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Romney lost statewide, as we already knew, but more remarkable is the number of districts he has lost.  He lost many of them by thin margins, but that is not much consolation.  It appears that he has lost almost all, except the 21st, 49th and 52nd (which he has won) and possibly the 42nd, which is very close and has not finished reporting.  4 for 53 is not what I would call a successful outcome.  The 21st is a Republican-held district covering eastern Fresno County; the 42nd is Gary Miller’s district covering Orange and San Bernardino; the 49th is Darrell Issa’s northern San Diego district; the 52nd is Duncan Hunter’s district in San Diego.  In the 21st, 49th and 52nd, stalwart Giuliani voters who still backed the mayor saved Romney from losing those districts as well–Giuliani and McCain’s votes together there outnumber Romney’s.  “A vote for Giuliani is a vote for Romney”–I wonder why that one never caught on?  Meanwhile, some stalwart Thompson voters may have weakened Romney in at least four districts, if you assume that Thompson voters are likely Romney supporters (I am skeptical, but it is possible).  There is no way to spin this as anything other than a major defeat for Romney, for whom remaining competitive in district-by-district delegate allocation was vital. 

Remarkably, Huckabee only got 10% in Hunter’s district, while he received as much as 16% in the Democratic 43rd and 16% again in the 21st that Romney has won (as clear a sign that Huckabee is not siphoning off Romney votes as you can hope to find in California).  The pattern from the 21st seems to keep recurring in many of the other districts: where Huckabee scores well, McCain wins by smaller margins or fails to win and his share of the vote decreases, and where Huckabee is weaker McCain’s margins and share of the vote increase.  That is not true in every case, but this is what happened in many of the districts.  

Looking at the race nationally, I wonder when the anti-McCain movement figures will be sending a thank you note to Huckabee for keeping the race open for another couple of weeks.  Had McCain won the states Huckabee took last night, his lead would be almost insurmountable now.  As it is, there is still an outside chance of fighting on if McCain’s rivals were so inclined.

By Republican strategist Alex Vogel’s calculation, Mitt Romney is giving Gramm a run for his money. The former Massachusetts governor has spent $1.16 million per delegate, a rate that would cost him $1.33 billion to win the nomination.

By contrast, Mike Huckabee’s campaign has been the height of efficiency. Delegates haven’t yet been officially apportioned, but roughly speaking, each $1 million spent by Huckabee has won him 20 delegates. ~The Trail

Maybe the Romney campaign needs to bring in some people from Bain Capital to advise them on how to stop these cost overruns and inefficiencies. 

It seems to me that this is hard to discern from exit polls.  First, the exit polls aren’t measuring why people voted one way or another, but which candidate they supported and which demographic groups they belong to, so the only thing we can know with any certainty is the level of support, or lack of support, from those groups assumed to be more likely to have reservations about Mormonism than others.  For instance, in Georgia, 72% of evangelicals voted for someone other than Romney.  Roughly the same held true in Illinois, and it appears that Romney did relatively better in Illinois overall than in Alabama because the evangelical bloc was a much smaller part of the electorate.  Given that polling has usually shown that about one third of evangelicals and at least a quarter of all demographic groups would not vote for a Mormon, this large vote for non-Romney candidates among evangelicals could be related to anti-Mormonism, but it is impossible to isolate that factor when other explanations are available.  Maybe the evangelicals who supported Huckabee identify with him, and those who supported McCain are drawn to the putative “front-runner” or they are impressed with his biography–who can say?  You would be able to find out only if you tried to get some answers about their reasons for voting one way or another. 

This is an inherently flawed way of assessing the existence of anti-Mormonism, and the only way to gauge it properly would be to ask voters rather rudely after they say they didn’t vote for Romney, “Hey, did you not vote for Romney because of his religion?”  Answering a pollster who asked you that might be difficult for many people, who don’t want to appear prejudiced (even if their opposition to Mormonism is based in disagreement and not prejudice), so even those results might be misleading.  As it is, we have no such information.  It certainly seems possible that among the 60-odd percent of voters who supported someone other than Romney there were many motivated at least partly by anti-Mormonism.  The point is that we can’t possibly know this based on information that does not even attempt to measure motivation.

