reason, paeans to diversity seem to require “vapid nostrums,” because we must find something about every group that is distinctive yet not the cause of some offense among another group, which usually ends up leaving us with not much to say about them.  Had a non-Mormon given the speech, you could imagine him saying, “I admire the impeccable politeness of the Mormons.”  After all, to say anything in greater detail would be, by the standards of the speech, to establish a “religious test”!  

Romney could hardly have said, “I admire the spiritual journey of the Muslim who struggles in the path of God,” since this would mean that he is also admiring the mujahideen, so he was reduced to saying something meaningless.  Even Wikipedia-level appreciation would have offered more depth of understanding of other religions.  What was most disingenuous about this part of the speech was that Romney claimed to admire these elements so much that he wished they were part of his religion!  When he hears this speech, Cohen encounters the drippy multiculturalism of a religious studies seminar and mistakes it for religious militancy.

Roger Cohen makes a correction to a previous column of his that I criticised:

I wrote last week of the Tudor-Stuart alternation; I meant succession.

Romney went negative this week, airing an ad in Iowa hitting Huckabee on tuition breaks for illegal immigrants, but the aforementioned aide suggested it was far too tepid. “Romney has to turn mother’s picture to the wall and really start beating the crap out of guy.” ~Tom Bevan

A bit crude, perhaps, but I agree with the assessment.  The ad was very tepid.  It was so tepid that Romney makes a point of bragging about how neutral and  non-judgemental it was, as he did again in his Today Show appearance.

Thus the scandal of Jesus and Satan being brothers is one based entirely on extrapolation and syllogism. Yes, because both Jesus and Satan were created as part of the offspring of God, you could say they’re related, or even brothers. ~Ryan Bell

In other words, because Mormonism holds a doctrine similar to Arianism (i.e., that the Son is created), what Huckabee said is obviously horribly wrong, except that it’s actually correct.  I don’t think anyone will be hiring this guy to do spin control.  You do have to admire the gall of bringing Hitler into the debate.  That is always a good way to persuade and win new friends.

But I think attacking someone’s religion is really going too far. It’s just not the American way, and I think people will reject that. ~Mitt Romney

Romney said that on The Today Show in response to Huckabee’s question in the Chafets profileDavid Kuo made the right point about this:

I’m sorry but I am really confused about all of this. Since when is asking a question about someone’s religion attacking it?? This is bizarre.

Kuo referred to Romney’s appearance as “pathetic.” 

I am obviously just about as strongly opposed to Romney as you can be, but no one can possibly confuse me for a fan of Huckabee, either.  I think Romney’s Mormonism is something that is legitimate for voters to take into account, but I also know that Huckabee has stated publicly time and again that he thinks it should be irrelevant.  (Here he makes the statement as clearly as anyone could possibly want.)  As a matter of fairness and accuracy, it seems wrong to impute to Huckabee the views and motives of those who are going to vote against Romney on account of his religion unless there is evidence that he actually holds such views and has such motives.  Huckabee has plenty of flaws, all of which are amply detailed in the same Chafets profile.  Ironically, by focusing on this one sentence, the media and Romney are giving Huckabee an easy out  on his genuinely worrisome record and policy views.  By protesting about one sentence, which they must regard in itself as an irrelevancy, and ignoring the serious flaws in Huckabee’s ideas (or lack thereof in certain cases), the media are actually empowering the candidate who stands to benefit from the anti-Mormon reaction among Republican voters.  Whatever Romney may or may not have accomplished with his speech last week, he stands to lose by embracing the rhetoric of the oppressed minority (which, if you haven’t noticed, does not exactly win over conservative voters).     

The small but growing effort to tar Huckabee as some sort of sectarian campaigner or incipient theocrat strikes me as wrong on the merits and seriously counterproductive for those making the argument.  If I am a caucus-goer or a primary voter who has not firmly committed to another candidate, I could very easily see Mitt Romney as someone working with the mainstream media to accuse a social conservative candidate of bigotry.  Think about how that appears to a conservative audience.  It does not make Romney look better to them, let me tell you.  

It seems to me that you give people the benefit of the doubt in these cases.  Huckabee was probably innocently asking the question he asked, and he has since gone out of his way to make it clear that he thinks that the issue shouldn’t be part of the campaign.  He has had opportunities to say publicly whether he thought Mormonism was Christian or not, and he demurred.  He could have very easily said something else, but chose not to do so.  If you find all the talk about Mormonism disconcerting, you really don’t want to get things to the point where Huckabee feels compelled to start answering those questions by labeling Huckabee, pretty much baselessly, as a “sectarian” who is playing “the Mormon card.” 

More bizarre yet is Romney’s reaction.  The question that Huckabee asked actually reflects Mormon teaching with a reasonable degree of accuracy.  (You can say that it takes this view out of context and implies something that the LDS church does not teach, but I think this is a reach.)  If, in fact, Huckabee doesn’t know much about Mormonism, his question might reflect something that he has heard over the years and was asking in the natural give and take of conversation.  Now you can argue that he shouldn’t have said it, or you can argue that Chafets shouldn’t have included it, but Romney’s reaction doesn’t really make sense unless he finds the tenets of his own religion so embarrassing and strange that the mere mention of them constitutes an “attack” or unless you are a candidate, as Romney is, in need of something, anything, you can use to tear down your opponent.  Of course these beliefs are a political liability, as we all know, but if Romney believed what he said last Thursday that those who think these things matter “underestimate the American people” he cannot possibly see a mere question as an attack worthy of condemnation. 

Pluralism doesn’t mean that we all become silent about matters of great importance.  You do not really have a free society if asking questions is considered an assault.  More basically, you need something more substantial than this if you’re going to charge someone with attacking your religion.      

Ron Paul has raised more than $11 million for the fourth quarter, and right now needs a little over $600,000 to meet his goals for the quarter.  The Tea Party on Sunday should be able to break that barrier in a matter of hours.

Well, that was … thoroughly uninteresting. And that is fantastic, spectacular news for new Republican front-runner Mike Huckabee, and a giant missed opportunity for Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson and all the rest of the would-be Iowa contenders. ~Rick Klein

That may be overstating things a bit, but it was the last debate before the caucuses and the last chance to expose Huckabee to the kind of pressure his rivals need to put on him if they expect him to slip up or lose popular support.  If Klein is right that Huckabee and Paul were the winners coming out of the debate, that can’t be anything but bad news for Thompson, who needs Huckabee to implode and who also needs Ron Paul to go away.  Fourth place or single digit results and Thompson is pretty much finished. 

On the other hand, the sheer lack of organisation and money that Huckabee has, as we are reminded in the Times magazine piece today, has to catch up to him at some point.  Huckabee’s poor fundraising is frankly a little bit surprising.  Granted, he has raised his national profile in just the last few weeks, which hasn’t allowed much time to raise funds, but how is it that he is getting such massive support in Iowa and noticeable support everywhere else in the country and can’t translate that into some real funding right now?  As this article about Huckabee’s daughter (and natonal field coordinator) reminds us, they won’t have a campaign bus until next week. 

The lack of funding is demonstrated very simply by the Huckabee campaign’s own site.  His goal for Dec. 15th is $1.5 1.15 million.  He needs about $300,000 in the next three days to reach this fairly extremely modest goal.

P.S.  A thought occurred to me when I was reading Chafets’ profile and came across the part where Huckabee selected T.G.I. Friday’s for their lunch (a selection Chafets refused).  Someone has made the crack about Huckabee that his name sounds like that of a chain restaurant, and I read the Chafets’ piece after watching Amy Sullivan and Rod Dreher’s bloggingheads last night (in which Rod invokes Applebee’s America).  Then I saw the reference to Huckabee’s preferred chain restaurant.  Somehow that struck me as the perfect symbol for Huckabee’s campaign.  On a more substantive level, the chain restaurant connection reminded me of something else.    This made me wonder whether Huckabee is the ideal candidate of Applebee’s America.  The points from that book that seem to apply to Huckabee’s success thus far are these:

  • People make choices about politics, consumer goods, and religion with their hearts, not their heads.
  • Successful leaders touch people at a gut level by projecting basic American values that seem lacking in modern institutions and missing from day-to-day life experiences.
  • The most important Gut Values today are community and authenticity. People are desperate to connect with one another and be part of a cause greater than themselves. They’re tired of spin and sloganeering from political, business, and religious institutions that constantly fail them.

Of course, the idea that Huckabee is “authentic” while others are not is an idea that Huckabee has tried hard to cultivate.  It seems to me that it isn’t true, but in the same way that Clinton claimed that he felt your pain Huckabee can certainly make people feel as if it is true and make them feel that he understands their predicaments. 

Update: Huckabee is now also running in a close second place in Wisconsin of all places, up seventeen points from three months ago. 

Following up on my earlier remarks on the state of the GOP field, this Strategic Vision poll from Georgia helps to illuminate the schizophrenia of Republican voters:

13. Do you view President Bush as a conservative in the mode of Ronald Reagan? (Republicans Only)
Yes 7%
No 79%
Undecided 14%

16. For the 2008 Republican Presidential Nomination whom would you support? (Republicans Only)
Mike Huckabee 23%
Fred Thompson 20%
Rudy Giuliani 17%
John McCain 11%
Mitt Romney 10%
Ron Paul 4%
Tom Tancredo 2%
Duncan Hunter 1%
Undecided 12%

17. How important is it for the Republican presidential candidate to be a conservative Republican in the mode of Ronald Reagan, very important, somewhat important, not very important, not important, or undecided? (Republicans Only)
Very Important 56%
Somewhat Important 24%
Not Very Important 5%
Not Important 7%
Undecided 8%

So here you have Georgia Republicans, most of whom think Bush has deviated from the Reagan “mode” or standard, and they very much want someone who operates in that Reagan mode…and then you have over 40% selecting either Huckabee or Giuliani, the two whose differences from this “mode” are the most egregious and obvious.  Republicans keep telling themselves that they want a new Reagan (which may or may not have something to do with wanting to support the kinds of policies implemented by the actual Reagan administration), and find themselves confused and divided over how to reconcile the current state of their party with their political ideal.  They belong to Bush’s GOP, and they clearly don’t like this, but at the same time they don’t support much significant or noticeable change of direction from where Bush has taken them.  The Reagan nostalgia is a way to express discontent without having to reflect on how Republicans have reached their current predicament.  The enthusiasm for Fred Thompson’s candidacy stemmed from the idea that he could return the party to the good old days, and there was and is a desperate desire for such a return.  It is now translating into a huge boost of support for Huckabee (who leads the Georgia race without, so far as I know, ever having appeared in the state once since the campaign began), because he has now become the empty vessel into which many people are pouring their hopes.  Bizarrely, voters who want a new Reagan are currently giving the lead to someone  who seems in almost every way to promise to be another Bush, whom the same voters see as significantly different from their ideal.

Update: The same split-mindedness afflicts Republicans in Wisconsin and, obviously, Iowa.  

Eve Fairbanks has an interesting profile on the candidate I once predicted would take the field by surprise, Duncan Hunter.  There is a part of the profile that explains a lot about why Hunter doesn’t connect with his natural constituency in the GOP:

At a town hall meeting in Reno, Hunter’s policy profile attracts several heavily made-up women upset about Mexican immigration. They’re mad as hell. But Hunter never yells, and his detailed discussion of an intercountry highway supposedly proposed after NAFTA only serves to confuse them. “I don’t understand. NAFTA–you would build a highway in between our country and theirs?” one of the women shouts.

As Fairbanks notes, he is “too fringe to be mainstream” and “too mainstream to be fringe,” and this episode shows that he is also too policy and detail-oriented to be the kind of politician who can win over restrictionist voters, namely the single-issue candidate who talks about virtually nothing else (Tancredo) or the simplistic panderer who will say whatever you want to hear (a role apparently filled now by Huckabee).  We can rest assured that Huckabee will never confuse his voters with unnecessary details and information.

Given how horribly he has done everywhere, why did I ever think that Hunter might be the surprise dark horse candidate in the race?  I originally thought that someone with his trade and immigration policy views he would become a successful insurgent candidate, tapping into the discontent of the base, and could offer the GOP a chance to compete respectably in a political environment in which the GOP needs to appeal to populist voters.  With his long years of service on the Armed Services Committee, he was better prepared to take up the Presidency during wartime than just about any other candidate.  

But without digging into the theological nitty gritty here, the bottom line is that however different the theology may be, Mormon morality is very much the same manichean [bold mine-DL], good vs. evil outlook as traditional Christianity. ~Mark Hemingway

In fairness, Hemingway clarifies in an update that he doesn’t use manichean here in a way that actually refers to, well, Manichean beliefs, and he certainly isn’t the only person who uses manichean in a very loose and inaccurate way, but it is notable that he uses this word in a post that is trying to explain and contextualise a heterodox idea in Mormonism.  In the Mormons’ defense, they do not have a Manichean understanding of the universe, and neither do Christians.  Manichees believe the created order is a prison for human souls that was created by an evil principle, and understand morality as a war of spirit and matter that is significantly different from the moral theology of both Mormons and Christians.  Since Manichee is one of the most overused heresiological tropes in history, it was an unusually unfortunate choice for someone who wanted to deflect criticisms of Mormonism.

P.S.  Hemingway’s update is itself unfortunate when he refers to the “dualistic notion of good vs. evil” in Christianity.  Christianity doesn’t have a dualistic notion of good vs. evil.  In the classic patristic formulations, whether of Augustine or the Greek Fathers, evil is the negation and absence of good.  A dualistic notion of good vs. evil would be…the Manichean understanding.

Ross talks with Yglesias about Obama’s “respect for conservatism” and comes to a conclusion that is somewhat close to mine, at least when it comes to the political danger to conservatives and Republicans.

For a Byzantine angle on Huckabee’s remark about Mormon beliefs (”Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?”), I would note that the belief in the fraternity of Jesus and the devil has some loose similarities with the beliefs ascribed to the Bogomils, who allegedly taught something similar about Satan and Michael.  Aside from these associations, there is a more fundamental problem that this belief contradicts the understanding of Christ as the only-begotten (monogenes) Son, co-unoriginate with the Father.     

Update: In the “Huckabee is not running a sectarian campaign” file, you can add his apology to Romney for these entirely innocent remarks.

Where has Fred Siegel been living these past few years?  He writes:

Who could be more authentically representative of Rove-era Republicanism than Mike Huckabee, a pioneer-stock evangelical Baptist who wants to reclaim Americans for Christ?

As it happens, I think Huckabee does represent many elements of Bushism, of which his evangelical Christianity is in some ways the least important element (as it was the least important in the actual content of Bushism), but “Rove-era Republicanism” had no interest in reclaiming anything for Christ.  “Rove-era Republicanism” was the ultimate expression of the GOP’s habit of exploiting social conservatives for electoral support and then largely ignoring everything they wanted once in power.  As a big-government and “compassionate” conservative, Huckabee would be Bush’s heir, at least in domestic policy, and he has all the instincts of Gerson’s activist do-gooding vision of conservatism (i.e., Gerson’s non-conservative agenda). 

As Ross points out, however, this has absolutely nothing to do with the lessons of the 2006 elections.  In my view, the lessons of 2006 should make the Republicans want to rally behind their lone antiwar candidate, but somehow I don’t think most Republicans would agree with that, either.  More on this in a moment.  If you accept the criticism of Huckabee that he is clueless on foreign policy (and I have mostly been persuaded that he is), which his embrace of Friedman and Gaffney does nothing to refute, then in a very narrow way you can say that Huckabee’s ineptitude on foreign policy will be rejected by voters much as the administration’s was last year.  That is presumably not the message that Fred Siegel wants to send. 

Returning to an older post by Ross on the GOP field, and touching on Noah’s response, I think all of us, myself included, have been framing things in slightly misleading way.  Ross and I look at the field and see candidates who have irreconcilable differences with key constituencies, while Noah sees a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.  Ross and I will often describe these differences in “ideological” terms, but they are really differences over practical policy and the party’s self-definition.  What I think we have all been missing is that the party is trying to convince itself that it is the same Republican Party of the ’80s and ’90s and has a desperate need to reaffirm the traditional definitions of the pre-Bush GOP, according to which almost all members of the modern party are disqualified.  That is why there has been so much weepy Reagan nostalgia and why the Fred Thompson boomlet happened at all.  Many Republicans at some level know the last seven years have been a disaster for them and for the country, but the reasons they give for the disaster are entirely different from what many of us would give.  The explanation has become, as conservatives have become used to saying, that it was insufficient dedication to principles that led to policy failure and electoral defeat.  In one sense, I think this analysis is correct, but really it gets things as wrong as possible, because it is always framed in terms of “runaway spending” and corruption.  In my view, the Iraq war has been a failure and a disaster because of a departure from conservative wisdom and prudence, and it has been Iraq that brought about the GOP’s downfall, but these are not the principles that most Republicans think they have violated.  Incredibly, they believe that the public rejected them because of deficit spending and earmarks.  (Granted, massive spending and earmarks didn’t help their cause, but they were not the main cause of public discontent.)  Blind to their largest weakness of all, most of the GOP field has been striving to adhere to the traditional definitions, which has required them to engage in so many ridiculous contortions.  

Then you realise that the reason why GOP candidates have so much trouble declaring themselves to be the defenders of small government and social conservative values at the same time is that many of the GOP’s elected officials around the country have never been able to embrace both of these things, underscoring the social conservatives’ far greater importance to the coalition as a matter of electoal politics.  Initially, and I think mistakenly, the idea was that national security would trump all other questions, so it followed that the anointed “national security conservatives” would dominate the race, namely McCain and Giuliani.  What the supporters of these candidates missed is that hard-line, aggressive foreign policy has so completely taken over the majority of the GOP’s politicians and pundits that all of the other candidates could mouth the appropriately bellicose and confrontational phrases and undermine the rationale for the candidacies of McCain and Giuliani.  In a somewhat hilarious reversal of fortunes, it is now anti-jihadism and hegemonism that receive the lip service and social and cultural conservatism that take center stage.  The GOP has reached a consensus on national security and foreign policy, which is now taken as something of a given.  Obviously, I think the consensus they have reached is terrible, but it is there.  It is excellent that Ron Paul struggles against that consensus, which is horrible and needs to be overturned, but one reason I think he has such high unfavourables among Republicans in poll after poll is that he is repudiating something that the majority of the party now regards as fundamental. 

Because it has become fundamental for the GOP, it is no longer the province of the fanatical proponents of aggressive foreign policy.  It has entered into the party’s bloodstream.  I think it will kill the party, but the majority thinks that it is life-giving and essential.  Once the assumptions of neoconservatism become a new norm, which, despite everything that has happened, appears to be taking place, the most outspoken candidates who have become associated with neoconservatism lose their edge.  If you can take for granted that almost everyone in the field supports some form of interventionism, other issues can come to the fore and dominate the debate.  Thus foreign policy weakness becomes a kind of strength, since it compels the candidates who are weakest on that issue to cling all the more strongly to the new consensus and thus avoid any direct or sharp conflicts with the people who defend the consensus.  Huckabee may have said reasonable things about Iran policy, but given enough time I’m sure he can be talked out it, just as Bush was turned away from “realism” towards the current course.     

If you can have Huckabee, who is a genuine social conservative and who takes his foreign policy cues from Frank Gaffney, you hardly need Giuliani with all of his baggage and the danger that he will alienate social conservatives.  Romney’s problem is that he can nail down the economic conservatives on taxes and trade, but primarily economic conservatives aren’t very numerous and have their greatest influence in the conservative media and think tanks, while he has difficulty persuasing social conservatives that he has joined them.  However, both can effectively neutralise the main rationale of Giuliani’s candidacy by shouting about the dangers of ”Islamofascism” and “the caliphate,” which is roughly how sophisticated Giuliani’s foreign policy vision is to start with.  

Huckabee’s campaign is shaping up to be an anti-elite campaign not simply because he uses economic populist rhetoric, but because he represents the broad base of the party in social conservatives and the middle-class and he clashes with the movement and party establishments over their deference to corporate interests.  With his new, utterly cynical and absurd flip-flop on immigration, his opposition to those interests now appears complete (though he has recently said positive things about NAFTA that make his gestures towards protectionism seem much emptier than I had thought they were).  It may be that the forces Huckabee is trying to use to propel his campaign are akin to what Sam Francis discussed in his writings on the Middle American Radicals, but it is extremely doubtful that Huckabee has any intention of governing in the interests of the MARs.  Nonetheless, it is the danger that this is what Huckabee represents that has the establishment terrified.  It is the much greater likelihood that he represents another iteration of Bush that makes me dread a Huckabee nomination.   

