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Barnes: GOP Should Be the Party of Immigration, Imperialism and Insolvency

There was the Dubai ports deal, rejected by a congressional uprising part nationalistic, part isolationist. There's immigration, soon to be debated on the Senate floor and always high on the paleocon list of concerns. Excessive government spending, a worry of all conservatives but especially paleocons, is a major topic this year. And the intervention in Iraq and President Bush's crusade for democracy face sharp criticism, with paleocons in the lead among the critics.

It's a paleo moment in America. "It's a little bit late," Buchanan says. He'd rather it had occurred in 1992 or 1996, when he ran for the Republican presidential nomination, or in 2000, when he ran as the Reform party candidate. Chances are, the moment won't last. But it's a moment that could be politically painful for the president and harmful to Republicans in the midterm election in November. The paleocon message is not an electoral winner--unless you believe voters are eager to hear ideas that are gloomy, negative, defeatist, isolationist, nativist, and protectionist. ~Fred Barnes, The Weekly Standard

Via Clark Stooksbury

Barnes' larger point, such as it is, is that the widespread popularity of "paleo" views on the Dubai ports deal and immigration somehow threatens GOP electoral prospects by...being so very popular. Because the paleos are making Mr. Bush look bad (by criticising policies he has stubbornly advocated against the wishes of most of the people in his party--more the fault of the stubborn president, methinks), the party's electoral fortunes are in danger...because everyone in the party is abandoning Mr. Bush's undesirable policies in a last-ditch effort to salvage the party's electoral fortunes.

Apparently the Congressional GOP believes their voters are eager for some of that supposed defeatist gloom, or they would not have turned on Mr. Bush so vehemently over the ports and on immigration (the revolt over excessive spending will not come from the Congress, as they are part of the problem, and most of the House GOP is so hopelessly inured to the Iraq war that they will not come around on that for another two years at least). Everyone, except perhaps for Mr. Bush, knows that restricting immigration is hugely popular, especially among GOP voters. It was only a matter of time before the party capitulated to this overwhelming sentiment in its own ranks.

Because the GOP is revolting en masse against Mr. Bush on the ports deal and on immigration, the cause of the revolt is somehow to be found among the paleos, whose influence on policymakers in Washington has to date been nil. This is rather amusing. When we paleos argued that the neocons had an unduly large role in pushing the Iraq war, because most of the leading policymakers were themselves confirmed neoconservatives or closely tied to them and their neoconservatism directly informed their buffoonish policy decisions, we were in turn absurdly accused of concocting ludicrous conspiracy theories and engaging in perfervid anti-Semitic rants. For the record, to be clear, neither of these charges was in the least bit true.

Now that things have turned against the neocons across the board and the "Big Government Conservatism" Barnes championed is making Republican voters sick, the paleocons are supposed to be insidiously inspiring the GOP's "nationalist" and "isolationist" turn by...being nowhere near the centers of power and by having no influence in government at all (unless Rep. Paul has suddenly become a powerful chairman without anyone knowing about it). How have we done it? We are clever, aren't we?

Maybe, just maybe, the "nationalist" and "isolationist" turn of the GOP is the sensible one and the one that their constituents desire! If that's the case, I suspect the folks at the Standard will have to make clear once again that their enthusiasm for democratic and representative government simply does not apply to this country.

But if 2006 is the "paleo moment," as he tells us it is (funny, it doesn't really feel like a paleo moment), wouldn't that suggest to a cagey political strategist that the right play for the GOP is to pretend to take paleo concerns seriously? Not that the GOP leadership is committed to these ideas, of course. But their constituents seem to be responding to the "paleo" appeal, sure enough. We should thank Barnes for one thing, though: he has to be the first writer at The Weekly Standard to imply that the "paleo" position is the more popular one on national security (i.e., on the ports)!

Oh, right, going "paleo" will cost the GOP Hispanic votes (because we are supposed to believe, contrary to the actual preferences of Hispanic voters on Prop. 187, for example, that Hispanics are reflexively committed to suborning mass lawbreaking out of a vague 'ethnic' solidarity). What about all the votes indifference to immigration and willful disregard for national security would cost? It would be difficult for the Democrats to win over the GOP's "nationalist" voters (to refer to Prof. Lukacs' discussion of our party politics), but a double-dose of Mr. Bush's open borders/open ports approach to immigration and security might be enough to make even the party of Howard Dean sound more credible on both. If the GOP ignores what the core of its party wants on these two very explosive questions (and its core is not Hispanic), it will almost certainly lose one of its majorities in Congress. If the party does not want that to happen, it will stop listening to the Fred Barneses of the world, who helped to bring them to this pass in the first place.

Daniel Larison | March 13, 2006


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