As of 11:00 Central today, Romney has won just three primaries all year and all of them are effectively his “home turf.”  All of his other wins have been caucuses, many of them not strongly contested by his rivals. 

P.S. It’s hard to gauge the outcome from county results, but so far every county that has reported shows a strong showing for McCain and a fairly anemic Romney result.  It’s not out of the question that Romney wins few or no districts.

P.P.S.  Is it too early to call on Romney to drop out so that he stops splitting the conservative vote?  Maybe not.

By the way, if you’re wondering why New Mexico hasn’t started reporting results yet, it’s because the Democrats screwed up and set up too few polling places and had too few ballots available.  According to my folks back home, the wait to vote in Rio Rancho has been measured in hours.

Exits indicate that McCain will win the overall California vote.  Obviously, how it breaks down district by district will determine whether Romney has been utterly humiliated or simply beaten.  McCain is running strongest in central California, the Bay area and L.A. County, while Romney does best in southern California and the northern coast.  McCain’s margins in both L.A. County and the Bay area are larger than Romney’s in his best areas, which means that McCain may be more competitive in Republican-held districts than some expected.

P.S.  CNN has already called California for McCain.  So much for Romney’s late polling surge.

Of course, that doesn’t make any sense, but neither has the constant refrain from the Romneyites that a “vote for Huckabee is a vote for McCain.”  This is the same line they tried once before when Giuliani was perceived as Romney’s major adversary.  What they can’t seem to grasp is that, at the very least, a vote for Huckabee is almost certainly a vote against Romney, and it also does not noticeably help McCain.  In every state that Huckabee has won tonight, except for West Virginia, McCain was in second, which suggests that Romney would have lost these states anyway, since a large portion of Huckabee’s voters seem to prefer McCain, which means that almost every Huckabee victory is a victory denied to John McCain.  Rejoice, ye anti-McCainists!  Your champion has arrived, and he is the one you cannot stand. 

Even a West Virginia win would have been consistent with Romney’s pattern, which seems to have been replicated in North Dakota, Montana and Minnesota (and maybe Colorado): he wins caucuses that can be dominated by a heavily funded and well-organised campaign, but when it comes to winning over masses of voters he just can’t deliver.  His entire campaign has been geared towards appeasing activists and insiders, and yet he has the gall to wrap himself in a populist mantle.   

You have heard me going on about Huckabee’s potential in today’s election for some time, and it seems as if his campaign is delivering in the expected states, and even in a few where he wasn’t expected to do terribly well.  He has won Arkansas, Alabama and West Virginia, he is contending seriously for Georgia, Missouri and apparently even Minnesota, and he has a reasonable chance in Tennessee and Oklahoma.  Clearly, as the results are showing in many of these states, the viable non-McCain candidate is Huckabee, which is all the more remarkable considering how poorly funded his campaign is.  Had movement conservatives not thrown a fit and rejected Huckabee out of hand, they might have had a candidate who could stop McCain.  Continuing to belittle his campaign at this stage, as the “great” political maestro Mary Matalin is doing along with others, is something akin to insanity if stopping McCain is the goal.  At this point, Huckabee has no incentive to thwart McCain, and he has every reason to drop out once Romney is finished. 

Update: Ross asks the question:

Incidentally, if Romney throws in the towel after tonight - which is by no means impossible, depending on the outcome in California - and Huckabee doesn’t, will any of the McCain-haters on the right insist that all good conservatives need to rally around Huck?

Surprisingly, the answer will be no for almost all of them.  Having decided at some point that Huckabee is an unspeakable commie (when he is merely Bush redux with some better advisors), these people have already rejected any chance of striking a deal with Huck.  Just watch the same people who spent the last two weeks screaming about McCain’s treachery suddenly re-discover the man’s virtues when the alternative is the Huckster. 