Noah wrote:

So, basically, I don’t expect a brokered convention, and I don’t expect a long, drawn-out struggle for a nominee, and I don’t expect a nominee that has espoused any meaningful heterodoxies. Maybe that’s why this contest has been so maddening: because it could be about something, but the major candidates are determined to see that it isn’t, and yet this contest about nothing still has an uncertain outcome.

But, as usual, the contest really is over who can best patch up the broken, bleeding body of the GOP coalition and get into fighting condition for the next election.  The thing that Noah finds frustrating is that all of the candidates, save Ron Paul, have come up with essentially the same answer to how to fix the coalition–by pretending there’s basically nothing wrong with it and by pretending that they are all perfectly good representatives of most of its constituent members.  We all know this isn’t true, so the play-acting seems frustratingly pointless.  The failure in ‘06, as all of the other candidates would have you believe, was the result of deviating from the old script of fiscal responsibility and controlling the growth of government, but these were the least of the GOP’s problems.  These are the kinds of things that bother deficit hawks and Ron Paul supporters, which is obviously not what most Republicans are, to say nothing of most Americans.  Since most of the candidates are judging the party’s failures according to the old script (Romney’s three-legged stool of social-fiscal-national security conservatism is a good example of this), voters have also started judging the candidates by that script and necessarily found them all badly wanting.  Republican voters tried to have someone who was “solid” on just some of the issues (i.e., Bush), and they found that they didn’t like a lot of the things where he wasn’t very “solid.”  The trouble with all of this is that the GOP really has become a Bushist party, as Ross correctly argued earlier this year, and the old ’90s-era script has little or no bearing on the coalition politics of the modern party. 

Obviously, the increased importance of immigration as a major issue also introduces a fissure into the nominating contest that wasn’t nearly so significant in the past.  Many GOP pols have to play catch-up and have to change their positions on this because the issue has become a burning one for Republican voters, while it had been something that the party leaders could effectively ignore in the past.  Those who were elected in the ’90s and early ’00s were liable to have awful records on this issue because there was no strong incentive to be sound (i.e., pro-enforcement and restrictionist) on it, but now these same pols have to respond to the backlash against “comprehensive” reform.  Had the “comprehensive” reform crowd left well enough alone, it is questionable whether Huckabee, Romney, Giuliani and even McCain would have to be bending over backwards to pretend that they care about border security and enforcement of immigration laws. 

There has been an assumption that a post-Bush era would entail a change in the balance of political power within the coalition.  Attempts to pin the failure of ‘06 on one part of the coalition or the other (where the prime culprits are, implausibly, the social conservatives, or, much more credibly, the “national security” conservatives) are efforts to shape the future coalition.  Socially liberal Republicans have wanted to pin the blame for ‘06 on social conservatives even before the votes were counted, not because the social conservatives contributed to GOP defeat (they had essentially nothing to do with it) but because the defeat was an opportunity to clear out the kinds of people the “libertarians” and Giuliani-supporting secular conservatives didn’t care for.  In the end, Huckabee probably won’t be nominated, despite this early surge, and even if he were American voters might not go for Huckabee.  But if they don’t it will be because his policy proposals are an incoherent mish-mash, his history of pardoning heinous criminals will make them question his judgement and his smiley preacher spiel will ultimately irritate them rather than charm them.  It will not be because he talked about taking back America for Christ.         

Cross-posted at The American Scene

Sullivan is right when he says about Huckabee:

What matters is cultural and religious identity, rather than policy.

I say this frequently, but this response to candidates still drives me crazy from time to time.  In fact, I argued the same thing when I talking about the risks of describing Obama in terms of his familiarity and connections to other nations and religions:

“Vote for Obama–he’s not like you in so very many ways” is not a winning slogan in a mass democracy.  Identitarianism is one aspect of democracy that is one of its most deplorable features and one of its most basic and unavoidable.  Being able to identify with a candidate is essential, and anything that weakens this hurts the candidate.   

This is how it works all the time.  Somehow it still surprises me when it happens.  I don’t agree that it is a product of “sectarianization” of politics, since I think identitarianism is part and parcel of mass democracy.  Even so, despite understanding this, I continue to be amazed at the ludicrous forms identitarianism takes.

This is a pretty memorable section from Zev Chafets’ profile of Huckabee:

The price of oil took us to foreign affairs, which Huckabee knows is not his strong suit. He quoted Pat Buchanan’s crack from the 1992 presidential campaign that Bill Clinton’s foreign-policy experience came from eating at the International House of Pancakes. But Clinton circa 1992 — who had worked briefly for Senator William Fulbright and studied the ways of the world at Georgetown, Yale and Oxford — was Prince Metternich compared with Huckabee.

Then the horror washes over you when you read this:

At lunch, when I asked him who influences his thinking on foreign affairs, he mentioned Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, and Frank Gaffney, a neoconservative and the founder of a research group called the Center for Security Policy.

Insipid and dangerous!  What a combination!

This history is directly relevant to modern debates. In some conservative quarters we are seeing the return of Burkeanism — or at least a narrow version of it. These supposed Burkeans dismiss the promotion of democracy and human rights as “ideological,” the protection of human life and dignity as “theological,” and compassionate conservatism as a modern heresy. 

But the compassionate conservatism of Wilberforce and Shaftesbury is just as old as Burke, and more suited to an American setting. American conservatives, after all, are called upon to conserve a liberal ideal — that all men are created equal. A conservatism that does not accommodate the “ideology” of the Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. will seem foreign to most Americans. A concern for the rights of the poor and vulnerable is not simply “theological”; it is a measure of our humanity. And skepticism in this noble cause is not sophistication; it seems more like exhaustion and cynicism. ~Michael Gerson

But neo-Jacobinism, which is what Gerson is implicitly defending, is ideological in the worst way.  The promotion of “democracy and human rights” that relies on coercion and interference in the affairs of other nations is not simply ideologically driven, but divorced from basic precepts of justice.  One marvels at Gerson’s claim to represent the cause that supports the “protection of human life and dignity,” when it was he who lent his pen and his words to the unleashing of a living hell upon the people of Iraq.  The insight of Burke was not simply that change must be gradual and in keeping with the customs of a people, but that revolutionary change, change wrought by violence, the very kind of change Gerson has himself promoted, is inherently desructive of social order, morality and the welfare of the people in whose name it is being done.  Burkeans are as concerned with the practical means for pursuing the Good as they are with the high-minded intention to do good. 

Why Wilberforce and Shaftesbury are more suited to an American setting, Gerson never explains, but just asserts.  Conservatives are actually called on to conserve a constitutional tradition and a system of ordered liberty; you could fill a small room with the books and treatises that explain why conservatives, yes, American conservatives, are not dedicated to preserving the idea contained in that most infelicitous of phrases.  What is striking about this article is how Gerson wraps up the actual practice of ”compassionate conservatism” of the last six years in the legacy of men such as Wilberforce and Shaftesbury, as if what the “compassionate conservatives” have done in government can be compared with the kinds of work they did.  The thinking seems to be: they valued human dignity and we, the compassionate conservatives, also claim to value human dignity, so they must be our forerunners, and we can appropriate their achievements for our cause.  Shaftesbury combated the exploitation of child labour and the inhumane treatment of the insane.  “Compassionate conservatism” in practice has meant zealous support for the importation of cheap, exploited labour and an apparent indifference to the human trafficking that goes on across our borders.–in the name of Christian charity and brotherhood no less!  Wilberforce worked tirelessly to turn the power of the British state against the slave trade, which led to the employment of the British Navy in eliminating this trade.  “Compassionate conservatism” in practice has meant aggressive warfare, the ruination of whole nations and the displacement of millions of people from their homes.  Because Wilberforce and Shaftesbury actually acted compassionately, Gerson believes he can tie “compassionate conservatism” to their legacy, yet where they were gradualists and men who respected laws of man and God “compassionate conservatives” have been radicals with a rather more mixed record.

Since Alex Massie has asked, I thought I would offer my thoughts on his latest Scotland-related post.

Mr. Massie writes:

Still, it’s more interesting that O’Hagan links the modern independence cause with the Confederacy. This isn’t quite as odd as it might seem at first blush (though I’d also suggest that if it is impossible to leave a Union then that Union is, ipso facto, to some degree coercive rather than voluntary).

Quite right.  To digress for a moment, I said in recent weeks something to the effect that Lincoln could not have saved the Union, since the response to withdrawal from the Union marked the end of the Union as a voluntary confederation of states.  The name union itself implies a joining together of disparate and discrete elements, and it is in the nature of such a union that there can also be a dissolution.  In this sense, it is misleading to refer to the U.S. forces in the War of Secession as Unionists.  They represented, in their effects if not always in their intentions, consolidation.  It seems to me that one can praise or condemn the work of consolidation, but one cannot deny that it was something very different from the arrangement that had prevailed earlier, and that consolidation was in no way consistent with the federal principle of the Union. 

That brings me back to Mr. O’Hagan.  Likening the pursuit of Scottish independence to the cause of the Confederacy is an attempt to shame supporters of independence by playing on conventional hostility to the cause of the CSA.  Above all, it is an attempt to confuse the issue.  O’Hagan also frames it in a very strange way when he says, “It seems as lunatic to me as the argument of Southern Confederates in  America, who feel they were betrayed by Abraham Lincoln.”  I suppose it depends on the moment in time to which O’Hagan is referring.  If he is referring to the election of 1860, that might be one thing.  If he is referring to the spring and summer of 1861, that is something else.  Southern Confederates did not “feel” they were betrayed by Abraham Lincoln, but were targeted for suppression by military force.  Whatever else you will say about it, this is very different from what is going on in Europe today. 

There is, I take it from Mr. Massie’s post, a drive to have people in the United Kingdom call themselves British.  This reminds me of an anecdote.  It was 1999, and I was flying to London.  I was going to begin a six-week summer session at St. Anne’s College in Oxford once I arrived, and on the plane I was sitting next to a woman, a factory worker (as I recall) from the Kentish town of Deal.  For whatever reason, U.K. politics became the topic of conversation, and the woman expressed to me her loathing for Tony Blair.  Naturally, I felt the same.  What was the thing she made a point of criticising?  She hated that he referred to the country as Britain and to the people as ”British.”  She was, she told me in no uncertain terms, English, not British.  This was very important to her. 

Now you might say that she was representative of the relatively recent surge in English nationalist feeling that accompanied devolution, but the point is that the idea of Britishness is not one that is necessarily widely shared by the people on either side of the border.  ”British” is, as it has been for three hundred years, a designation of a political identity.  Unlike the name American, which has tended to supersede identification with one’s home state in the 20th and 21st centuries, it is my impression that people in the U.K. will just as often describe themselves primarily in terms of being English, Scottish, Irish or, God bless them, Welsh.  Perhaps it is because the name is relatively that much newer and to some extent seems more artificial than the names of the several places, and perhaps it is because these places have had their own political histories apart from that of England, with whose history they have become intertwined.  In other words, there is a memory–even if it is sometimes a romanticised or exaggerated memory–of being something other than British.  Aside from the few years of attempted independence, Southrons have been Americans, which sharply distinguishes the cases.

Mr. Massie notes:

It’s certainly the case, if I may generalise, that American conservatives tend to be more interested in Scotland than liberals. I should have ceased to be surprised by the number of Americans (and other foreigners) who say they are waiting for Scottish independence. Many, perhaps most, of these sympathisers are conservatives.

In part this may reflect the settlement patterns of Scots in the Carolinas and Appalachia which these days ensures that those most likely to appreciate their Scottish heritage are also, on balance, more likely to be conservatives than liberals. But it’s also the case that the idea of Scotland has a cultural resonance in the south - or amongst some conservatives - that it lacks in New England.     

There really is a lot to this.  Though you would not know it from my Norse-sounding surname, I have a Scots-Irish background through my mother’s father’s family.  Perhaps in the same way that diasporans and American ethnics often seem more invested in nationalist myths than the people who live in the home country, I was raised with a keen appreciation for the difference of the Irish and Scots from the English (even though a large part of my heritage on my father’s side was English) and for whatever reason I sympathised from an early age with Irish and Scottish independence, whether achieved in the past or hoped for in the future.  Like many other Scots-Irish, my grandfather’s people had settled in Appalachia (in what was Virginia and would become West Virginia).  The story I heard when I was younger was that our original ancestor from Ulster had come over with the British army as part of the effort to suppress the rebellion of the colonies and then, as you might expect in such a story, switched sides.  The story is almost certainly made up, but it reflected the romantic notion that had been kept alive in my grandfather’s family that they, the Scots-Irish, were deeply opposed to the British just as the patriots here were.  So part of the attachment to the cause of Scotland, so to speak, is the attachment of descendants of Scots-Irish settlers (many of whom, like one of my ancestors, fought on the side of the Confederacy) to one of the old countries, but it is also a sense of common cause between Americans and Scots in overthrowing or resisting British rule.  To the extent that conservatives romanticise the War for Independence more than liberals, they are also inclined to sympathise with other causes that are seen to be anti-British (some conservatives’ rather undue affection for Winston Churchill and the Empire notwithstanding).  This is one reason why, no doubt much to Mr. Massie’s annoyance, American conservatives in particular take such satisfaction in the anti-British films of Mel Gibson and will tend to invest Braveheart with far more importance than it should have. 

Mr. Massie continues:

In other words, the Jacobite cause is reactionary in the best sense of the term (and proudly so: I have one American friend whose personal email address begins, jacobite1688). To some extent this remains the case. The atavistic nationalism O’Hagan discovers is far removed from the sober calculation of the national interest favoured by the SNP’s smart-suited Young Turks in Edinburgh. Yet the latter requires the former, even if the former cannot prevail absent the latter.

I agree, and I am one of those reactionaries who sympathises with the Jacobites.  This may be part of the explanation why some American conservatives find Scotland so intriguing and meaningful.  It is partly that it parallels our own independence struggle, which in turn sympathisers with the Confederacy see as the precedent for the Confederates’ war for independence, but it is also that Jacobitism represents the defense of legitimacy, king and country against, if you will, the demands of a political doctrine, which is very attractive to those of us who think of conservatism as the antithesis of ideology.   

What changed was I’m running for president. ~Mike Huckabee, on the latest of his flip-flops (in this case, on the Cuba embargo)


Here Romney boasts about the positive nature of his weak anti-Huckabee attack ad.  I’m sorry, but when you’re running against someone who has stratospheric favourability ratings you really have to do more than draw “contrasts” in a good-natured way while emphasising just how wonderful your opponent is on other issues.  Immigration activists seem to be gravitating towards Huckabee despite his record, which some of them must know about already, and they are doing so in surprisingly large numbers.  When your opponent is receiving the endorsement of the Minutemen, you cannot effectively get to his right on immigration.  You have already lost that battle.  Fiscal conservatism and tax policy are Romney’s strengths with Iowa voters, but these are not the kinds of issues that drive large numbers of caucus-goers. 

National Review’s endorsement of Romney is not all that surprising.  It seems to me that they have come to the conclusion you would expect, given that they, like many others, mistake Romney for someone who is “conservative” and “viable.”  As of right now, he doesn’t seem to be viable among Republicans outside New England and maybe Michigan, much less with anyone else, and he is probably the weakest general election candidate of the leading five.  As for his conservatism, well, I have said many times what I think about his dubious claim to that label and I won’t repeat it here.  Nonetheless, this show of support makes sense for NR, and given the “viable conservative” stadard they’re using it is hard to see how they could have realistically chosen anyone else.  Thompson isn’t just non-viable at this point.  He’s an embarrassment of sorts.  The problems with McCain and Giuliani are obvious, and Huckabee’s galloping Gersonism should fill every conservative’s heart with dread.  I’m proudly supporting Ron Paul, and I am confident he would be a far better President than the one we will wind up having, but I would be kidding myself and all of you if I said I believed he was “viable” in a “win the Electoral College” sort of way.  The sorry thing about the GOP field this year is that you have some potentially viable candidates on one side and then you have the conservative candidates on the other side.  Then you have Romney, who will, if nominated, lead the GOP to a defeat reminiscent of Bob Dole’s loss or perhaps even worse.  You could make the argument that conservatives should ignore Romney’s blatant opportunism for the sake of winning the election, but I am telling you that Romney cannot deliver that victory.  There is the “Mormon factor,” but it isn’t just that.  After the last almost seven years of President Bush, the electorate will want someone trustworthy as President, and I don’t think Romney fits that description.       

Responding to the endorsement editorial, Michael makes some interesting points in a new post, developing an idea that he mentioned to me the other day:

Among my small circle, we are now wondering: perhaps Romney is the best viable choice. Not for any of the reasons National Review cites, but for his obvious cravenness. After years of suffering under Bush’s politics-of-conviction, I begin to warm to a guy who seems like he would never allow his approval ratings to go into the  20s in order to maintain the delusion that American military power can transform the Middle East into Middlebury, Conneticutt. I know that a lot of people are looking to Obama or Huckabee for a politician they can believe in. I’d rather have a guy who has no core whatsoever, whose every belief is negotiable. The last thing we need in this country is steadfast leadership from a member of our political class.

I take Michael’s point, and we could certainly stand to have a Republican more interested in normalcy rather than nostrums, to borrow a slightly hokey phrase from the election that, if Brooks is to be believed, the 2008 cycle is starting to resemble.  I don’t think people should “believe in” politicians, and not just because they will always be disappointed.  It is fundamentally unhealthy for free people to “believe in” their governors.  The one thing that keeps me from worrying too much about this aspect of the enthusiasm for Ron Paul is that I know that he would also embrace the sentiment of the Psalmist’s exhortation, “Trust ye not in princes.”  Ron Paul makes it clear time and again that the campaign is not about him, but is focused on advancing constitutional principles and liberty, and it is the principles that make the campaign successful.  With Obama and Huckabee, it is quite clear that personality and biography are driving almost everything, and these are the only reasons why people are flocking to their standards.  Looked at this way, Romney is refreshingly uninspiring, but then most people who are regularly compared to robots would be.    

The thing that bothers me about Romney, aside from the sheer dishonesty and naked ambition his candidacy represents, is that he is not a conviction politician, but he pretends to be one and tries to make his newfound convictions into one of his virtues.  If he were just an opportunist who bends whichever way the wind blows, that would be one thing, but the insufferable part is that he expects you to acknowledge that he now has deeply-held convictions that give him the authority to ridicule other candidates’ records as lacking in conservative principle.  The ad he has aired recently where he pretends that he was some tower of principled strength, never yielding to the pressures of the moment, is an insult to our intelligence.  Granted, you typically don’t win elections by advertising your utterly unprincipled power-seeking, but it seems to me that an opportunist should try to center his candidacy around things that he can still back up with evidence.  Romney actually does have some experience as a competent manager, and he should stick to that.  He has insisted that he is also a thoroughgoing conservative, and this is simply incredible. 

Remember the Newsweek Iowa poll that everyone sniffed at and said couldn’t be accurate?  (I should add that it seemed reasonable to question such a huge gap opening up so rapidly in Iowa, and at the time the objections made sense.)  It turns out that it was probably much more on the mark than anyone expected.  Rasmussen, one of the most reliable polling outfits, has the Iowa race as Huckabee 39, Romney 23, and the rest of the field remaining in single digits.  The crosstabs have some remarkable numbers: Huckabee wins conservatives 59-11.  This is bizarre, not least since Huckabee is not a conservative in so many ways, but then it is bizarre that he is getting endorsements from the Minutemen.  More understandably, he wins among moderates 36-28 and even picks up a few liberal Republican votes, most of which otherwise go to McCain and (curiously) Thompson.  Huckabee carries every age group and every income group and he leads among both evangelical and mainline Protestants.  He loses only among Catholics, unmarried voters and those who religious affiliation is “other.”  Among those certain they will participate in the caucuses, Huckabee leads 40-22.  Whatever these voters say is their most important issue, they back Huckabee by a wide margin.  Voters who say the war is most important back Huckabee 39-19 over Romney; immigration, 36-27; national security, 43-25.  This one will both horrify and amuse those of us who know about Huckabee’s string of ethics problems in office: for voters who think government ethics and corruption are the most important issues, he leads the field 56-16 over Ron Paul, with 11% going to Romney.   Huckabee’s fav/unfav is 81-16.  That’s virtually unheard of. 

At Huckabee’s side today was a man named Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minutemen, who was on hand to endorse Huckabee. ~Noam Scheiber

I can’t express to you all how little sense this makes.  It’s baffling, like so much else associated with Mike Huckabee lately.  The only thing more bizarre would have been if Gilchrist had endorsed McCain.  How does the founder of the Minutemen endorse Huckabee?  What parallel universe have we fallen into that this is happening?  I mean, Gilchrist essentially has to ignore everything that the man said or did regarding immigration for the last decade.  Apparently the take-away lesson is that shameless pandering works.  Before much longer maybe Huckabee will land Tancredo’s endorsement. 

Ryan Lizza’s article on the GOP and immigration has this telling section:

Huckabee is the latest victim of the Republican shift on the immigration issue. We talked on what should have been a happy day for Huckabee. According to at least one poll, he had taken the lead from Romney in Iowa, and was enjoying a sustained burst of positive media coverage. “Oh, man, it’s been unbelievable,” he said in his winning, Gomer Pyle-like voice. “We’re up in New Hampshire and I’ve got more press coming to the events than I’ve got people. I’m not kidding. It’s unbelievable. We have so many people coming we can’t fit them in the places.” But Huckabee’s excitement was tempered by Romney’s persistent attacks on his immigration record as governor of Arkansas, and he seemed to be grappling with the intensity of the question among Republicans. “It does appear to be the issue out here wherever we are,” he told me. “Nobody’s asked about Iraq—doesn’t ever come up. The first question out of the box, everywhere I go—Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, Texas, it doesn’t matter—is immigration. It’s just red hot, and I don’t fully understand it [bold mine-DL].”

Of course he doesn’t fully understand it.  He has spent his entire political career as a governor demonising and denouncing opponents of illegal immigration.  He employed every heavy-handed smear available to oppose the policies that he now clasps tightly to his bosom.  He was the Lindsey Graham of governors, and yet all he has to do is propose the kind of policy he would have never supported as governor and suddenly all is forgiven and forgotten (if it was ever known). At least Romney had the decency to alter his position on this early in the campaign.  Huckabee may be even less scrupulous in this respect than the fraud.

As I wrote in the 9/24 TAC (sorry, not online), commenting on Huckabee’s “evolving” ideas on immigration and his second-place showing at Ames:

Yet only two years ago, as governor, he denounced a bill in the Arkansas legislature that would have prohibited state benefits for illegal immigrants as “un-Christian” and “un-American.”

If Huckabee believed that then, he is bowing to political necessity and sacrificing his principles–something he said shouldn’t be done when he spoke at the “values” voters summit–and he is doing so in the most transparently opportunistic way possible. 

P.S.  Michelle Malkin shares my stunned disbelief.

James said in response to my latest Obama post:

I think the idea is that Hillary Clinton is really a sinner and a tyrant, and likes it. What she stands for, in that light, is really neither here nor there. Barack Obama may be a rank amateur with horrible ideas, but at least he deserves to run for President and deserves to govern if he wins.

All right, I suppose that sums up the visceral loathing of Hillary Clinton on the right pretty well.  (One does wonder where this great anti-tyrannical zeal has been for the past few years, but no matter.)  It is still striking that the way so many partisans and pundits choose to express this loathing is by portraying Clinton as the ueber-radical and the embodiment of all those things about 1968 that conservatives generally resent or oppose.  The core of this argument seems to be: Hillary is a horrible human being who should never be entrusted with power, while Obama is just a progressive politician.  So the problem with Hillary isn’t that she’s “polarising” or that she will rehash old fights, but that she is Lady MacFaust who has no soul.  Well, if you want to put it that way, I don’t see how you could look at her candidacy with anything but total dread.  I have to say, as steeped as I was growing up in the anti-Clinton view (and we really loathed these people, let me tell you), I find Obama’s worldview more dangerous because it is even more ambitious than Bush’s and his candidacy threatens to co-opt and silence many opponents of interventionism by making them think that they have found a candidate who espouses their view. 

Finally, I would submit that no one deserves to run for President, or rather the entire language of “deserving” is undesirable because it has usually been employed to explain why the next elder statesman in line gets to have “his turn” at being the nominee.  By that old standard, no one is less “deserving” than Obama, but the entire conception that someone deserves to run for President makes the process seem like a reward or a treat rather than the fulfillment of a civic duty.

Rothenburg points to an unexpectedly competitive race in OH-05:

The reliably Republican nature of Ohio’s 5th district would seem to make it an unlikely target for Democrats, but a target it is in Tuesday’s special election.

And while political operatives from both parties scramble to downplay expectations, there is more than enough evidence to conclude that the race to fill the seat of the late Rep. Paul Gillmor (R) is going down to the wire.

Republican Bob Latta, who should, under normal circumstances, win the race rather easily, finds himself in an uncomfortably competitive race against Democrat Robin Weirauch, who already has lost two bids for Congress in the district.

To get some perspective on the district, it was solid Bush country in 2004 and Republicans have won the House race there handily for over a decade.  Democratic vote totals have been increasing in recent cycles (Democratic turnout in the district in ‘06 was higher than it was in ‘04, which is pretty remarkable).  Republicans ought to have the advantage in a special election in a traditionally Republican district, but the fact that the NRCC is worried about the district tells us that the Republican position in Ohio may be worse than even I thought. 

P.S.  Politico’s coverage reminds us that the GOP has controlled this district since 1938, which you can see in the entry about the district linked above.  The Politico article also notes that this district gave Bush 61% of the vote.  As Rothenburg mentioned in his article, the NRCC is using up a lot of its small reserve of money to protect the seat.  It can’t afford to fritter away on districts that are supposed to be safe.  The article also very nearly buries one of the most striking pieces of evidence that Weirauch may win:

But a poll conducted for Latta’s campaign last week showed him trailing Weirauch by four points, according to a GOP operative. 

Update: Via DailyKos, Roll Call reports that local Republicans in northwest Ohio are upset with Bob Latta’s lackadaisacal campaigning.  There is also this story detailing the consequences of the bruising GOP primary fight, in which the Club waged one of its classic scorched-earth campaigns against the moderate Republican (who, it must be said, was tied into the Ohio GOP establishment with all the baggage that entails).  The supporters of the primary loser are none too pleased with Latta and may not show up on Tuesday.

The new CBS/NYT poll has a question (number 45) asking Democratic voters how Oprah’s support for Obama would affect their preferences: 1% said it would make them more likely to vote for him, while 14% said it would make them less likely.  I think this runs against the conventional wisdom that Oprah’s popularity is a boon to Obama.  She has probably deeply annoyed a small but significant number of people over the years.  Meanwhile, Bill Clinton, stupid gaffes about the war notwithstanding, remains a huge asset for Clinton: 44% are more likely to vote for her because he is in the campaign, and only 7% are less likely.  This idea of Clinton fatigue is very attractive to journalists and pundits who have an acute case of it themselves, but I think it simply doesn’t matter to most Democrats.

Incidentally, the CBS results confirm the national polling picture Rasmussen has been showing: 22 for Giuliani, 21 for Huckabee and 16 for Romney (this gives Romney a slightly better position than Rasmussen polling).  The poll asks whether or not “most people you know”‘ would vote for a Mormon, and 41% say no.  It remains the case that a majority of Americans don’t know Romney’s religion.  Romney’s Mormonism is one of those things that “everybody knows” if “everybody” includes journalists, pundits and bloggers, which is about as unrepresentative as it gets.

Public opinion on the war remains sharply negative.  59% believe that the war is going somewhat or very badly, against 37% who believe it is going well.   Mr. Bush’s approval rating on handling Iraq is very low (28%).  72% want American forces out of Iraq within 2 years, and 49% want them out in less than a year.  The standard Republican line, “as long as it takes,” gets a whopping 8%.  When given a range of options and deadlines, the public’s support for continuing the war beyond 2009 is extremely weak.  When given a binary “withdrawal vs. finish the mission” question, the latter gets significantly greater support because there are no intermdiate alternatives.  Despite favourable media coverage, 12% believe the “surge” has made things worse, and 40% believe it has had no impact.  60% believe that “neither side” is winning the war.  This cannot be blamed on the media any longer, since major newspapers and news channels have made a point of embracing the results of the “surge.”  The public has simply turned against the war.  A Republican Party running on an adamantly pro-war platform next year will get smashed. 

Immigration is a “very important” issue for 56% and “somewhat important” for 30%.  So that’s a fairly important issue.  28% favour a guest worker scheme, and 28% effectively favour deportation.  Huckabee’s support for in-state tuition for illegal immigrants’ children is the popular  position for all respondents, getting 58% support.  His position may do him no good in the primaries, but on this particular question he is apparently in line with a majority view.

P.S. The national polling is confirmed again by CNN/Opinion Research’s poll, which gives Giuliani 24, Huckabee 22 and Romney 16 (plus McCain-13, Thompson-10, and Paul-6).  Huckabee is running away with South Carolina right now, according to Survey USA: he has 30 to Romney’s 19.  Giuliani has collapsed to 13% and fourth place.

Appearing on National Public Radio’s light-hearted quiz show “Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me,” which aired over the weekend, Perino got into the spirit of things and told a story about herself that she had previously shared only in private: During a White House briefing, a reporter referred to the Cuban Missile Crisis — and she didn’t know what it was.

“I was panicked a bit because I really don’t know about . . . the Cuban Missile Crisis,” said Perino, who at 35 was born about a decade after the 1962 U.S.-Soviet nuclear showdown. “It had to do with Cuba and missiles, I’m pretty sure.”

So she consulted her best source. “I came home and I asked my husband,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Wasn’t that like the Bay of Pigs thing?’ And he said, ‘Oh, Dana.’ ” ~The Washington Post

Via Isaac Chotiner

Not exactly the best messenger for delivering warnings about Iran’s nuclear program and the dangers of WWIII breaking out, is she?  It’s enough to make you miss Tony Snow.

Audio here.

P.S.  She said later, “I feel like I’m in school everyday.”  I’m sure that’s true. 

Huckabee’s inexplicable levels of support among restrictionist voters and a new ad on immigration have prompted a Romney counter-attack, but as attack ads go this must be one of the weakest I have ever seen.  Once he prefaces his attack by saying that Huckabee is a good family man who is pro-life and supports traditional marriage, Romey has basically given up trying to gain an advantage on social issues.  Trying to maintain “Iowa nice,” Romney’s ad doesn’t really deliver the killer blow and largely leaves Huckabee unscathed.  It is an ad that will interest journalists and wonks.  Meanwhile, Huckabee’s ad is very simple and says exactly what restrictionists want to hear (”no amnesty”), even though we know that Huckabee was perfectly content in the past with “comprehensive immigration reform” legislation that these voters would regard as amnesty.  Of course, Romney is in an awkward position here, since attacking Huckabee’s credibility over his very recent apparent conversion on immigration reminds voters that Romney has had “evolving” views on just about everything.  As Mark Krikorian notes, Huckabee has once again endorsed the Pence compromise plan, which many conservatives see as little better than amnesty.   

But taking all that into account, why is Romney giving Huck the kid gloves treatment?  Mark Halperin lays out the perils of attacking Huckabee, on account of the personality-driven nature of his campaign.  For one thing:

Voters seem attracted to the man—not his issue positions, his record, or the quality (or lack thereof) of his campaign apparatus. Taking down Huckabee the Candidate means taking down Huckabee the Man, and that requires the kind of nuclear blast no one is yet inclined to launch. 

Meanwhile, the stories that remind voters that Huckabee is a minister who has said things about “taking back” America for Christ will work to Huckabee’s benefit, at least in those states where said re-taking is considered to be a desirable and perfectly normal goal by a broad swathe of Christian conservatives.  This is supposed to horrify secular voters, and maybe it does, but it just reconfirms for social conservatives that he has been one of them and on their side for a lot longer than many of the other current suitors.  Remarkably, when Huckabee has to drop past statements or reject old views, as he quickly did over the “AIDS quarantine” story, the label “flip-flopper” isn’t being used. 

When Huckabee changes his mind, it seems as if it is being treated as a genuine and reasonable change.  There is certainly a difference in how Huckabee’s attempts to trick voters and Romney’s deceptions are being treated iin the press.  To the extent that media bias is involved, the explanation seems clear: Romney was a liberal who has publicly repudiated his past views (whether he has “really” changed his mind or not is secondary), while Huckabee is a Gersonist and is therefore in many ways sympathetic to therapeutic-state liberalism.  In short, Romney has spurned liberals, but Huckabee flirts with some of their ideas and shows an openness to their policy ideas in certain areas.  Paradoxically, the conservative attack on Huckabee’s record and charges that he is a kind of progressive or Christian leftist may endear him to the mainstream media and prevent them from giving his record the thorough scrutiny that they ought to give it.  Meanwhile, progressive observers seem to be divided between thinking of Huckabee as a potentially tolerable Republican and regarding him as a loon with horrible policy ideas, and this ambivalent response is helping Huckabee maintain an aura of having conservative authenticity that he, in fact, does not possess.  (He has to keep running the phrase “authentic conservative” in all his Iowa ads because he knows that lack of authenticity is the thing that is killing Romney and would be killing him, too, if people knew anything about him.)  The very incoherence of his policy ideas is keeping his critics on left and right off-balance, because they can all find something in his grab-bag of proposals that they can support or at least tolerate.      

Update: Jonathan Martin has the Huckabee response to the ad, which makes effective use of Romney’s own reluctance to veto the very bill that he is bragging about vetoing in the ad.  At the time, Romney said, “I hate the idea of in any way making it more difficult for kids, even those who are illegal aliens, to afford college in our state.”  He hated the idea, sounding more Huckabathetic* than Huckabee, but has chosen to make the very same issue the chief defining difference between Huckabee and himself.  Point to Huckabee.

*I claim my rights for coining this and its related noun, Huckabathos.

My personal attitude, wholly consistent with that of my Church, is that I believe in peace on earth, good will to men, and that no country has a right to interfere in the internal affairs of any other country. I recognize the right of no church to ask armed intervention by this country in the affairs of another merely for the defense of the rights of a church. ~Governor Alfred E. Smith, c. 1927

Via Ross

The rights to which he was referring were those of Catholics in Mexico being persecuted by the revolutionary government.  Quite apart from anything else relating specifically to the “religious issue” Smith was addressing, I thought this statement deserved special attention.

He restates this conviction again at the end of the article:

I believe in the principled noninterference by this country in the internal affairs of other nations and that we should stand steadfastly against any such interference by whomsoever it may be urged.

I know that to some liberals, Barack Obama’s rhetorical style bespeaks a lack of commitment to progressive values.  I don’t see it that way. I’ve always seen it as a pretty transparent trick. He says he’s not one of those liberals, he doesn’t call people “wingnuts,” he understands the conservative point of view, blah blah blah, and then here comes his agenda of tax hikes, tons of new spending, ambitious carbon emissions curbs, less invading of other countries for no reason, gay equality, etc. And, remarkably, you keep seeing conservatives eat it up, discerning something incredibly “new” and “exciting” in a combination of conventional liberal policy views with vaguely conciliatory rhetoric. ~Matt Yglesias

This seems right, and I have thought that this was a trademark of Obama’s political style for some time now.  Last year I said:

All of this is supposed to show us that Obama is thoughtful, rather than callous, profound rather than predictable, but it does not.  It is the tactic of the man who says, “I appreciate your point of view,” when in fact he does not appreciate it and wants to neutralise your criticism by deflecting the question in an entirely different direction.  President Bush uses this same kind of tactic when he says, “Good and patriotic people hold this view, but I just strongly disagree.  I believe freedom transforms regions, burble, burble.”  He then concocts a straw man position, “Those who say that Iraq would be better off as a fetid wasteland filled with suicide bombers are simply wrong,” and declares victory. 

As I should have added at the time, Obama’s gift is to make what is otherwise obviously an aggressive rhetorical move seem completely inoffensive and almost boring.  It doesn’t sound like the sort of “red meat” denunciations that partisans want to hear, but it is all the more politically dangerous for conservatives because of that.  With perfunctory nods to the importance of family and personal responsibility, his God-talk and his rhetoric of American unity, Obama smuggles his very progressive record past those sentries who are always on the lookout for the next big left-winger.  People who somehow found the eminently centrist Howard Dean to be a scary and unhinged zealot find the genuinely left-wing Obama charming and amiable and (here’s the key word) unthreatening.  Thus, in the bizarre estimations of many Republicans, Hillary Clinton, the embodiment of DLC centrism and cynical difference-splitting, supposedly represents the radical left who will tear the country apart even more, while Obama represents a less polarising and more broadly appealing kind of politics, yet he is objectively to the left of everyone in the Democratic field (except on the war) aside from Dennis Kucinich and perhaps the current, latest incarnation of John Edwards.  Conservatives said of Dean, “Please nominate this man,” because they assumed a landslide victory for their side would follow.  Now, strangely, conservatives seem to be getting concerned that the Republican nominee will have to face Obama, even though this would probably represent the GOP’s best chance at political salvation.   

Obama also loves the device of invoking the line, “There are those who say…,” setting up the nameless, faceless opposition that he can characterise as he pleases, and now he has Oprah uttering the same kinds of remarks on his behalf.  Both men (i.e., Obama and Bush) have a habit of putting words in the mouths of their critics, and they enjoy evading criticism by ridiculing the credibility of the critic without addressing the merits of the criticism.  (You might say that a lot of people do this, but these two do it with a regularity that is noteworthy.)  For instance, when faced with criticism about his “half-baked” ideas on Pakistan policy, he used the critics’ mistakes on Iraq as his defense.  He is saying, ”You can’t believe what these people say about foreign policy, so by default I win.”    

Progressives are annoyed with Obama over his Social Security position, and some probably take this as evidence that he is insufficiently progressive.  The short version is that they see Obama’s call to “save” Social Security from a coming crisis as a regurgitation of GOP talking points, and more than a few progressives have been pushing back, claiming that Social Security is not in danger.  This misunderstands why Obama is talking about Social Security in the way that he does.  Part of it is tactical–he needs to persuade many older voters to support him, especially in Iowa–but another part of it is his stated goal of “transforming” our politics.  Since Social Security is supposed to be too politically dangerous to touch, he wants to touch it to show that he is not bound by “conventional” wisdom or Beltway assumptions.  He makes similar arguments in defense of his foreign policy views, which he frames as very unconventional (which they are not), even in those cases (e.g., Iran, Pakistan) where his views are much more hawkish and aggressive–and much more in line with the worst elements of the foreign policy establishment–than his supporters’ views.

Reid Wilson has done the latest Senate race rankings and lists New Mexico at number 2, saying:

News can’t get any worse for Republicans in New Mexico. But if it can, it probably will.

This is right.  I have some mixed feelings about the slow-motion implosion of the New Mexico GOP, since New Mexico has hardly benefited from seven decades of uninterrupted, virtual one-party rule from the other side, but it was unavoidable that the state parties that would suffer the most from the anti-Republican backlash are those in states where they are numerically weakest. 

The most remarkable thing on the list, which wouldn’t be possible without Lott’s retirement, is that Mississippi is almost as competitive a Senate race as Maine.  In addition to woes in Alaska and Mississippi, the GOP may have to start worrying about the Lone Star State.  Via Rod, I see that John Cornyn’s job approval numbers are quite bad for a scandal-free incumbent.  31% say they want him re-elected, which is remarkably low.  If a Democrat were to be elected to the Senate from Texas, it would be the first general election victory in such a race for them since Lloyd Bentsen won re-election in 1988.  It would probably also reflect the steady demographic changes in the state resulting from mass immigration.  The DSCC’s absolute best-case goal of picking up nine seats to reach a filibuster-proof majority of 60 is now looking slightly less implausible.   

P.S.  A September poll gave Cornyn better numbers, but showed that he is vulnerable.  His approval rating, if the later polling is to be believed, has gone down pretty dramatically.  Any Texans out there with an insight into why people are souring on him?