Second Update: CNN called Oklahoma for McCain.  Exits indicate that Huckabee will win Tennessee and Georgia, but they also suggest that McCain will take Missouri.  Minnesota seems to be slightly less competitive than I first thought. 

This seemed remotely possible, but I never took his chances here seriously.  Yes, it is “just” a caucus state party convention, which exaggerates the level of support for the campaigns with the most dedicated activists, but even in an old border state Huckabee was able to mobilise enough Christian conservative support to win 52-47 over Romney.  This might be one of the few cases where Huckabee really did cost Romney a state.  That’s 18 delegates for Huckabee.

Update: Those are the second-round results (Paul had only 10% support after the first round and wasn’t included on the second ballot).  Romney was leading the first round, but almost all the McCain and some of the Ron Paul supporters rallied to Huckabee on the second ballot.  Given the options, I can’t blame them. 

Second Update: This is doubly distressing for Romney, since his campaign never anticipated a serious challenge from anyone else in West Virginia:

An interview with John McCutcheon, a state consultant for Mitt Romney, made clear why he is expected to win easily.

“We have had the only organizational presence in West Virginia to speak of,” said John McCutcheon, a state consultant for Mr. Romney. “It’s all Romney all the time.”

Romney’s been so busy fighting with Bob Dole that he has forgotten to watch out for Huckabee.  Again.  

See the over-confidence of Team Romney:

Mr. McCutcheon described an ambitious county-by-county ground operation, complete with phone-banking, direct mail and radio advertisements, compared to only modest efforts made by all the other candidates.

“Any presence that has come in has been last minute and skeletal,” he said about the other campaigns. 

So the “last minute and skeletal” operation beat out the well-funded, elaborate, ambitious ground game.  Again.

Third Update: Just to clarify, West Virginia has 30 delegates, nine of which will be awarded after their actual primary, plus three at-large delegates.  Huckabee has won all the delegates that were at stake at the convention, but conceivably he could lose the primary and fail to pick up the others.

Fourth Update: The Caucus describes Romney’s loss as a “significant setback.”  Via Freddoso, the Romney campaign whines about a “backroom deal” throwing the convention to Huckabee.  Romney’s camp said that this reflected McCain’s “inside Washington ways” (i.e., his people are better political operators than Romney’s).  It wasn’t really a “backroom deal,” but it was a second ballot at a convention.  Making deals with different factions at a convention is one of the things that happens at a political convention–it’s the kind of “scheming” that one needs to be able to do in the event that your side doesn’t carry the first ballot.  Ponnuru correctly calls this whining silly.   

Dole defended McCain to Limbaugh, and apparently Romney said this about the letter: 

It’s probably the last person I would have wanted write a letter for me. I think there’s a lot of folks who tend to think that maybe John McCain’s race is bit like Bob Dole’s race. That it’s the guy who’s next in line, the inevitable choice.

McCain then played the military service card and called Romney’s mocking of Dole “disgraceful.”  McCain is overreaching because he knows he has Romney on the ropes, but this is the sort of unforced error that Romney keeps making because he is always trying so very hard to prove that he’s not some moderate squish.  He just doesn’t know when to stop.  McCain’s campaign is a lot like Bob Dole’s, and will probably meet the same fate in the general election, but when you’re seeking a party’s nomination it is usually a good idea to respect the former nominees.    

Since my predictions seem to ensure doom for whomever I select, I will do my bit to stop McCain by saying that he will win every state today except Utah and Alaska. 

When he sauntered back onto a flight on Saturday, he broke the ice with an unusual remark.

“What did they say in ‘Star Wars?’ ” he asked. “What’s that line? ‘There’s nothing happening here. These droids aren’t the droids you’re looking for.’ ”

Eric Fehrnstrom, his traveling press secretary, said it had actually been rendered: “These are not the droids you are looking for.”

“These are not the droids you’re looking for,” Mr. Romney said. “Sorry.” ~The New York Times

Does anyone else find it unusually strange that Romney is making offhand references to robots?  I would love to know the context of this remark–what would have prompted him to make it?