Rod wrote the other day:

I don’t think Huckabee was saying here what Mark (and others — I see that Larison took the same point) interprets him to be saying.

Rod is referring to Huckabee’s “law establishes morality” remark that I found so troubling.  I’m willing to entertain the possibility that Huckabee meant something other than what he said, but based on what he said I think that Shea and I drew the right conclusions.  Huckabee is not normally so clumsy or inept with language as Bush that he is in the habit of saying ludicrous things that he doesn’t mean.  He may well say ludicrous things, but they are usually intentional.  There are three alternative interpretations: 1) he meant just what he said in just the way Shea and I interpreted him; 2) he didn’t mean what he said, and was repeating a truism about codifying norms; 3) he has no idea what the word “establish” means.  Two of those don’t reflect well on him, and the one that gets him off the hook assumes that he cannot properly and clearly explain his understanding of the relationship between law and morality.  That’s not exactly something that inspires confidence in him as the social conservative candidate running for President.   

But suppose Rod is right.  Suppose that every time Huckabee, or one of the other candidates, says something deeply, profoundly wrong that we assume that he misspoke and meant to say something with which we can agree.  In short, we are admitting then that we cannot really rely on anything these people say.  This highlights a bigger problem with several of the major candidates.  Huckabee has recently found religion, so to speak, on immigration policy and has discovered that strongly opposing illegal immigration is a good political move in the fight for the nomination.  On substance, restrictionists should be slightly pleased that the political climate forces someone like Huckabee to adopt more of their positions, but the issue here, as with Romney’s numerous changes of position, is one of credibility and confidence in a candidate’s reliable support for the policies he advocates.  To some extent, it is always hard to know what you will get with a pol once he is in power, but obvious craven pandering is not a good sign.  If we cannot rely simply on their records as guides (because they have run away from their past positions), if we cannot take what they say literally, but must assume that we know what they must have meant (because the literal meaning of what they said sounds crazy), and if we cannot trust their new policy positions (because they have adopted them within the last year or two), it seems that there is no good reason to vote for any one of them.

“The Republicans as a whole lose because of these revelations,” said Steve Clemons, senior fellow and director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington. “If Chuck Hagel were running, he would be the beneficiary, but there’s no one like Hagel on the Republican side.” ~Helene Cooper

Yes, we get it.  Steve Clemons really likes Chuck Hagel.  A lot.  Remarks such as these are part of the reason why I am frequently so hard on Chuck Hagel: the man is built up by his admirers into a champion of a foreign policy vision that he has never, well, actually championed.  There is nobody like “Chuck Hagel” in the Republican Party, including the Senator from Nebraska named Chuck Hagel, because the Chuck Hagel you hear about from his boosters doesn’t really exist.   

Clemons also seems constitutionally incapable, both here and on his blog, of noticing that there is an antiwar Republican candidate in the race who has argued against targeting Iran, who has argued against illegal treatment of detainees, and who has argued against the entire aggressive foreign policy approach that Clemons also deplores.  Based on his policy views, Ron Paul is the most obvious political beneficiary of these revelations, but you would never know that from listening to coverage of the last week.  It is true that there’s no one like Chuck Hagel on the Republican side this cycle.  While Chuck Hagel was voting for the PATRIOT Act and the Iraq war resolution, Ron Paul was voting against them.  While Hagel was making critical remarks, Ron Paul was actually voting against failed policy.  While Hagel was making quips about “tough jobs” and shoe-sellers, Ron Paul was about to start running for President and providing a challenge to the GOP establishment on foreign policy.  While Chuck Hagel made jokes about being Mike Bloomberg’s running mate and appeared on the covers of men’s magazines, Ron Paul was representing the dissenting view in the Republican primary debates. While Hagel dawdled, Ron Paul spoke out and acted, and when Hagel started finally to speak out more forcefully Ron Paul started running his insurgent campaign to protest all the abuses that Chuck Hagel helped to create.

“People were saying, ‘It was like George Washington,’ ‘It was the Gettysburg Address,’ ” she said in an interview just after working a room of about 120 audience members, mostly women, at a restaurant in the JW Marriott in Summerlin.

“I mean, it was unbelievable, the response I heard from the people in there that heard it today. Almost everyone said they were moved to tears” by the speech, she said. ~The Las Vegas Review-Journal

It is unbelievable.  I don’t believe it.  The people who said these things are exaggerating.  It was a reasonably good speech.  I would be shocked if anyone was moved to tears by what was said.

During his recent visit to the Globe, Obama was asked if the change he is talking about is more style than substance, and if that is the real distinction between him and Hillary Clinton, his chief rival. “I’m not sure you can separate out the policy from the atmospherics in the sense that all of us are talking to the same experts,” he replied. He went on to say, “During the course of a campaign, there is going to be a strong convergence in a Democratic primary on various issues.”

In other words, yes, the major difference with Clinton is one of style, not substance - Obama’s “being able to work both sides of the aisle,” versus her alleged inability. Of course, there’s no absolute certainty a Congress controlled by Democrats would go along with an Obama agenda any more than a state Legislature controlled by Democrats went along with Patrick’s. From Beacon Hill to Washington, ego has a way of kicking in. ~Joan Vennochi

It’s a clever game that Obama is trying to play: he accuses Clinton of being too close to the Republicans and too much like the Republicans to be trusted (and allegedly worrying about what “Rudy and Romney” are going to say), but at the same time he wants you to think that he is far better at striking deals with Republicans based on fairly limited success he has had collaborating with a couple GOP Senators for the past couple of years.  In other words, she is a collaborationist, whereas he is bipartisan.  See the difference?  If you don’t, perhaps he just needs the right “atmospherics” and you can begin hallucinating substantive distinctions between them. 

You know, Charles [Krauthammer] is probably one of my very favorite columnists. I don’t know of anybody who I love to read more than him, and I love almost every column he writes except the ones he writes about me. ~Mike Huckabee

The word pathetic comes to mind.

Iran is the most striking example. As recently as June, a debate question for GOP candidates was whether they would use tactical nuclear weapons to stop Iran from getting nukes. That none of the major ones ruled it out now looks excessively hawkish in light of the latest intelligence estimate that Iran ended its atomic weapons program in 2003. ~Michael Goodwin

Now it looks excessively hawkish?  What did it look like back then?  The voice of reason?

The prevailing Huckabee narrative maintains that he’s benefiting strictly from the loyalty of the religious right. ~Frank Rich

As it happens, the narrative is (so far) absolutely right.  Rich argues that this cannot account of his national polling, where he hovers around 16-20% these days.  But if Amy Sullivan’s figures are right (taken from this very early assessment of Romney’s religion predicament), evangelicals make up 30% of the GOP electorate.  Even assuming that Huckabee is rising simply as the evangelical and religious conservative candidate, that would suggest that Huckabee has not yet reached his ceiling.  Nonetheless, despite the flaws of Rich’s electoral analysis, he may have a point in seeing Huckabee as the GOP’s Obama.  Obama is a progressive who preaches a saccharine, feel-good message of hope and unity, and in a lot of ways so is Huckabee. 

So Huckabee’s national lead has gone away over the weekend.  Obviously, daily changes in national polling are going to fluctuate back and forth and probably have no predictive value whatever.  Their main function is to measure media coverage and shifts in momentum among the different campaigns, and so they are useful in that respect.  Their basic worthlessness as a gauge of actual voting intention come early January is one reason to disbelieve pro-Giuliani arguments about his chances; the other reason would be Giuliani’s actual numbers in all of the early states.  (Naturally, similar speculation about Huckabee–and I have had some fun with this myself–is probably just as groundless, but there is the crucial caveat that Huckabee is currently polling as the leader in two of the first six states and he is polling second in two others, which currently makes him the strongest candidate on paper going into the start of the new year.)  At this stage in 2003, Howard Dean and Wesley Clark sat atop the national polls with numbers not so different from Giuliani and Huckabee’s, so based on that example there may be reason to hope that neither one will advance very far.  It seems to me that if the GOP nominates Giuliani, Romney, McCain or Huckabee it will deeply demoralise key parts of the party’s base, ensuring even weaker turnout and defeat, and the same may be true of the (now even more unlikely) nomination of Thompson.   

P.S.  Meanwhile, that Newsweek poll with the extravagant 22-point Huckabee lead may not have been quite as out of line as many have (reasonably) suggested.  It is still an exaggeration of Huckabee’s strength, but it does reflect what seems to be a real erosion in Romney’s support.  Mason-Dixon released a poll showing Huckabee leading 32-20 (margin of error +/- 5%).  Perhaps of some additional significance is the gap that seems to be opening up between the next two candidates: Thompson at 11, Giuliani at 5.  If this is right, Thompson is remaining more or less where he has been, while Giuliani is  losing what little support he has had.  More embarrassing for the ex-mayor is that he is trailing McCain by two points.  (Unfortunately for our candidate, only 2% back Ron Paul according to this.)

When looked at in more detail, the Mason-Dixon results are just weird in some places.  Unsurprisingly, Huckabee wins among “born-again” Christians 42-8 over Romney (and narrowly loses among  those who are not “born-again”), but inexplicably leads among voters who think ”national security and terrorism” is the most important issue and among voters who think immigration is the most important.  Again, unsurprisingly, he leads among morality/family values voters by a staggering margin.  In short, on the three general issues that are most important to Iowan Republicans, Huckabee has somehow become the leader virtually overnight.  Voters who want a general election winner in November prefer Huckabee, as do voters who emphasise leadership as the most important quality in a candidate (what leadership has Huckabee shown that they would have ever heard about?).  Huckabee leads among both those who favour a “hard-line” approach to immigration (meaning deportation plus enforcement against employers) and a “comprehensive” (i.e., weak) approach.  The most baffling part is that he leads among the “hard-line” voters (who make up the majority of the respondents) by a larger margin (15 points) than he does among the others (7 points).  Romney has bigger immigration problems than the people his landscaper hires.  After a year of pretending to care about illegal immigration and adopting all the right rhetoric that should please the “hard-line” voter, he is losing (badly) to another former governor who used to be even more pro-amnesty and pro-immigration than he was.  This simply makes no sense.  According to this poll, over half of Iowa  caucus-goers want the government to deport illegal immigrants and they are backing a candidate who is one of the least likely to ever consider doing anything like that.  It also makes no sense that Tancredo isn’t doing a little bit better than he is (2% overall and only 4%  among the “hard-line” voters).  Perhaps craziest of all, those who think the economy is on “the right track” favour Huckabee by 18 points over Romney, while those who think it is on “the wrong track” just barely prefer Romney.  Didn’t these people get the memo that Huckabee is the economic populist supposedly worried about the woes of Main Street and Romney is the optimistic venture capitalist who thinks things are in fine shape? 

Adding still more to the insanity, Rasmussen now shows Huckabee marginally ahead in what is effectively a three-way tie in Michigan.  Yes, I know Huckabee has no money, and I know he has no organisation, so all of this is probably just so much fluff, but it has to say something about how truly uninterested Republican voters are in the others that Huckabee can so effortlessly vault into contention in every primary in the country. 

Responding to Ross’ post on the divided state of the GOP field, Isaac Chotiner asks whether Jeb Bush might have had a chance after all.  There might have been a way for Bush to get the nomination this time, assuming that the rest of the party establishment rallied around him and made him the prohibitive favourite going into the fall.  However, he would have been hampered by concerns that his name and association with the current President would mean general election disaster (and this is presumably a major reason why he stayed out this time), but more concretely he would have been at once the social conservatives’ favourite and the restrictionists’ target.  He would been something like a more fiscally conservative Mike Huckabee with many of the same liabilities on immigration that Huckabee has.  In short, the significant flaws that make each candidate in the current field appear to be an implausible nominee also extend even to Jeb Bush, and could conceivably have been made worse by his wife’s national background. 

Bush might have been able to finesse this question and talk up border security, much as the current pro-immigration Republicans are trying to do, but it would have been a real problem for him.   Also, his personal, direct intervention in the Schiavo case would have been a real liability in the general election.  Not even all pro-lifers believed that was an appropriate or legal move, and much of the rest of the country was appalled. I think Bush could have subtly overcome the resistance to his name by stressing all the ways that he isn’t like his brother.  He could have pointed to his competence in responding to hurricanes, for instance, or his fiscal responsibility, and tried to give the public confidence that his name need not imply similarly dreadful mismanagement and cronyism. 

You’ve got libertarians, you’ve got antiwar types and you’ve got nationalists and xenophobes. I’m not sure that is leading anywhere. I think he’s a sui generis type of guy who’s cobbling together some irreconcilable constituencies, many of which are backward-looking rather than forward-looking. ~Brink Lindsey

Via Jesse Walker

But bringing together many different constituencies is the way that political coalitions are born.  Yes, many constitutionalists are “backward-looking,” in the sense that they look back to the kind of constitutional interpretation that did not permit rampant, unchecked growth of the state.  They assume that it was actually better to have a smaller government and more political liberty, and they recognise that this existed in the past, the best parts of which they would like to restore. 

It might be that the sheer numbers of Rep. Paul’s supporters nationwide are not great enough to create a new or functioning coalition, but it occurred to me earlier today that any coalition that can effectively unite non-interventionists, nationalists and libertarians certainly has the potential of leading somewhere.  A coalition that argues in defense of civil liberties, national sovereignty, and border security and calls for an end to empire at the same time without succumbing to any strains of cultural radicalism could have very broad appeal.  It would essentially be campaigning on all those important matters that the established parties have badly neglected and campaigning against the ruinous policies that the parties have embraced.        

Kidding aside, Thompson’s decision to relocate full-time to Iowa and (one imagines) do nothing other than campaign until the caucuses is an interesting move.  It will make anything less than a third place finish appear to be a serious setback, but he could take advantage of Romney’s weakening position.  (Needless to say, a third place finish by Romney and he’s pretty much done; the Dean comparisons will not only be easy, but also apt.)  If Giuliani’s campaign-by-stealth (via mail) or a surprise showing by Ron Paul somehow surpasses him, I don’t see how he will justify continuing this charade.  Nonetheless, he has genuinely impressed many people with his policy acumen, so he could become a very credible selection for VP.  How about Huckabee-Thompson?  Too Southern?  He could play Cheney to Huckabee’s Bush–isn’t that a pleasant thought? 

It’s unlikely that two bitter rivals would be on the same ticket, but it has happened before.  It would be quite a come-down from the acclamations of Fred Sotir Euergetos that were being shouted out to him a few months ago.  It would be rather humiliating to have to be considered for Huckabee’s vice president, since the preacher had been considered as no more than veep-worthy just a month or so ago.  With Fred sinking in polls just about everywhere and the huckster rising, the argument that Huckabee is filling the space that Fred was supposed to fill and didn’t makes a good deal of sense.  Second billing may be the best he can expect now. 

P.S. Via Dave Weigel, here is a scintillating excruciatingly dull Thompson town hall meeting in Orange City, Iowa.  Consider one of Thompson’s “jokes” about the Democratic candidates: “It’s like they’re all in training for the NASCAR, you know, nothing but a left turn.”  That has to be the first time I’ve ever heard a Southerner, or anyone, liken liberalism to NASCAR.  Let us hope that it will be the last.

You have to enjoy the moment during the third part of the town hall when one of Thompson’s supporters is holding a campaign sign upside-down.  I think it must have been a distress call.

These are the kinds of things I’ve been talking about all of my life. Now, if the American people have other priorities, if they want someone who smiles a lot more than I do, or someone who is a better quipster than I am, who has no experience in these areas, that’s for the American people to decide. ~Fred Thompson

Well, Fred, think about who won the last four presidential elections, and think about who lost.  Now ask yourself again whether the American people prefer experience and knowledge over smiling quipsters (preferably ones who also gush with feeling over the suffering of small children, etc.). 

What Fred really wanted to say in the quote above is this: “You people asked me to be your savior, so why won’t you worship me?”

As America demonstrates, faith thrives in a free market. In Europe, the established church, whether formal (the Church of England) or informal (as in Catholic Italy and Spain), killed religion as surely as state ownership killed the British car industry. When the Episcopal Church degenerates into wimpsville relativist milquetoast mush, Americans go elsewhere. When the Church of England undergoes similar institutional decline, Britons give up on religion entirely. ~Mark Steyn

There’s something rather odd about this line of argument.  It’s a pretty obvious flaw that an acquaintance with the first 1,900 years of Christianity would reveal: established, state-backed religion flourished in Europe for most of European history.  Across Europe, institutional churches have lost the mass membership they once had, whether they are preaching “milquetoast mush” or very traditional orthodoxy (the latter undoubtedly fare somewhat better, but only relatively so).  Leave aside for now that the options in England aren’t just “Anglicanism or Bust!” and that Britons can (and sometimes do) choose to attend one of the other churches. 

This explanation of Europe’s greater secularisation is amazingly unsatisfying, designed as it is to vindicate “market forces” in every area of life.  I suppose that I expect it from a venture capitalist, but I also expect conservatives to question it.  I don’t deny that alliances between states and institutional churches (or, in many countries, the subordination of the church as effectively a department of government) over the last two centuries politicised the position of the church and radicalised opponents of the regime in an increasingly anticlerical and sometimes anti-Christian direction.  But that was not the “cause” of secularisation as such.  Here is a list, by no means exhaustive, of some of what were significant causes of the process of secularisation in Europe: scientific advances, materialist philosophies, the uprooting and deracinating effects of industrialisation and urbanisation, the introduction of ideological politics and mass political mobilisation, the material and moral ravages of the two wars, followed by the effects of two essentially materialist worldviews that claimed to “deliver the goods” more effectively or justly than the other.  Where the experience of Europe clearly differs from our own, and one of the reasons why Europe has gone further in its secularisation, is in their experience of the wars.  I have to wonder whether Americans would have been church-going and believing in the numbers that we are today if we had experienced the full horror of these conflicts and had endured the same losses.  There is a basic problem with the thesis that “faith thrives in a free market,” which is that there are now “free markets” all across Europe where there are no established churches or, where there are technically established churches they have no real authority over all citizens of that country who are not members, and yet faith isn’t exactly thriving and has been largely going into decline in the free, western European part since the war.  There has been some religious revival since the Cold War, but it is sporadic.  If “faith thrives in a free market,” Spain should not have undergone the rapid secularisation that it has experienced since the end of the Franco regime.  Italy disestablished the Catholic Church in 1984, which must be why religions of all kinds have been flourishing in Italy.  The Republic of Ireland hasn’t ever had an established church, yet it is experiencing the same secularisation that overtook Spain before it.  It has been the last twenty years of economic and social changes that have sapped the strength of religion in Ireland.  Clearly there is something much more complicated going on that cannot be explained with easy reference to establishment/disestablishment of religion. 

 I believe, of course, that there are thousands of people who are not of faith who are moral. ~Mitt Romney

As for the rest of the atheists and agnostics, well, he isn’t going to say more.

On a note more appropriate to our Advent season, I should mention that I have started reading Paul Gavrilyuk’s The Suffering of the Impassible God: The Dialectics of Patristic Thought.   So far, it seems an excellent study in the theological and historiographical problem of understanding the interpretation of God’s essential impassibility and His suffering in the flesh.  Gavrilyuk sets out to be the ultimate anti-Harnack, and has so far been entirely persuasive in his arguments (I am still only in chapter 3).  I recommend it to you all.

The United States needs a new beginning. It cannot lie in the Tudor-Stuart-like alternation of the Bush-Clinton dynasties, nor in the macho militarism of Republicans who see war without end. It has to involve a fresh face that will reconcile the country with itself and the world, get over divisions — internal and external — and speak with honesty about American glory and shame. ~Roger Cohen

All right, Roger Cohen likes Obama, but what is this business about the “Tudor-Stuart alternation” of dynasties?  Isn’t Roger Cohen from Britain?  Wouldn’t he know that the Tudors and Stuarts did not alternate?  Apparently not.  One followed the other, and the latter came to power over both Scotland and England because there was no heir for the former (i.e., the Tudors–apologies for any confusion).  The Bushes and Clintons are nothing like the Tudors and Stuarts in this or in any other way.  Whatever else you might say about Cohen’s column, its historical parallels could use some work. 

The two most talked-about candidates in their respective parties in my home district are Michelle Lujan-Grisham and Darren White.  At first glance, I am having a hard time finding a reason to support White.  He is, he says, “an optimistic person.”  That’s no good at all.  Meanwhile, Ms. Lujan-Grisham says that the “war in Iraq must end.”  That’s what we want to hear.  The choice seems clear: optimism cannot be tolerated.

White is actually our Sheriff, and he has a record for competence.  He stands a reasonably good chance of getting elected, but as of right now I have no clear idea of what his policy views are.  Also, Ms. Lujan-Grisham is a native New Mexican, while White is another transplant, just like Wilson.  I may have been born in Colorado, but even I have lived in New Mexico before White did.  He’s going to have to make a pretty strong pitch to win back voters, including me, whom Wilson alienated.

Marty Chavez is out, and he has endorsed Tom Udall, leaving the Democratic Senate race in New Mexico to Tom Udall’s complete domination.  Meanwhile, Wilson and Pearce will tear each other apart for the next six months, and Udall will in all likelihood smash the Republican nominee.  The decisions of both Wilson and Pearce to run for Senate make less and less sense with each passing week, since it exposes New Mexico to the rather unwelcome possibility of having a 4-1 or 5-0 Democratic delegation after having enjoyed a 3-2 Republican majority for decades. 

P.S.  Tom Udall is Mo Udall’s nephew, in case you were wondering.  There would be a certain irony if two Udalls, one of whom is a Mormon, joined the Senate in the year that Romney lost in the primaries.  Interestingly, Gordon Smith, Republican of Oregon and also a Mormon, is their cousin.  2008 will see the three cousins all running for Senate at the same time.  Ah, democracy.

Bob Wright and Ramesh Ponnuru were talking about Mormon-related matters on bloggingheads recently, and something Ponnuru said stood out (since I had just been looking at the Pew polling he referred to).  He mentioned a word association result and claimed that the poll showed that 75% of the public used the word polygamy to describe Mormonism.  This is not what the poll said.  The figure was 75, but it was the number of times the word polygamy was mentioned in free association out of a total of 1,461 responses.  I think there is still fairly widespread, residual association of Mormonism with polygamy, but I don’t think it’s anything like 75%.  In any case, whatever it is, the Pew results show something else.

P.S.  While I’m in fact-checking mode, Ponnuru said that Robertson won the 1988 Iowa caucuses (at 7:14), when it was Bob Dole who won and Robertson placed second.  

With Huckabee moving up everywhere and Clinton remaining tied or in the lead pretty much everywhere despite some recent weakening, I had a horrifying vision of the future: the All-Arkansas election.  Imagine spending ten months arguing about Wayne Dumond and Whitewater (again) and ARKids vs. HillaryCare, and then having one of them win.  How has it come to this?  Is it alredy too late to repent for whatever it is that we have done that has brought this evil upon us?

So, as Romney tells it, he couldn’t control whether or not his landscaper hired illegal immigrants, which is why you need to vote for him so that he can push for enforcement!  If there hadn’t been a follow-up questioning his management competence, this would have been a moderately effective dodge.  It’s not a fully satisfactory answer, since the same company was engaged in these practices last year, as we all know.  Even so, the follow-up question seems a bit lame to me–the man has actually rehabilitated corporations and did put the Salt Lake City Olympics in the black, and we’re really going to question his judgement and doubt his competence as a manager because his landscaper has hired illegal immigrants?  Really?  Now if you want to make this about his utter inconsistency on immigration, be my guest.  That, however, is a matter of his policy record and his reputation as, as I have put it, an “opportunistic fraud.” 

As far back as 1967, only three-quarters of Americans said they would vote for an otherwise well qualified person who was a Mormon.  This year – some 40 years later — the results to this question are almost exactly the same.  ~USA Today/Gallup Blog

This reminds me of the remark you hear all the time in commentary on this question: in the 1968 election, George Romney didn’t face this problem.  This is not true.  He did face this problem, but failed to gain any ground as a presidential candidate before there was that much time for the issue to become a prominent one.  We may forget, as we now enter the eleventh month of this election campaign (11 down, 11 to go!), that Romney started his campaign for the Republican nomination in November 1967 and by the end of February he was out.  He was a declared candidate for a little over four months.  He had made his famous “brainwashed” remark earlier in 1967 before becoming an avowedly antiwar candidate (an example his son has definitely not followed).  His son started organising the preliminary elements  of his presidential campaign in 2005, and there has been active speculation about his presidential run since mid-2006 at least.  There has been much more time to ponder the implications of this factor, much more time to do a lot of polling on it, and much more time for pundits and bloggers to write endless commentaries on the topic. 

The issue has taken on added significance in the nominating contest because evangelicals, many of whom would have been Democratic voters in 1967-68, have since started voting Republican much more frequently.  As a Republican candidate before the 1968 realignment, Romney would have been more insulated from the early pressures his son is now experiencing.  Had he been a Democrat, the issue might have become more significant in the nominating contest.  Others cite the famed presidential runs of Mo Udall and Orrin Hatch, both of which went precisely nowhere in the end.  Udall’s attempt was somewhat more successful, and even though Udall was also not an actively practicing Mormon his membership in the LDS church was used against him during the primaries.  Udall lost to Jimmy Carter, so the Carter-Huckabee comparisons have something else going for them.  Indeed, Udall’s defeat can provide some clue of what might have happened had Romney been running in the other party. 

The idea that modern anti-Mormonism has somehow come out of nowhere in recent years is a myth.

As if the Huckabee surge weren’t generally baffling enough, he has shot up to second place in Nevada, surpassing Giuliani, which appears to put him in real contention as of right now to win every caucus and primary in January except for Michigan, where Giuliani and Romney will be duking it out (with obvious organisational and local advantages for Romney).  According to the latest, he is also second in Florida, and he has now tied third place in California and tied second in Pennsylvania.  I don’t see how he can sustain this without funding, especially in the larger states, but what really makes no sense is how he is getting these levels of support in Nevada and California to start with.   

With the new evidence that Romney is getting trounced in Iowa, Ambinder speculates that this helps deflate the expectations surrounding Romney’s performance in Iowa and ends up making his much more likely defeat there less embarrassing.  Well, maybe.  But what can it say about the candidate who has pitched himself as Mr. Social Conservative and now, after Thursday’s speech, would-be leader against the forces of godlessness that he has spent much of the last year and $7 million on his campaign in Iowa and still couldn’t close the deal with people who ought to be, if they believed what the man said about his newfound-yet-deep convictions, his natural constituency?  Romney’s lead in New Hampshire will be (and perhaps should be) discounted to some extent because he’s from Massachusetts and his has been a familiar name in New Hampshire for years thanks to the Boston media market.  Anything short of a dominant performance in New Hampshire will be interpreted as signs of impending collapse.  

In the last 20 years eventual GOP nominees win Iowa and South Carolina, but sometimes lose New Hampshire–it’s really not a good sign for Romney that he’s on track to do the opposite.  It’s fairly terrifying that Huckabee is currently in position to try to follow this path to the nomination, but that’s another story.  Still, there is something gratifying about this outcome.  Romney’s one definite political convictition–that money can buy political victory, no matter how unappealing or uninspiring the candidate–has apparently been rejected by Iowans.  Look at the graph of the RCP average for Iowa.  Since Romney peaked in September over 30%, it’s been all downhill.  The Romney and Huckabee lines follow each other in an eerie fashion until the end of September, which is when the current dynamic seems to have taken hold.  There is really no way to spin these trends in a pro-Romney direction.   

Megan McArdle makes some of the right points in response to this.  I would add that totalitarian regimes have been perfectly willing to regulate sexuality in particular throughout the 20th century, and it was frequently the case that revolutionary communist forces were extremely demanding in their expectations of moral and ideological purity to the point of a secular asceticism.  There is a larger problem in the argument that theocracy is somehow inherently worse or more intrusive than totalitarianism, which is that historically theocratic governments ruled states that were not especially administratively effective, nor were they powerful enough to enforce their restrictions with the kind of thoroughgoing interference of the modern totalitarian state.  The idea that you don’t have to believe in the rules and doctrines of a totalitarian system seems to show a complete lack of awareness of the practices of indoctrination and denunciation that were certainly present in communist states.  The particularly terrifying thing about, say, a Stalinist regime was that the rules and doctrines would change from year to year and adherence to the old doctrines, which had been up until the day before perfectly acceptable and mandatory, became proof of deviationism.  At least with religious orthodoxies, whatever else you might think about them, they remain generally quite stable and fixed once they are set down.  Under Stalinism, you were expected to confess a party line that changed along with shifts in policy, and the longer you had been around the more evidence of your past deviation from the current line, whatever it happened to be, there would be.   

The post did remind me of something I have read before about the “alternative history” of the universe of The Golden Compass:

The conservative Protestant churches seem to have missed the part of Pullman’s alternative history where Calvinism was absorbed into Catholicism to create the corrupt Magisterium.

This is revealing of the author’s view of Christianity and the apparent absurdity of the world he has imagined, in which two utterly, starkly opposed confessions that are about as far apart from one another as possible somehow came together in common cause to become part of the same religious authority.  I should think that any Presbyterians who heard about this alternative history would be having so much difficulty stopping their spasms of laughter that they would not have the energy to register a protest. 

“The Golden Compass” is a blatant attempt to duplicate the success of the “Harry Potter” franchise. The only thing missing is richly imagined characters, a comprehensible story line, good acting, and satisfying special effects. ~Peter Rainer

So, I take it that that’s a thumbs down.  I have been interested to read some reviews of The Golden Compass after commenting on this Atlantic article about it.  While it has received some good press, many reviewers are saying that it is confusing and mediocre.  (The title has also provided easy fodder for mocking the film’s direction, or lack thereof.)  I wonder if the movie has so softened and dulled the ideas in the book (even if they are ideas that would have made the movie much less popular and lucrative), as the article suggested it did, that it lost whatever coherence it may have had as a novel.  The Chronicle’s reviewer certainly thought this was the case:

It’s a story without a soul.

Perhaps materialists will take that as a compliment?


Romney’s support has started to vanish in Iowa.  Newsweek’s latest Iowa poll puts Huckabee ahead of Romney 39-17.  If that held up on January 3, I think it’s quite possible that Romney’s campaign could implode entirely.  Mitt Romney, meet Howard Dean.  (Note: only 16% of respondents said they would be less likely to vote for Romney because of his Mormonism, which is still substantial, but doesn’t equal the national average.) 

More good news for Ron Paul supporters: Paul polls at 8%, two ahead of McCain, just one behind Giuliani and two behind Thompson.  If these numbers are right, Paul might have an outside shot at a decent, albeit somewhat distant third-place finish.  Giuliani could now conceivably place as low as fifth in Iowa, or perhaps even sixth if McCain can make use of Brownback’s organisation to mobilise supporters.  (Combined first/second choice numbers show that Paul would have a hard time beating all three of them, but it is still possible for Giuliani to end up in fifth.) 

Patrick Ruffini makes a reasonable case that a divided field may help Giuliani in the end, but I still think it won’t.  The divided field right now is giving Giuliani the illusion of hope, just as his high national poll numbers have created an illusion that he is dominating the race when he clearly isn’t.  What is telling about all of this is that, absent Huckabee’s mostly unexpected and unpredicted rise in Iowa, Giuliani’s “strategy” for the primaries was fairly crazy.  It remains so, even though Huckabee may have made the crazy strategy slightly more workable.  It should have been a warning to the Giuliani camp that their cunning plan was essentially identical to Fred Thompson’s goal of winning South Carolina and then going on to win in many February 5 states.  It should have been clear early on that a campaign strategy that bore strong resemblance to Fred Thompson’s was not going to work.  At least Thompson had the excuses that he entered the race late and didn’t really seem interested in campaigning.  Giuliani’s predicament in several of the early states is that he already knew voters there wouldn’t go for him, so there wasn’t much point in investing a lot of time and effort in wooing them.  Thompson’s strategy seems to have been conceived in boredom, while Giuliani’s was conceived in fear.  That’s not promising for Giuliani’s chances.

Huckabee remains atop the Rasmussen national tracking poll of likely Republican primary voters for the third straight day, now leading Giuliani 22-18, and poor ol’ Fred Thompson is now at 9%.  Ron Paul has 7% support nationally.  Looking at these numbers as a Ron Paul supporter, I am encouraged that our candidate is on the verge of moving into a reasonably competitive fifth place nationally.  If I were a Thompson supporter, well…I wouldn’t even publicly admit that at this point, so I wouldn’t say anything at all about these numbers.

Also, polling shows that the candidates who stand to benefit politically on Iran are those who have been most hawkish and suspicious of the Iranians, since these are views shared by a broad majority of the public.  When even a majority of Democrats doesn’t believe that Iran has halted its nuclear weapons program and a majority of Democrats believes Iran to be a threat and favours the continuation of sanctions, the political climate is ideal for candidates who have taken more confrontational positions.  A majority of every demographic believes Iran to be a threat.  People wonder how we wind up getting into senseless, unnecessary wars–there’s part of the answer.

There is no obligation to be fair to foreigners. ~Michael Kinsley

This is one of those things that you never expect to see in Time or any other mainstream publication, and then suddenly there it is.  The debate really does seem to have shifted in the last year.  I don’t know that I would put it quite this way, but the basic insight is right. 

We do have some obligation to be just in how we act towards foreigners (for starters, we might refrain from attacking their countries without good cause or treating their political systems as our toys), but it isn’t at all clear that justice demands–or even allows–mass immigration.  For reasons I have stated before during a debate that I have neglected to follow up recently, we have prior obligations to our fellow citizens that take precedence over whatever obligations we have to others.  Mass immigration is most unjust to native labour and to the communities in other countries that lose a lot of “human capital” to other markets, but it is also unjust to taxpayers who foot the bill and bear the costs of this immigration.  Under the current arrangement, even the immigrant labourers–who are supposedly the beneficiaries of all this–are treated exploitatively and unfairly.  Thanks to the importation of cheap labour, we do have cheaper goods and services, which means that there is an entire economic structure based on taking advantage of these labourers, which is also unjust.  

I have never quite understood how supporting mass immigration was the position that was obviously more “fair” to foreigners.  There are arguably just as many foreigners in their own countries who suffer on account of more industrialised economies drawing away some of their most productive and educated people.  The latter may ultimately benefit greatly, but, as Kinsley says, let’s not kid ourselves that immigrant labour is preferred because of an innate sense of fair play and a desire to help the foreign opportunity-seekers of the world.   

As Huckabee, a former Baptist preacher and Governor of Arkansas, surges to the front of the Republican field here, the question looms: Which storybook ending lies ahead? Is he Carter or Robertson? ~Time

Those are the options?  What kinds of depressing storybooks did this man read when he was young?

No reasonable and reasonably informed person could have missed that the persons most involved in whipping up anti-Americanism were Gerhard Schroeder, Jacques Chirac and  Jean Chrétien, all of whom were replaced by leaders far less corrupt and far more sympathetic to American positions than their predecessors. ~Clarice Feldman

Schroeder, Chirac and Chretien were the ones “most involved” in whipping up anti-Americanism?  I guess that means that public approval of the United States must be soaring worldwide now that they are gone.  Or not.  Is that why Turkish public opinion is more anti-American than at any time in post-war history?  Because Jean Chretien said some critical things?  To put it mildly, someone who thinks that a mildly critical Liberal Prime Minister of Canada is one of the greatest sources of anti-U.S. feelings in the world is not in a position to lecture anyone on being out of touch with current affairs.  By all means, oppose Huckabee, but please don’t base on such a bizarre view of international affairs. 

Largely unrelated to the theme of his speech, the main part of which I am refraining from discussing any further for a couple of weeks, Romney threw in some added Europe-bashing and Fred Thompsonesque disrespect for Allied war dead.  He said:

No people in the history of the world have sacrificed as much for liberty. The lives of hundreds of thousands of America’s sons and daughters were laid down during the last century to preserve freedom, for us and for freedom loving people throughout the world.

The last sentence is true, and the first sentence is not.  The last sentence passes over in silence all the hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers from other countries who were sacrificing every bit as much and were fighting “for liberty” as much as our soldiers were.  Once again, I would repeat that there is something unhealthy in ranking nations by tallying up body counts or pints of blood shed, but even if it were a contest our country would not “win” first place.  That doesn’t make one nation more admirable than another, since it was an allied effort.  

I don’t exactly know what the point of any of these direct and indirect shots at Europe was, except perhaps to advance the dubious and easily disproven thesis that religion and freedom need one another to survive.  Both can be desirable, but they are not necessarily or obviously complementary in all times and in all places.  Also, while we all presumably understand that England’s established church lost still more authority at the end of the seventeenth century with the Act of Toleration, it has never been all together clear how the post-1688/9 established religion of England was fundamentally at odds with constitutional liberties and parliamentary government.  Several American states continued to have established churches after independence (Romney’s Massachusetts gave up on an established church only in 1833).  It was the relative religious diversity among the states that was one of the reasons for anxiety about a federal government establishment of religion; the prohibition of a federal religious establishment was intended as much to protect state and local religious establishments as it was to protect dissenters.   

Alex Massie has more.

During the Cold War, you were a hawk or a dove, but this new world requires us to be a phoenix, to rise from the ashes of the twin towers with a whole new game plan for this very different enemy. Being a phoenix means constantly reinventing ourselves, dying to mistakes and miscalculations, changing tactics and strategies, rising reborn to meet each new challenge and seize each new opportunity. ~Mike Huckabee (from his official campaign site, no less)

Via Alex Massie

So Mike Huckabee promises us a foreign policy that will make sure that America repeatedly bursts into flame for all of eternity.  That’s the kind of bold, new thinking you don’t get from just any candidate.  You do almost have to admire how this strained metaphor sits awkwardly beside the call for a “whole new game plan,” while said plan is, of course, nowhere to be found.

Meanwhile, Sweden should be concerned:

When I make foreign policy, I want to be able to treat Saudi Arabia the same way I treat Sweden, and that requires us to be energy independent.

Implicit in this statement is that he would really like to treat Saudi Arabia badly (on behalf of, as he says, “the good guys,” who remain conveniently unnamed), but cannot because of oil dependence.  What did Sweden ever do to Mike Huckabee?

P.S.  Lost in the jungles of Huckabee’s rhetoric are at least a couple reasonable views (e.g., support for the Powell Doctrine in the event of military action).  Unfortunately, I fear that Huckabee’s national security and foreign policy ideas are as muddled and incoherent as his domestic policy proposals.  One moment he will say something refreshingly sane, and then start barking about Islamofascism.

The Rasmussen South Carolina results are really remarkable when you look at the breakdown by age and ideology.  Fred Thompson has 38% support among 30-39 year-olds and 0% among 18-29 voters.  There is apparently a deep and yawning chasm separating my age cohort from our Gen X elders that does not allow any pro-Fred Thompson sentiment to cross over.  Then again, most people my age and younger may have literally no idea who Fred Thompson is outside of the world of television.  Meanwhile, the kids love Ron Paul, who gets 16% of the 18-29 group, which puts him in second behind Huckabee (however, Paul has an overall 4% in S.C.). 

Perplexingly, Ron Paul is at 11% among “moderates” but only 3% among conservatives, and Fred Thompson scores best with liberal Republicans at 27%, while Huckabee, who is arguably one of the more liberal Republican canndidates out there, manages only 6% of liberals but gets 29% of conservatives.  Equally inexplicably, Huckabee leads among voters who say immigration is the most important issue.  From this I have to conclude that these people have no idea what their respective candidates believe about most things. 

Mike Huckabee?  I keep thinking this has to be a joke.  Yes, I know, almost the entire 2008 election feels like one long, drawn-out, not very amusing joke, but sometimes the absurdity of the Republican race is just too much.  The only thing that would make it any more bizarre is if Tancredo were to suddenly overtake the entire field. 

Huckabee has recently skyrocketed into the lead in South Carolina, while Rasmussen has the “frontrunner” Giuliani at 12% (maybe that earlier Clemson poll wasn’t quite so unreliable after all).  Romney is stalling out.  Shall I save the country from the huckster and predict that Huckabee is going to win the nomination?  In the past, my predictions have been the kiss of death for every campaign I have touted as a winner.  No, I think I won’t make that call just yet.  Huckabee’s rise in the polls seems pretty unbelievable.  Like Giuliani’s numbers before them, they are the product of media coverage and name recognition.  I refuse to take them seriously.  No one makes such large gains in such a short span of time if the support is meaningful and enduring.  Whatever happens in Iowa and New Hampshire, it isn’t at all clear that Giuliani will be in any position to benefit from it.  That leaves the dubious options of Thompson and McCain, who seem to be trying to outdo one another in the grumpy old fogey primary.     

Today has been a strange day.  The day began with Mitt Romney, which was bad enough.  (I am working on a column on the Romney/anti-Mormonism topic, so I am going to hold off on commenting on the subject for a while.)   Driving to work, I was side-swiped by a van that was dodging out of the way of one of Chicago’s many horrible taxi drivers.  Let’s just say that my car has looked better.  As I walked in to lecture this morning, the seats of the lecture hall were festooned with Ron Paul brochures (and I had nothing to do with putting them there–the Revolution flourishes at UIC on its own).  This afternoon I received an automated call from New York City telling me to apply for a Post Office job.  Apparently, the Post Office is hiring in New York right now.  I’ve heard of some pretty weird wrong numbers, but this is ridiculous. 

Romney’s campaign has released some excerpts of the speech he will be giving in about an hour.  It says pretty much what many thought he would say (it is much more Millman than Fox), which is simply a more elaborate version of his standard rhetoric.  He has said that he is not a spokesman for his religion before, and he is going to tell us that again.  Here is a reason why this stance is particularly unsatisfying.  As far as the balancing act goes, the speech is better than I expected.  The reference to religious tests will probably not go down well, since the religious tests to which the Constitution refers were tests imposed through law to screen for dissenters from a formally established, official doctrine.  You cannot have a religious test without a legally established church or religion to serve as the standard for that test.  It is one thing to say that he thinks it is not a relevant or appropriate topic for political discussion.  For what it’s worth, Ron Paul takes that view.  However, whether it is relevant or not, there is no question of a religious test here.  To call this a religious test or a prelude to a religious test is to conflate a formal and legal impediment to office with the attitudes and beliefs of citizens.  It would mean that trying to elect someone you believe best represents you is a kind of persecution of the candidates you do not select, which seems like a very strange way to view things.

There is also one line (”diversity of our cultural expression”), which is effectively a nod to the ”diversity is our strength” idea (an article of faith more irrational than anything taught by even the most far-out religions), that will have conservatives of various stripes smacking their foreheads.    

James Poniewozik asks the right question:

Speaking of which, why, exactly, does it constitute “bigotry” to vote against someone on the basis of their religion? Religious beliefs are relevant, strong and foundational–as political candidates never tire of reminding us. No one calls it bigotry when someone votes for a candidate explicitly because, say, he cites Jesus Christ as his favorite philosopher. Yet it seems that, as a society, we’ve decided that you’re allowed to make judgments based on a candidate’s religion–but only positive ones.

This speech is an opportunity to dispel misconceptions and inform the public.  If Romney wanted this question to go away or, since it isn’t going to go away, at least to go into the background, this doesn’t seem to be the speech he ought to be giving.

This seems right:

The Huck surge makes it harder, not easier, for Rudy to win the nomination. Now that many evangelicals have a horse in this race, it would be very hard to tell them that not only will their guy not get the nomination, but they’ll have to settle for a pro-choicer.

The line that supporting Huckabee empowers Giuliani is, as I have said, one that is very convenient for Romney and his supporters, but it must also be very satisfying for the Giuliani campaign to be perceived as the beneficiary of fighting among candidates on his right.  It lends his campaign undeserved prestige and would have cemented his “national frontrunner” reputation if voter preferences hadn’t started getting in the way.  The ideal Giuliani scenario would have involved a single relatively weak social conservative candidate forcing all other contestants out early on, allowing Giuliani to knock his sole remaining major competitor out of the race and claim victory.  Instead, national and state polling (e.g., South Carolina) show that just the opposite is happening: more social conservative candidates are becoming competitive in more states, and some of them provide a ready alternative to Giuliani on national security.  At the national level, Giuliani was functioning as the default candidate with high name recognition–and his preeminence in national polling was the main source of the media’s anointing of him as the frontrunner.  Now that voters are becoming aware of other options and learning more about Giuliani, they are fleeing the latter, as the original conventional wisdom almost a year ago assumed they would.  The more competitive social conservative candidates there are, the harder Giuliani has to work to peel off evangelicals, who may be sympathetic to his dangerous ideas on foreign policy but who can find equally foolish foreign policy ideas among the pro-life candidates.  Giuliani needed to have Thompson and Huckabee go the Brownback route, which would have made Romney his chief and only real rival.  Because of the unavoidable problems Romney has with a large number of evangelicals, Giuliani could have won that scenario.  Huckabee may be terrible, but he may be preventing Giuliani’s success by returning social issues to the center of the debate.  (Of course, his cluelessness on foreign policy may make his surge very short-lived.)

While qualifying his remarks, saying that he isn’t trying to be facetious or trite (I mean, why would anyone ever say that Mike Huckabee is trite?), Huckabee seems to attribute his rise in the polls to divine intervention.  Now I understand that one should glorify God rather than oneself, but there is something a bit strange in giving this answer as the entire explanation, as if it was beside the point that he is thriving in states where there are a lot of evangelicals and struggling in states where there are few. 

I think I would find this casual invocation of God’s assistance more appropriate if Huckabee hadn’t done this in the past.  It seems to me that you can acknowledge and revere God’s sovereignty over all things and recognise that all things are ordered by His Providence, or you can choose to use Him as a prop in a comedy routine.  You don’t really get to do both.

Michael makes many of the right points about this Sarah Posner Prospect article on Huckabee, but there is more wrong with it than he says.

There is this:

While George W. Bush successfully garnered the support of the entire base by cravenly marketing himself as a “compassionate conservative,” Huckabee’s policy decisions that could actually be construed as compassionate are savaged by his conservative opposition as un-American, anti-family, and — cue the B-monster movie music — liberal. 

This contrast is not nearly as helpful to Huckabee as Posner seems to think it is.  Some of us said many of the same things when Bush was running in 1999-2000, and some conservatives were wary of the “compassion” language and the policy proposals advanced in the name of “compassion.”  Bush did not “garner the entire base” because of his “compassion” nonsense, but very much in spite of it.  It was seen by many conservatives as a necessary compromise to win the general election, but one most would have liked not to make.  When Bush began his campaign with a criticism of the House GOP for “balancing the budget on the backs of the poor,” conservatives were generally appalled, and it was only when Bush realised that he had to run right to outmaneuver McCain in the primaries that he began to sound at least a little less objectionable.  The difference was that conservatives were willing to accept the early follies of Gersonism in their desire to capture the White House, while now, in the wake of six years of “compassionate conservative” disaster, conservatives are much more willing to insist on certain standards.  In short, conservatives swallowed the tripe that Bush was a conservative for years and found themselves in 2007 having lost both power and principled positions on policy, and most are in no mood to repeat the experience.  Above all, the party base will not abide another Bush when it comes to immigration policy, and Huckabee has all the makings of one. 

Then consider part of her concluding paragraph:

It’s still to early to say whether Huckabee is truly dedicated to unraveling the conservative effort to roll Christianity, corporate sponsorship, and nativism into one package.

It’s not hard to spot the flaws in this sentence.  First of all, assuming that this is an accurate description of the Republican coalition, Huckabee wouldn’t want to unravel it, but to take control of it.  Also, “the conservative effort” can either be to bring in the “corporate sponsorship,” as she calls it, or it can be to promote so-called “nativism,” but there are hardly any conservative voters who are equally enthusiastic about both.  On the whole, the more concerned about illegal immigration you are, the more anti-corporate of a conservative you tend to be, while pro-corporate Republicans are indifferent to or in favour of illegal immigration.  Huckabee is the strangest combintion of all: a (rhetorically) anti-corporate populist who supports regressive taxation and providing governnment funding for illegal immigrants.  It is actually quite strange that anyone should find his candidacy so attractive.  His tax revisions would harm the workers about whom he supposedly cares so much, while he tries to bribe working-class voters with protectionism to cover for his support of the mass importation of cheap labour.  Almost worse than his Gersonism is the incoherence of his several policies put together.   

P.S. Here is Dave Weigel’s view on Huckabee’s appeal.

We Magyars of the world are mighty disappointed.  “Is France a country?” she asked.  Well, yes, and in France they have people who are just as ignorant about other things.

Via Stephen Pollard


Jim Antle describes the Huckabee vs. Giuliani contest by their prominent pundit boosters: Gerson v. Sager.  Put another way, it is statism married to obsequious pseudo-piety vs. militarist pseudo-libertarianism.  This is one of those contests where you hope both sides will lose.

Maybe there’s a better reason than I thought that others haven’t taken Mike Huckabee seriously on foreign policy.  It doesn’t help that the man is apparently oblivious to one of the biggest foreign policy news stories of the last year:

Kuhn: I don’t know to what extent you have been briefed or been able to take a look at the NIE report that came out yesterday …
Huckabee: I’m sorry?

Kuhn: The NIE report, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. Have you been briefed or been able to take a look at it —

Huckabee: No.

Kuhn: Have you heard of the finding?

Huckabee: No. [bold mine DL; ed.-doesn’t he read the newspaper?]

Kuhn then summarized the NIE finding that Iran had stopped work on a clandestine nuclear program four years ago and asked if it “adjusts your view on Iran in any sense.”

Kuhn: What is your concern on Iran as of now?

Huckabee: I’ve a serious concern if they were to be  able to weaponize nuclear material, and I think we all should, mainly because the statements of Ahmadinejad are certainly not conducive to a peaceful purpose for his having it and the fear that he would in fact weaponize it and use it. (He pauses and thinks) I don’t know where the intelligence is coming from that says they have suspended the program or how credible that is versus the view that they actually are expanding it. … And I’ve heard, the last two weeks, supposed reports that they are accelerating it and it could be having a reactor in a much shorter period of time than originally been thought. [bold mine-DL; ed.-this ought to discredit him utterly, and maybe it will.]

Wow.  There goes my idea that Huckabee could exploit the NIE to demonstrate that he has the more sober, responsible approach to U.S. foreign policy.  He literally had no idea what it was or what it said.  Obviously, it’s out of the question that he would have had any idea how this might have reflected well on remarks he had made in the past.  This makes Huckabee’s rise take on a new, fairly horrifying dimension: he is wedded to Gersonism, seems to be just as clueless about foreign policy as Bush was and is, and people are starting to take a real liking to him (he now leads the Rasmussen daily tracking poll 20-17%). 

Update: Huckabee has an excuse that is almost worse than the original blunder:

I had been up about 20 hours at that time, and I had not even so much as had the opportunity to look at a newspaper. We were literally going from early in the morning until late that night and talking to guys like you. And so I had not had an opportunity to be briefed on it. There are going to be times out there on the campaign trail, Wolf - you’ve been on the trail, you know - that candidates are literally driven from one event to the next. And it would have been nice had someone been able to first say here’s some things that are going on, that are taking place. That didn’t happen. It’s going to happen again.

That’s great, except that the NIE story broke on Monday.  Essentially, Huckabee is saying that a long, gruelling day of public and media appearances prevented him from remaining informed about one of the more significant policy issues of the day.  If that is supposed to increase confidence in his ability to be President, it isn’t working.  

Prof. Fox, long-time friend of Eunomia, has offered up what he would say in Romney’s place tomorrow, which I think will noticeably outshine Romney’s own address in thoughtfulness and intelligence.  Here is a smart, interesting excerpt:

“Secularism” is much broader and much more complicated than the reductive, simplistic antisectarianism that some atheists preach, an antisectarianism that assumes everything religious is ultimately sectarian, part of a program to move the world in the direction of some very specific God or dogma. This is not the case. The secularism that properly adheres to the American character–a secularism which involves civility, toleration, human decency and human rights–is not a secularism that ever did or ever should launch crusades against sects, whether they be Catholic or Presbyterian or Southern Baptist, assuming those organizations break no democratically-determined laws; it is a secularism that rather emerged alongside a broadly Christian understanding of what the plurality of sects means for a society.

I don’t see a former venture capitalist using such words as metaphysics and antisectarianism, but if Romney were to give Prof. Fox’s speech he would come out of this episode with a reputation for serious thought.  Politically, it could go well, when he says:

I want to emphasize that I think it is perfectly possible to legitimately vote against a candidate on the basis of their religion; I know that, even in the simple and straightforward ways in which my daily beliefs have shaped my life, there is ground for criticism and doubt.

By not denying legitimacy to such opposition, the candidate could appear at once gracious and thoughtful.  Then again, it could suddenly take a bad turn, especially when he says:

But I take the American people seriously enough to believe that they will recognize and respond to an expression of faith which is Christian first and foremost, and sectarian second. 

This is one of the major claims on which the entire controversy, such as it is, turns, this emphasis on “faith which is Christian first and foremost.”  Would Romney want to give the impression that supporting him implied an endorsement of Mormonism as Christianity?  If one of the principal reasons for evangelicals and other Christians’ anxiety about and hostility to a Mormon candidate is the fear that his nomination or election would promote Mormonism as “just another denomination,” or something of the kind, this line is almost guaranteed to confirm these voters in their opposition. 

My initial response is that a speech given in this register would satisfy only those history and divinity professors and the philosophy and religious studies majors who would really, fully grasp what he was saying.  (This is partly because I think an average voter who hears the word  “sectarian” thinks about “sectarian violence” in Iraq and elsewhere and will be made more anxious about talk of sectarians in America; I don’t assume the vast majority to be in possession of a deep and abiding understanding of post-Reformation European history, whether they are religious or secular.)  I think there are problems with Prof. Fox’s description of secularism above (a practical one being that it is embraced by a fairly small and, I would guess, shrinking constituency of humane secularists and scholarly believers), but these are problems that I don’t think a majority of the country would necessarily see or consider to be problems.

This predicament really is a trap for Romney, as I and others have observed before: if he stresses what he has in common with Christian voters, he will be criticised for not being forthright and honest enough about his own religion, and if he acknowledges difference he is probably dooming himself to electoral oblivion by alienating Christian voters.  Yet recent polling shows that he is damaged even more by his evasiveness and reluctance to speak on the matter, which fits into the narrative that he is inauthentic (some might even say fraudulent).  Perhaps if Romney himself were not such an obviously protean, shape-shifting sort of candidate on his policy views, his unwillingness to speak about his religion would have appeared as wisdom and discretion, instead of coming across as yet another example of his inability to give a straight answer to a question.  (The good news for him is that he has not yet said that he would consult ”the lawyers” about whether he believes in God.)  

Update: Pew has new polling on public attitudes about Mormonism.  Pew’s polling shows a significantly higher percentage overall who would be less likely to vote for a candidate on account of Mormonism than the L.A. Times poll does.  The response is strongest, as we have seen previously, among white evangelicals (36% are less likely vs. the overall 25%) and weekly church-going evangelicals in particular (41%). 

Second Update: My Scene colleague Noah Millman offers a different kind of speech for Romney that is more likely to succeed politically, but which pretty carefully avoids saying anything definite about his religion.  I have to say that Noah actually captures Romney’s love of patriotic gushing quite well.  If you wanted to make it really sound like Romney (which I know Noah wasn’t trying to do), you would need to insert at least three or four “goshes” into the speech, as in, “Gosh, this country is the greatest.”  Or, as Romney actually said during one of the debates:

Gosh, I love America…. America for me is not just our rolling mountains and hills and streams and great cities. It’s the American people. And the American people are the greatest people in the world. What makes America the greatest nation in the world is the heart of the American people….It is that optimism about this great people that makes this the greatest nation on earth. 

Ediitor and Publisher (via Sullivan) has a round-up of some of the more egregiously wrong statements on Iran’s nuclear program from various prominent pundits and think tank “experts.”  Somehow one of the most ridiculous of them all seems to have faded into obscurity.  It was such a gem of hysterical alarmism that it deserves to be brought to our attention again.  I mean, of course, Bernard Lewis’ warning of the coming Apocalypse (which, as you may have noticed, did not arrive).  He already took it as a given that Iran had or soon would have nuclear weapons:

It seems increasingly likely that the Iranians either have or very soon will have nuclear weapons at their disposal, thanks to their own researches (which began some 15 years ago), to some of their obliging neighbors, and to the ever-helpful rulers of North Korea. The language used by Iranian President Ahmadinejad would seem to indicate the reality and indeed the imminence of this threat.

You would think that no one would take what Ahmadinejad said as an indicator of the reality of anything.  Yet that was a significant part of the basis for Lewis’ speculation.  The rest of the article explained why the regime’s apocalypticism was so intense that traditional nuclear deterrents would not be enough to stop Iran from using its weapons…three years after Tehran had apparently yielded to the far more intimidating powers of the IAEA.

Back on the fateful day when nothing happened, I wrote:

Of course, in Iran’s case there is a real possibility of using a civil nuclear program to create a weapons program, and Iran has strategic interests that make acquiring these weapons understandable and even, in a sense, rational.  They might, like Pakistan did, be playing the world for fools, buying time and waiting for the moment to unveil their nuke program.  But what is so amazing about the entire debate going on in the West is that none of us–including the government that supposedly “knows more than we do” as the delightfully servile phrase has it–has any reliable information to confirm this theory, except that we think their President is looney, our government despises theirs and many of us actually believe that Iranians–and we’re talking about Iranians here–are some set of wild-eyed, suicidal maniacs who will just as soon annihilate themselves in some kamikaze nuclear war as look at us.  In just the same way that the government railroaded the country into a war in Iraq on premises that were always preposterous, the administration and a sizeable part of the population of this country are once again positive that they know what Iran intends, when we are merely supposing and guessing–just as we did with Iraq.  In fact, what is going on is the making of policy based in paranoia and fear, which is by definition not all together rational or well considered.

Of course, as long as we have an establishment preoccupied with the supposed “Iranian threat,” we will never have a rational Iran policy, because perceiving Iran as a threat to the United States is grossly mistaken and leads to all manner of wrong conclusions about what our policy should be.  So long as our government considers Iran our enemy, when it is not our natural enemy, we will keep pursuing the wrong course of action.  On the question of Iran’s nuclear program, Peter Hitchens made some appropriately skeptical comments for TAC after visiting Iran:

I am not equipped to judge such things technically. I could not tell uranium from plutonium or a centrifuge from a capacitor. But I have been subjected to enough state-sponsored panics about evil dictators and weapons of mass destruction to have become a little dubious when I am told that a Middle Eastern state is plotting my imminent death or a first strike on Tel Aviv. And I have become aware that many real, well-informed experts are highly skeptical about Iran’s ability in this field. The Tehran government appears to exaggerate the number of centrifuges it has in operation. Its capacity to enrich uranium is pitifully short of that needed to produce weapons-grade material. Its elderly nuclear reactor at Bushehr has yet to produce a watt of electricity after more than 30 years. Iran’s claim to need nuclear energy may not be false. This supposed energy superpower imposes frequent power blackouts, as I can confirm from personal experience.

The Iranian state is, in any case, famous among its own people for being very bad at delivering grand projects. Tehran’s new Khomeini Airport has just opened after 30 years under construction. A supposedly ultra-modern TV and telecommunications tower stands unfinished on the capital’s skyline after 20 years of work. Several cities, promised metro-rail systems years ago, have yet to see a single train run. Tehran’s metro, sorely needed in that traffic-strangled megalopolis, is operating a few lines, but they opened years late, and there are far too few of them.  

The latest news about the apparent suspension of any weapons program suggests that there may be a new opportunity for taking the first steps in rapprochement with Tehran, which could provide a way out of Iraq for us as well.

This post makes an important point that has been lost in the back and forth over the NIE and the reaction, mine included, focused on who benefits from the news: the latest report simply confirms what reasonably well-informed citizens could have gleaned from basic news reports over the last several years, and so long as an interventionist mentality grips Washington and so long as Washington persists in portraying Iran as a threat to our national security no intelligence report, no matter how bluntly it contradicts the claims of those who want to promote conflict with Iran, will change the inclination of supporters of launching military strikes.  (Indeed, the President remains open to such strikes against Iran.)  Those of us who remember just how shoddy and wrong the 2002 NIE on Iraq was should be very cautious about waving around intelligence reports that happen to favour our view (though there is some reason to think that the latest report was more rigorously and responsibly sourced and checked than previous reports). 

Fundamentally, the question in 2002, like the question today, was not really one about what a weak government of a small state on the other side of the planet was able to build, but whether you believe that such a state posed a threat to the United States even if it had been able to build all of the things that interentionists claimed and had, in fact, built them.  Concerning Iraq, the answer was pretty transparently that it didn’t, and the answer about the “Iranian threat” should have been the same all along.  In the present political climate, conceding the claim that a given regime poses a threat to U.S. national security is to concede the entire argument about what should be done–it yields the initiative to those inclined to a military response and hamstrings the opposition, just as the pre-war opposition was hamstrung during the Iraq debate.  The opposition seemed trapped into beginning every sentence with the caveat, “Yes, Hussein is a monster and poses a grave threat to our country, but…”  Any debate on Iran policy that starts with the assumption that Iran is a threat and an enemy of our country will usually have just two possible ends: war or a punitive sanctions regime.     

Remember how the administration used uncertainty and lack of information about Iraq’s WMD programs to conjure up the worst possible scenarios and present these scenarios as if they were reasonable and plausible?  This was one of the most consequential arguments from silence made in recent times.  Then there was, of course, the technically correct and rhetorically unethical line from Rumsfeld, “The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.”  Those who are intent on stirring up conflict with these states as a matter of policy and as a means of overthrowing their governments will take whatever information they may find and exaggerate its importance, or they will take a lack of information as proof that the other government is hiding something and “deceiving the world.”  Once it is taken as a given that the other government is a purely malevolent player on the world stage and one that cannot be checked by the creation of incentives and disincentives, every action or any lack of action on the part of the other government will be fitted into a story that portrays the other government as a danger.  Even when it is confirmed beyond a doubt that the weapons programs of a regime were dismantled or inactive, as we discovered them to be in Iraq, you will still have people who will invoke some vague, future potential danger from the regime.

There an idea out there that supporting Huckabee “really” lends support to Giuliani, but what this idea does is to boost Romney by advancing claims that aren’t necessarily true.  It tells you that the only person who can “stop Giuliani” is Romney, and it justifies this claim on the shaky ground that Romney, whose definite support in South Carolina is very limited (see page 11), is in a position to compete against Giuliani, who is supposedly in a position to dominate the race without a heroic Romney to stand in his way.  Don’t you believe any of it.  Huckabee today ties Giuliani in Rasmussen’s daily national tracking poll.  Now I don’t think much of national polls, but if they have justified labeling Giuliani a “frontrunner” for all these months, they now justify calling Huckabee a co-frontrunner.  (As of right now, it appears as if Romney peaked in early October and Giuliani peaked in mid-October, with the latter shedding five points in the last week and dropping below 20% for only the second time in the last two months.)

Also, South Carolina voting is strongly influenced by what happens in earlier contests, and on the Republican side the Iowa winner tends to win in South Carolina as well.  This has usually worked to the advantage of the party establishment’s favourite, but this cycle things are much more scrambled and divided than usual.  The profiles of the GOP electorates in Iowa and South Carolina are similar enough that a surging Huckabee could also do quite well in S.C. if he could win in Iowa, assuming Huckabee could get some money for advertising during late December and early January.

Meanwhile, I’m waiting for pro-life voters to remember this guy named John McCain. ~Matt Yglesias

In a different cycle, this might have actually happened.  David Corn has made a similar proposal, arguing that McCain is in a good position because he is just marginal enough now that other candidates aren’t attacking him, but he has the credentials, at least “on paper,” to appeal to the party.  Corn makes the good point that McCain should have reserves of support based on his views on the war and the political support he has lent the war over the years.  I think he is grudgingly respected because of this among core Republican voters, but it doesn’t outweigh what they see as his flaws.  “The answer is right in front of your face!” Corn declared to Republican voters, but I don’t think they are going to go that route.  As Jim Pinkerton reminded Corn during that episode, immigration and campaign finance reform (important to the activists who have an outsized impact in Iowa) are the dealbreakers for McCain.  Unlike Huckabee, whose immigration views are probably still not widely known, and unlike Giuliani, who can pretend that he cares about border security, McCain has been the standard-bearer for deeply unpopular immigration legislation and his allies (such as Graham) pushed for that legislation by denouncing the party base as racists.  Being on the wrong side of the party on immigration is politically dangerous enough in the primaries this cycle, but McCain is prominently and inextricably linked with one of the most hated pieces of legislation of the last ten years.  He might turn in a decent result in New Hampshire, given the role of independents in the primary and his history of popularity in that state, but the virtual consensus at the end of summer that he was finished was probably right.

P.S.  Of course, I have had such a lousy track record this cycle of picking winners and losers that whenever I am ready to dismiss a candidate, he begins to make a comeback, and when I predict a candidate’s victory it is a sure sign of his impending doom.  For instance, the RCP national average shows McCain gaining.

Slightly related to our modern theologically-inflected political controversies, my copy of Nicaea and its Legacy by Lewis Ayres arrived today.  I haven’t looked at it before, but I’ve heard many good things about it.  The fourth century controversies are fairly intimidating in their complexity even to those of us who spend our waking hours contemplating the significance of monotheletism.  We who work on the seventh century have the luxury, so to speak, of a paucity of sources and limited prosopographical information, so we are not simply inundated with information, and the fourth century looms so large and has been the focus of so many works that it quite an undertaking to put forward another general interpretation.  I look forward to reading it during vacation this month.

Romney seems eager to tie himself to the administration position on Iran:

Acknowledging some good news in a recently released National Intelligence Estimate saying Iran stopped actively pursuing nuclear weapons in 2003, Mitt Romney said the country remains a threat, even with only a peaceful nuclear energy program. “They, of course, are continuing making the ingredients which would be used in a nuclear weapon,” Romney told Politics Nation today. “If they had stopped both I would feel a great deal more confident about their intentions. But their continuing to produce enriched uranium is of great concern to the world.”

Essentially, Romney’s position is that sanctions have worked, so he concludes that continuing to engage in punitive sanctions is obviously the thing to do.  In other words, Iran should be punished when we think they’re developing nuclear weapons, and Iran should be punished when we know with some confidence that they aren’t.  Apparently, Iran should always be punished.  That pretty well sums up Romney’s views.  You can imagine that he would say the same thing if Iran gave up the fuel cycle all together: “They might start up a program in the future, so they’re still a threat, if only in my mind.” 

Romney made clear that the NIE would not have too much influence on his thinking about Iran:

My perspective on matters of importance is that you don’t look for a homogenized view. You look for people who have different perspectives and you want to listen to the debate between them and see the basis of their thinking.

In short, he will listen to more accurate information as well as listening to nonsense as if they were equally valid sources.

Ralph Peters says something that doesn’t drive me up the wall (for a change):

Our instinctive response is to praise the results of Sunday’s balloting in Venezuela and question the same day’s results from Russia. But, dirty politics notwithstanding, democracy worked in both places: It just worked differently - because the two electorates wanted different things.

It’s a shocking idea, I know, but it might just catch on.  He then goes on to make this a vindication of a thesis of global democratisation, which I find less compelling.  This seems not to take account of the billions of people who are not living in functionally democratic states.  Further, it seems to take no account of the understanding that global democratisation is generally a very bad thing for political freedom.  Also, the willingness of authoritarians to ratify their policies with plebiscites and elections is hardly new, and represents the easy coexistence between democracy and despotism.  Democracy may or may not sweep the world, but if it does the chances for real political liberty in the world will have gone down dramatically.  This is one reason why I have never understood the enthusiasm for democratisation, and why those who have dubbed it the “freedom agenda” have always been on the wrong track (assuming, that is, that they were ever genuinely interested in promoting liberalism, which I don’t assume).  Even if democratisation “works,” liberty will typically be the loser. 

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said Monday that he would not focus on his Mormon beliefs in a major speech on religion this week and instead would discuss his concern that “faith has disappeared from the public square.” ~The Los Angeles Times

So, after all of our fevered speculation about why Romney was going to address questions about his religion at this politically sensitive time, “The Speech” is going to be “some speech on religion.”     

Ross may be right that the NIE causes the issue of Iran policy to recede into the background during the election next year, but it seems to me that it still pretty badly compromises several of the leading Republican candidates.  In fact, the one leading Republican candidate whose foreign policy ideas on Iran aren’t completely absurd, and the leading candidate who stands to be vindicated the most by the NIE on the Republican side is (yes, that’s right) Mike Huckabee.  Certainly, Ron Paul has taken the most unequivocal (and correct) line that Iran does not pose a threat to the United States, so he may also benefit from this news, but Huckabee is in the best position to take advantage of his relatively more sane Iran position.  Like the others, he assumed that Iranian proliferation was happening and posed a threat, so he cannot be credited with some great prescience or insight on the proliferation question itself, but unlike his leading competitors he had a very different view of how to treat Iran.  In his CFR speech, Huckabee said of the Iranian regime:

While there can be no rational dealing with Al Qaeda, Iran is a nation state looking for regional power, it plays the normal power politics that we understand and can skillfully pursue, and we have substantive issues to negotiate with them. 

Negotiate!  No wonder neoconservatives were uninspired by his remarks.  He has since been derided for his “naive and unconvincing” foreign policy ideas by those most invested in the idea that Iran is not a rational state actor, but rather an apocalyptic land of crazy people.  They appear to have been demonstrably wrong in their judgement, while Huckabee and other more “realist” observers appear to have been right.  Compared to John “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran” McCain, Mitt Romney, who is apparently on a mission to indict Ahmadinejad under the Genocide Convention, and Giuliani, whose campaign is advised by the likes of Norman Podhoretz and who has said  that we need to stay “on offense,” Huckabee’s recommended approach to Iran is a picture of sanity.  You will object that this may not be saying much, but it’s still the case that the one currently leading Republican candidate who espoused containment of Iran (albeit combined with continued support for the war in Iraq) was Huckabee.  He was the one whose foreign policy credentials were supposed to be non-existent and whose ideas were supposed to be unacceptable to “national security conservatives.”  Huckabee comes away from this latest news looking more responsible and competent–at least on Iran–than the other leading candidates.

Update: I keep forgetting that Republican voters don’t like responsible and competent foreign policy ideas.  60% of Iowans, according to Pew’s latest, choose one of the four other leading candidates as the best candidate on Iran, and 11% select Huckabee (graphic on page 8).  Of the top five, Huckabee is tied for fourth here.  The crazy guy leads the pack on Iran, followed by McCain.  Sometimes I just really don’t understand this party.  It’s even worse in New Hampshire (page 10)–69% select Romney, Giuliani or McCain as the best candidate on Iran, while Huckabee and Paul together get 8%.

Putin’s reelection, Larison says, “is a fact that should be viewed with some dispassion.” (Er, why exactly?) ~Michael Moynihan

Since Putin himself wasn’t being re-elected yesterday (it was the election for the Duma, and Putin headed United Russia’s list), as Moynihan knows, this sentence is strange enough, but the implication that non-Russians should have something other than fairly dispassionate reactions to an entirely unsurprising (and, yes, obviously rigged and inflated) United Russia election is stranger still.  The original article’s thesis didn’t really merit comment in my first post, because the thesis, particularly as it related to international affairs and Russian politics, was ridiculous.  I addressed his characterisation of Laughland’s TAC piece, because it seemed quite misleading and the article is not available online where it can be easily checked.  Here’s Moynihan’s opening line to his original article:

On December 2 voters in Russia and Venezuela will go to the polls, choosing to either accelerate the Sovietization and Sandinistaization of their respective societies or—an eventuality that seems less likely—to curtail the centralization of power in the hands of increasingly villainous chief executives. 

But a vote for United Russia wasn’t a vote for an accelerated “Sovietization” of Russian society.  Call it the entrenchment of Putinism or populist authoritarianism, or call it proof of illiberal democracy, but one thing it was not was an acceleration of “Sovietization.”  “Sovietization” is what you might expect from the Communists, who are now the lone opposition party.  The use of the word “Sovietization” in this context is absurd, and the statement in the concluding paragraph isn’t much better when he says, “Both Chavez and Putin are attempting to reset the clock on the Cold War…”  This takes symbolic use of Soviet nostalgia as proof of “Sovietization,” and seems to assume that this supposed “Sovietization” makes Russia into a threat and Putin into a villain, whom, it practically goes without saying, we are supposed to oppose.  The assumption behind the article seems to be that developments in the domestic politics of Russia and Venezuela pose some sort of threat to the West, presumably comparable to those posed by the USSR and its satellites.  This is basically fearmongering of the kind that has clouded our debates on foreign policy for years.  The generally awful results–for both America and the “beneficiaries” of our policies–of marrying power projection and “freedom agenda” meddling speak for themselves. 

We should view the Russian election results from yesterday with “some dispassion” for many reasons.  First of all, it is really none of our business and railing against it will change nothing, but more than that the proper approach to Russia that is clearly dominated by Putinism is to try to find some way to cultivate good relations with Russia, since it is obviously in the American interest to have good relations with a Eurasian power with which we have common security interests and whose continued political and economic stability we have an interest in supporting.  Continually lecturing the Russians on the deficiencies in their political system seems a good way to promote anti-Russian sentiment at home and give the impression that Westerners are intent on meddling in the internal affairs of Russia, which gives the Putin regime many pretexts for claiming that the West is trying to subvert and weaken Russia through the promotion of liberal political forces.  If Russian liberals are closely associated with the West and receive vocal support from Westerners, as they now are, they will never gain any traction inside Russia, and the attempted promotion of Russian liberals by outsiders will simply strengthen anti-Western attitudes within Russia that are also detrimental to the cultivation of good U.S.-Russian relations.  One of the points I was trying to make is that articles that try to revive Cold War mentalities, or articles that pretend that a new Cold War is upon us, as Moynihan’s certainly seemed to do, partake of an imprudent alarmism and vilification of other states that have very real damaging effects on the quality of foreign policy thinking in this country.  There are already voices in Washington who would like to imagine Russia as our enemy, and those who would like to avoid renewed confrontation and tension between our two countries should all do what we can to challenge what these voices are saying. 

Moynihan cites Laughland’s past works, which I was not defending in my post, but which he takes as vindication of his claim that Laughland is  writing as an apologist in this particular case.  Indeed, he can’t be bothered to find the article he was criticising.  The article in question was not an apology for Putin.  It was a corrective against the steady stream of vilification that we have become used to (and to which Moynihan’s article was another contribution), for the reasons I laid out before.  Moynihan needed to cite someone in the West as a “supporter” of Putin’s regime to show some relevance, and so he read into Laughland’s TAC piece the support he wanted to see in it.     

Another TAC piece from earlier this year by an author Moynihan will have a harder time trying to demonise was this cover article by Anatol Lieven:

And in contrast to the launching of the Cold War, for the U.S. to take these risks is not remotely justified by vital American interests. In the late 1940s, the Soviet Union was the heartland of a revolutionary ideology that threatened to suppress free-market democracy, freedom, and religion across the world and, by dominating Western Europe and East Asia and fomenting revolution in Latin America, to pin the U.S. within its own borders, surround it, and eventually stifle it.

Today’s Russia is like many U.S. allies past and present: a corrupt, state-influenced market economy with a partly democratic, partly authoritarian system. Russia has no global agenda of ideological or geopolitical domination but mainly wants to exert predominant influence (but not imperial control) within the territory of the former Soviet Union and the centuries-old Russian empire [bold mine-DL]. Moves by the state to dominate the oil and gas sector are unwelcome to Americans but entirely in line with world practice outside the U.S. and U.K. Russian corruption is extremely serious, but on the other hand, the fiscal restraint of the Putin administration holds lessons for the present U.S. administration, not the other way around. Like India, Turkey, and many other democratic states, Russia has used brutal means to suppress a separatist rebellion.

Like Turkey for several decades when it was a member of NATO, Russia combines an increasingly independent judiciary and respect for the rule of law with selective repression (both formal and covert) against individuals seen as threats to the state or the ruling elite. The media scene is rather like India until the 1980s—a combination of state domination of television with a free and vocal, but much less influential, print media.

Above all, when it comes to the main lines of its foreign and domestic policy, the Putin administration has the support of the vast majority of ordinary Russians, while the Russian pro-Western liberals we choose to call “democrats” are supported by a tiny minority—mostly because of their association with the disastrous “reforms” of the 1990s. Thus, far from rallying democratic support in Russia, American attacks on Putin in the name of democracy only foment the anger of ordinary Russians against the United States.  It does not help when criticism of Russia’s record on democracy and freedom comes from that notorious defender of human rights Dick Cheney or when these statements are immediately followed by warm and public American embraces of even more notorious ex-Soviet democrats like President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan.

Russia today is by no means a pretty picture, but to compare it in terms of repression and state control with the Soviet Union—or indeed with contemporary China—is grotesque [bold mine-DL]. We should remember that as late as the summer of 1989, a Soviet leader who envisioned Russia as it now exists would have been received with incredulous joy by the West as representing a future beyond our most optimistic dreams. And at that time a Western policymaker who advocated such megalomaniacal, horribly dangerous projects as drawing Ukraine and Georgia into an anti-Russian military alliance, and taking responsibility for their security, would have been regarded as completely insane.

That is the voice of intelligent realism speaking.  It is worth noting this last point about comparisons with the USSR being grotesque, since this is exactly what Moynihan was doing.  It was against just such grotesquerie, and the hostility to the Russian government that it represented, that I was objecting.

P.S.  Later in the piece, Lieven said this, which is especially relevant to the Laughland piece, since it was Putin’s pragmatism that Laughland was trying to stress:

In fact, we should be very glad that the Putin administration is as pragmatic as it is in its international policy and as relatively law-abiding at home. During the 1990s, given what was happening to both Russian living standards and Russian national power and prestige, I and many other Western observers in Russia feared an eruption of outright fascism, with catastrophic results for Russia and the world.

This is one reason that present U.S. attacks on the Putin administration are so over the top. The other is that the post-Cold war era should have begun with a presumption of Russia’s innocence on the part of the West. After all, two years before it collapsed the Soviet Union had already withdrawn peacefully from Eastern Europe on the informal promise that these countries would not be incorporated into NATO. This withdrawal removed the original casus belli of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West, which began not because of anything that the Soviet state was doing within its own borders but because of its domination of European states beyond its borders in ways that were clearly menacing to Western Europe and vital American interests there.

This last sentence drives home the point that the success of United Russia on Sunday likewise has nothing to do with a restart or return of the Cold War, since the Cold War, if we are to be precise about what the name means, referred to U.S.-Soviet great power rivalry centered in Europe. 

Maybe some voters who are inclined to hold Romney’s Mormonism against him will feel guilty when Romney cites the principle of religious tolerance. ~Marc Ambinder

Perhaps, but for them to feel guilty they would have to have done something they actually thought was wrong.  Not voting for Romney because of his Mormonism is not intolerance, and it is a measure of how distorted, or rather inflated, the concept of tolerance has become that strong disagreement over religion can be equated with religious intolerance.

But I think it’s bogus to assert that the reason for Governor Romney’s upcoming speech is a rival’s poll numbers. Rather, it’s the fact that a rival appears to be running an overtly sectarian campaign — something that is just not good for America. ~Charles Mitchell

I'’m holding off commenting more about the speech for a while, but I did want to address this claim of sectarianism, which I think is excessive and a sign of how increasingly panicked Romney supporters are becoming.  I will say also that I think Huckabee’s rise is not a major factor behind the decision to give the speech.  It is not just Romneyites who have been accusing Huckabee of making a religious appeal, but they are virtually alone in claiming that Huckabee is running a “sectarian campaign.”  His recent advertisement, entitled “Believe,” has received criticism from almost all quarters for its graphic that reads, “Christian Leader.”  According to Huckabee on ABC’s This Week, where he appeared yesterday, the purpose of the ad was simply introductory.  Huckabee is an ordained minister, and he has been in the forefront of various Christian conservative endeavours, such as the promotion of so-called “covenant marriage,” both of which give him some legitimate claim to the description “Christian leader.”  Observers are assuming a sectarian and anti-Mormon motive behind to this part of Huckabee’s ad, when this is both unproven and seems directly contradictory to everything Huckabee says publicly and the general tenor of his campaign.  Might his ad have the effect of directing voters who do not want to support a Mormon towards Huckabee?  Yes, it might, but if you wanted to run a “sectarian campaign” you would make the appeal much more straightforward.  Huckabee isn’t running such a campaign, because I suspect he knows that this would grate on the sensibilities of a lot of voters.  He probably also believes that strongly affirming his beliefs isn’t the same, or at least doesn’t have to be the same, as ridiculing someone else’s. 

At most, the ad very vaguely alludes to his past work as a minister (which you would only recognise if you already knew this about him), but never mentions any of that explicitly, and it seeks to identify the candidate with his target constituency, Christian conservatives.  Unless it is now supposed to be illegitimate for a Christian to describe himself as such, I fail to see what Huckabee has done wrong.  Some Christian conservatives are rubbed the wrong way by such overt appeals to Christian identity, but then I suspect Ross was not won over by George Bush’s claim that his ”favourite philosopher is Jesus Christ” or by the story of his religious awakening.  The voters won over by these appeals see nothing the matter with a candidate stating and embracing his religious identity, and they think it is entirely appropriate to judge candidates based on this, because they do not think religion is something to be kept out of the public eye, nor do they think it is somehow shameful to speak about it in public.  If a person’s religion informs his “values” and shapes his judgement about matters of public policy, it should be something that voters take into consideration. 

The basic argument against this, and it is the one that Chait has made, is that this is unfair to candidates who are unrepresentative of the body politic in their religious affiliation, which is essentially a complaint that there is a majority religion and that candidates in a mass democracy are likely to come to from that majority religion in nationwide elections.  Short of completey removing religion from public discourse or awaiting the day when there are no majority religions, it seems inevitable in a mass democracy that religious identity will have an impact on elections, just as other kinds of identity have and must have in a political system that is, for good or ill, inherently identitarian.  Secular voters respond to secular candidates and react against publicly religious candidates in the same way, because they are interested in being represented by someone like them who shares their worldview.  Secular Americans treat an entirely non-religious politics as the norm and the neutral ground upon which publicly religious candidates intrude, but having that kind of politics is a preference that can and will be contested.     

In any case, it seems to me that the intended message of Huckabee’s ad seems to be not simply, or even necessarily, “You should vote for me because I am a Christian,” but rather, “Because my faith defines me, I have principles that will not change or waver.”  This ad does implicitly criticise Romney, not because he is a Mormon, but because Romney is an opportunistic fraud.  If you want to damage Romney with the voting public, you would never need to say a thing about his religion–just remind them of the man’s utter lack of scruples when it comes to public policy positions.  In the end, that will be more than enough.

P.S.  Incidentally, I agree with the argument that identity is a terrible basis for selecting candidates if you are actually interested in selecting the person best qualified for the office, because it will often cause voters to choose inferior candidates, but then democracy and selecting the most meritorious candidates have never gone together.  If you aren’t a fan of democracy (and I’m definitely not), this is probably one of the reasons why, but it is an unavoidable part of the process.

It’s good news for Venezuela and good news for the general sanity of outside commentary on Venezuela that the constitutional referendum in Venezuela did not pass.  Perhaps now we can start to shelve silly talk about the “Cold War’s return”?  As Alex Massie notes, this was an unexpected outcome.  I certainly expected the referendum to pass.  I assumed that if Chavez could do one thing right, it would be to rig his own power-enhancing referendum to make sure that he wins the chance to keep being re-elected (and that those “re-elections” would also be thoroughly rigged).  However, I had to remind myself, as I have written in the past, that Venezuela really is a democracy.  Unlike some, I do not bestow this label as a form of praise, but as a description.  Venezuela is a populist, illiberal democracy, but a democracy all the same.  Sometimes demagogues and populists overreach and do not receive the popular support they expect, and this seems to be one of those times. 

I would add that this makes the prospects of the Venezuelan-Bolivian military threat to Argentina and the rest of South America, feared by some, less likely, but I suppose there isn’t much point in discussing the changing likelihood of an impossibility.  

On the surface of it, Romney shouldn’t have to give a Mormon speech any more than Obama should have to give a Muslim speech. ~Patrick Ruffini

Except for the small matter that Obama isn’t a Muslim.  The remarkable thing is that Obama has spoken more openly and directly about his experience living among Muslims and about his Muslim ancestors, while Romney has avoided discussing his religion whenever possible.  The perceived connection between Obama and Islam is probably far more damaging to him than Romney’s Mormonism is (because public opposition to a Muslim presidential candidate is even greater), but he and his supporters keep talking up his time in Indonesia, apparently oblivious that every time someone mentions Indonesia and his great understanding of the “Islamic world” many voters hear, “Obama is a Muslim.”  One tries in vain to explain to these people that he lived there, but did not actually convert.  I attempted to explain the facts at a recent Thanksgiving gathering, but the Obama-is-a-Muslim meme is already becoming engrained.  They know that he lived in some Muslim country “over there” and that is enough to confirm their worst suspicions. 

Besides, wo we really think, given the state of affairs and the public mood, that if a presidential candidate were a Muslim that he wouldn’t have to address it publicly in some way?  Of course he would.  The perception that both candidates belong to non-Christian religions are clearly political liabilities, as poll after poll on Muslim and Mormon presidential candidates shows, but the difference is that the Obama-is-a-Muslim meme is a lie, while Romney is something like a fifth-generation Mormon and proud of it.  Obama shouldn’t have to give a major speech to debunk unfounded rumours.  If Romney wants to be competitive, not just in the primaries but also for the general election, he needs to confront the reality, troubling as he and others may find it, that at least a quarter of the electorate is currently opposed to considering voting for him for no other reason than his religion.  As polling on this reveals, this sentiment is more or less evenly spread across the political spectrum. 

Ruffini adds in an update:

The anti-Mormon bigots and the anti-Muslim rumormongers seem to exist on about the same level — and neither candidate should let these fringe elements define their campaign.

Well, if you want to define somewhere between 25-43% of the electorate as “fringe elements,” I guess you can do so, but I’m not sure how someone wins an election by ignoring such huge levels of built-in opposition.

As you may have noticed, I have had a few things to say about Romney and the “Mormon factor” in this election, so I suppose I should comment on the news (via Noam Scheiber) that Romney will be giving the long-awaited speech that is aimed at allaying fears and doubts about his religion.  I have noted before that Romney has an impossible balancing act to maintain when he addresses this question, which may be why he has carefully evaded it for months, but it is also the case that Romney cannot keep evading the issue so long as he wishes to define his campaign and his “values” in terms of being a “person of faith.”  The impossible balancing act is stressing the political irrelevance of the theological differences Mormonism really does have with Christianity while simultaneously claiming that this very same religion, whose distinctive substance is supposed to be irrelevant, informs and shapes his “values” that he will rely on to make judgements about policy.  Another part of the balancing act (which is where it becomes really dangerous politically) is to declare that it is “un-American” to judge a candidate based on his religion without insulting the millions of voters who consider a candidate’s religion an important part of selecting their preferred candidate, while also paying homage to the “separation of church and state” without actually endorsing the idea that the separation of church and state has any constitutional basis (which a fairly large number of religious conservatives doesn’t accept).  His speech will have to go something like this: “My faith, which is very important to me and has made me who I am, should not be important to you, but it is important that we have a person of faith leading this country, and that person happens to be me.”

I agree that the timing of this couldn’t be worse, but I wonder whether the timing makes that much difference.  The extensive opposition to a Mormon candidate wouldn’t have disappeared had he given the speech earlier.  However, by giving the speech now he may be exacerbating what is already a bad situation for himself.  Had he done it three or four months ago and laid the issue to rest, at least as much as he could, he could have reduced the publicity surrounding the speech and tried to contain the damage.  Now that there is just a month left until the caucuses, he is using valuable time and exposing himself to the backlash that we knew was coming at a time when he cannot afford to shed any more support.  In the end, Romney has always been in an impossible position: a sizeable percentage of his own party will never vote for someone of his religion, and these are the same people he needed to win over to become the unchallenged social conservative consensus candidate, which is why Romney’s campaign has always been a fool’s errand as I’ve said from the beginning.  My guess is that Romney gives the speech on Thursday and his campaign in Iowa begins to implode, as his shallow support there evaporates.

Rod wrote:

Yesterday over lunch, a (white) Republican friend and I were talking about how much we like Barack Obama as a political figure, even though we don’t like his politics much. My friend said he thought it was depressing how more black voters say they’re for Hillary than Obama. To him, it’s a sign that they’d rather stick with a Democrat who can be relied upon to mouth the same old liberal lines on race, rather than go with a black candidate who promises to move the national conversation forward. I told him that I saw the reticence of black voters to go for Obama over a white candidate a sign of political maturity, i.e., that they’ll chose a candidate based on his or her positions, not skin color. But I think my friend had the more interesting point.

I think Rod has the better of the argument here, not least since it isn’t clear as a matter of policy where Obama sharply differs from Clinton with respect to those “same old liberal lines on race” and it also isn’t clear that huge numbers of black Democratic voters are as tired of the “same old liberal lines on race” as white Republicans and conservatives are.  Obama does have a different rhetorical style from most other black politicians when it comes to matters of race, as Shelby Steele has described here, but I submit that this style is part of the reason why Obama is an appealing figure to Rod and Rod’s friend (and many other whites around the country) and why he fares worse among black Democratic voters than you might expect, given that he does have the best chance of being a major party nominee for President of any black candidate in history.  Besides the voters’ own preferences, there are complicating factors of Obama’s perceived unelectability on account of his race (an issue that bothers the campaign enough to have Obama’s wife address it publicly) or the anxiety among some black voters that he would be targeted by assassins.  For this latter group, Obama’s problem, ironically, is that he is too viable of a candidate to “risk” supporting, because that would expose him to the presumed backlash that these voters fear.  Added to these things has to be Obama’s professorial, high-minded style and the more limited support Obama has among blue-collar voters, combined with the aversion of Democratic constituencies (shared by most constituencies of either party) to politicians who aren’t interested in winning spoils for their side but who want to “fix” politics all together and cooperate with the other party.  For a Democratic Party base that is, not surprisingly, quite angry about the last few years, Obama’s desire to transcend the ”smallness of our politics” sounds like another way of saying that he won’t fight.  Top that off with his lack of experience fighting close or competitive major elections, which suggests that he isn’t prepared to fight a general election even if he were willing to be more combative, and you can see why Obama struggles to get a majority of black voters behind him.   

Another element would have to be the well-known sense of affection for, and political loyalty to, former President Clinton among most black Democrats, which ends up benefiting his wife.  I suspect that one of the many reasons why Obama is so intent on stopping Clinton from appropriating the mantle of the Clinton Administration is that most black Democratic voters probably view that period favourably, so he has to sever the connection between her and any perceived accomplishments of the administration while tying her to the political fights of the past that Obama and some of his supporters believe the public doesn’t want to relive.  Generally, I think this assumption that Democratic voters don’t want a symbolic return to the ’90s is mistaken.  As much as the Clinton era disappointed progressives, and even though the decade did see the rise  of the Republican majority in Congress, it was the only time in the last sixty years when a Democrat won two presidential terms in his own right.  I think Democratic voters as a whole are ultimately going to look favourably on the chance for a “second” Clinton presidency, even if it means ignoring their doubts and reservations about this Clinton, in exchange for the chance at another eight years of controlling the White House.  (In this respect, the Democratic response to Clinton is similar, though not identical, to the lemming-like consensus that built up around George W. Bush in 1999-2000 that was only briefly challenged by McCain, and McCain’s fate that year is telling for Obama’s hopes.)  If most black voters don’t have doubts and reservations about Clinton in the first place, it makes that much more sense that they would end up supporting her.  In this, they are responding like most other Democratic voters. 

P.S.  There is probably also a question in the minds of many voters, and not just black Democrats, about what Obama’s “moving the national conversation forward” would actually mean.  If it is nothing more than bloviating about unity, I think most people will find that unsatisfying.  Unless there is some significant difference in policy, it seems to me that this “compliment” for Obama is a concession that one of the chief reasons to prefer him is the difference in his style of rhetoric.  In the end, the complaint or expectation that black Democratic voters should respond more favourably to what is basically a rhetorical smokescreen to cover up for the candidate’s lack of preparation for the office he is seeking gives these voters even less credit.

Keeping Alex Massie’s caveats about Economist editorials in mind, this part of the latest Lexington column on Obama seems right to me:

He sometimes looks more like the junior professor he once was than a political heavyweight, and his policies are sometimes half-baked, as when he contemplated sending troops into Pakistan, a sovereign state, and a particularly fragile one, to kill or capture al-Qaeda chieftains [bold mine-DL].

My view is that most of his foreign policy is half-baked, and even when it is complete it is filled with all manner of unappetising ingredients.   

Yglesias captures the frustration with Hagel quite well:

But of course he is a Senator from Nebraska, and instead of finding myself admiring his work in that capacity I find myself thinking that Hagel would make a damn good “reasonable conservative” blogger.

In the past, I have been pretty relentless and unforgiving in my criticism of Hagel’s relative inaction.  Certainly, for the first three years of the war he was far too complacent.  But I think that both Hagel’s boosters and his critics, including myself, have invested the man with much more power and influence than he really has as a Senator.  Granted, he could have probably done more than he has, and he could have at least stayed for one more term, and he could have followed through on his criticisms of the plan to invade Iraq and voted against the authorisation resolution, but even if he were doing more than he is doing there is painfully little that he can do so long as the Senate Republican caucus remains wedded to the perpetuation of the war and the general deformation of U.S. foreign policy.  On most things pertaining to Iraq, Hagel has voted with the Democratic majority, and he has publicly said fairly intelligent things about negotiating with Iran.  If the Democratic majority in the Senate has been unable to move antiwar legislation, the blame cannot be laid at Hagel’s door.  Calling on him to run for President, as many did, was always bound to end in disappointment one way or another.  If he did run as an independent, he would get little traction with Republicans disaffected over the war, because he has never been unambiguously against the war despite having foreseen so many of the calamities that have happened, and he has voted with the White House so often in the last several years that he could not credibly represent an alternatve to Bushism as a whole, much less be a “more credible version” of Ron Paul. 

Yglesias refers to Hagel’s missed opportunity “to offer the country a more credible version of Ron Paul’s efforts to break the Bushist orthodoxy,” but on so many of the things that conservatives and independents find offensive about “Bushist orthodoxy” Hagel has generally been right alongside the President.  Opponents of Bush shower Hagel with praise because he, too, is an opponent of the President in a few very select areas–this is unfortunately a mirror image of the way that Republicans shower Lieberman with praise because he agrees with them in a few very select areas.  There are worse things to be than the anti-Lieberman, but this is not the basis for a “more credible version” of an effort to break Bushism.

Hagel is a ”more credible” anti-Bush than Paul in the way that establishment figures dub various experts or politicians “serious” more or less arbitrarily: Hagel is ”more credible” as an anti-Bush figure, but he is, in fact, very rarely anti-Bush and very rarely anti-Bushist.  If we measure credibility in this way, Michael O’Hanlon is a “more credible” antiwar voice than people who actually oppose the war and Rudy Giuliani is a “more credible” opponent of abortion than the pro-life candidates.  That is, someone is dubbed credible when he is actually quite content with the status quo in most respects and is sufficiently unthreatening that he is considered the acceptable face of opposition or criticism.  

Mr. Thompson’s performance at the debate capped a weeklong period in which he held only one retail campaign event: a “meet Fred” rally last Saturday in a small room at the back of Sticky Fingers, a barbecue restaurant in Summerville, S.C. There was no music or food. There were not even chairs, and so some 100 voters there to see him had to stand for three hours before he arrived.

After brief remarks in which he cited the broad conservative principles that he said guided him, he took just a half-dozen questions. The appearance lasted less than 30 minutes, and he left without mingling with customers elsewhere in the restaurant. ~The New York Times

Perhaps this is a calculated gambit on the part of the Thompson campaign.  After all, the more people see of Fred, the less interested they become.  It follows that you should hide the candidate from as many voters as possible, and when you expose him to a few you should make it extremely brief and uninformative.  Perhaps the plan is to keep the voters hungry–literally and figuratively (which explains the lack of food at campaign events).  Fred was never so popular as when he was not officially running, so maybe he is passively trying to reclaim those magic moments of summer when he wasn’t campaigning at all, but was widely beloved by an electorate completely ignorant of who he was.  I think he hopes that his poll numbers will soar as his actual campaigning time approaches zero.  Soon enough, in another bold move, he will eventually drop out of the race in a cunning attempt to win the nomination by unanimous acclamation. 

Ross worries because his McCain-Huckabee speculation has been adopted by Broder, but it is not the idea itself that is necessarily terrible–it is the classic Broderian way in which Broder advances the proposal that guarantees that it becomes unspeakably bad (rather like his previous applause for Bloomberg-Hagel).  The theme of the column is supposed to be principles.  The idea is that McCain and Huckabee have principles, Romney and Giuliani don’t (he may have a point there), and the rest of the field doesn’t matter.   Better than that, you see, they have “clarity, character and, yes, simple humanity.”  This is just another version of Broder’s endless praise for politicians who oppose their own party’s voters on major policy issues, and who do so in such a way that they agree with David Broder and thus prove themselves members of what I’m sure he thinks is the “reasonable center” of politics.  What is Broder really getting at?  Well, he makes it clear soon enough: McCain and Huckabee have bucked the opposition to illegal immigration in their party and don’t take their “rhetorical cues” from Tancredo.  That is apparently the main thing that matters in making them worthy nominees. 

Ross’ original, brief proposal was much more interesting.  Ross was making a case for the viability of such a ticket in the general election, and there is something to this.  In theory, they should be able to hold down the social conservative base of the party, satisfy war supporters and offer themselves up as two men with extensive experience in government.  They might bring in 45-46% of the vote that way, which could be the best the GOP can hope for this cycle.  (In a typically lower turnout election last year, Republicans saw their share of the popular vote drop by five points from ‘04 and ‘02, which is especially remarkable for a midterm vote and suggests continued weakness in next year’s election when there will be much higher Democratic turnout than last year.)  I think their immigration view will still be a millstone around their necks, and not just among Republican voters.  If illegal immigration really was as much of an issue in MA-05 this fall as I and some others believe it was, a candidate who supported border security and interior enforcement without amnesty provisions might be slightly more competitive in more parts of the country than supposedy more “moderate” and “centrist” Republicans such as McCain and Huckabee.  (As Ogonowski’s defeat and the results of the Virginia elections show, this issue isn’t enough on its own to propel the GOP to victory, but those who calculate that it actually hurts the GOP electorally are mistaken.)  There was tremendous opposition to “comprehensive” immigration legislation from virtually all quarters, and it isn’t clear that the GOP wins back independents and “Perot voters” and the like by putting forward some of their most liberal, pro-immigration members as nominees.  In any case, I think Ross and everyone else understands that it is exactly Huckabee and McCain’s immigration views that will continue to hold them back in the primaries.  Why else would Broder say that the GOP would have to “grit its teeth” to nominate them, except that they are profoundly unrepresentative of what a large part of the party believes on immigration?  The strange thing is that immigration is probably one of the few issues where the GOP is much closer to the views of the majority of the country, and it is one of the few on which it is still trusted more than the Democrats, so the last candidates you would want to nominate are those who are known for their sharp disagreements with the rest of the party on this very question.   

Then again, as long as the war remains as unpopular as it is, any Republican nominee dedicated to staying in Iraq will drag the party down, which makes discussions of GOP competitiveness in the general election somewhat moot.  Bearing all that in mind, this idea might have some potential*.  Even so, we can be pretty sure it isn’t going to happen, and not just because of immigration.  According to this, McCain’s opposition to torture apparently also scores poorly with at least one GOP focus group, so if Huckabee is accepting at least part of McCain’s position on torture he may become almost as unpopular in the party as McCain in the end. 

*I am speaking here purely in terms of electoral calculation.  I can think of few things more terrifying from a policy perspective than the prospect of another administration that marries aggressive hegemonic foreign policy with saccharine moralising pseudo-piety and policies that encourage mass immigration.

P.S.  Much of what I said above can also be said about a Giuliani-Huckabee combination, which is slightly less implausible politically given the current polls, but it is even less likely to prevail in the general election.