Campaigns can change who you are, particularly politically. ~Rick Santorum

Well, in that case, he’s picked the right candidate to endorse.  You have to admire how Santorum acknowledges that Romney started his campaign just by checking things off a list, but now is supposed to believe them.  His conviction must increase exponentially as his campaign approaches Election Day.

P.S.  I would just note for anyone holding out hope that Romney represents some meaningful break with the administration in foreign policy that Santorum, head of the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s “Enemies” Program to Protect America’s Freedom, thinks Romney is entirely on board with his views on Iran.  This would be the same Iran that Santorum believes is trying to conquer the world.  As Santorum put it:

He is someone who understood the issues and where he didn’t understand, was willing to listen and quickly able to assimilate the points I was making into things he already understood and saw the connection, saw how it fit.

The Romney campaign doesn’t pretend the sour attitude toward its candidate doesn’t exist. But chief counselor Ben Ginsberg insists— echoing one of the campaign’s main themes — the attitude stems largely from the fact that Romney is “the outsider candidate. He’s not from Washington and he’s going to change Washington. He’s not part of their club.” ~Ana Marie Cox

But that doesn’t really explain why so many people outside of Washington also dislike him.  Still, there is something to this, in that Romney isn’t exactly “part of their club,” but he acts like someone desperately craving an invitation and likes to refer to all of his newfound friends who have been in “the club” for years.  His sycophancy has won some supporters, but at the same time it has embarrassed many would-be supporters  and alienated others. 

It is also quite funny to see the campaign push the “outsider” theme, when virtually every Romney ad carries some positive blurb about him or a criticism of McCain from a conservative magazine or think tank located in the Beltway or in New York.  No other candidate has gone so far out of his way to ingratiate himself with establishment institutions as Romney has done.  What he and his campaign seem to be missing is that all the ingratiating and all of the things he has had to do in the process to win new friends in “the club” are off-putting not just to other “members” but to many others as well.  As I have suggested elsewhere, Romney is running as the ”change” candidate embraced by significant parts of the establishment while McCain has found himself running a status quo insurgency.  The former embraces and is supported by the administration’s friends, while the latter promises the perpetuation of virtually everything the administration has done.  The establishment prefers Romney because he appears to need them and they believe he will be dependent on them, but more importantly because, once they let him into the “club” or on the “team,” they think he will be reliable and predictable.  That he has completely altered his views on almost every policy question to gain this trust doesn’t seem to worry them.  

Strangely, I find myself agreeing with this Fred Siegel statement:

Only Clinton derangement syndrome can explain the alliance of so many otherwise thoughtful people of both parties who speak well of the candidacy of a man with scant knowledge of the world who has never been tested and has never run anything larger than a senatorial office.

If Obama were somehow able to win the nomination, which I still think unlikely, an Obama v. McCain contest would pit two proud non-managers against each other.  Where McCain talks of leadership (”I can hire managers,” he dismissively said to the Super-Manager Romney at the last debate), Obama prattles on about his vision for America, and both of them seem to take some satisfaction in eschewing detailed knowledge about major areas of policy.  “We’ve had plenty of plans, what we need is hope,” Obama said in an early DNC speech last year.  Where Obama drops hope into every other sentence, McCain uses the word victory.  For some reason, there are millions of people who hear this and don’t realise that this repetition of key words is an effort to cover up for lack of preparedness and lack of any idea how to accomplish the things on the candidate’s agenda (to the extent that he even has a clear agenda).  If we have an Obama v. McCain election, it will be one of the first times in recent memory that we have had two candidates vying for the leadership of a managerial state with little or no interest in managing.  Since people instinctively recoil from such a state, it is understandable why they would be drawn to candidates who appear to be different the usual staple of pols, but what they see as boldness or “maverick” instincts is really the result of people who are just making it up as they go along, always looking for the main chance to advance themselves.

Perhaps, but having a trio of “philosopher-bloggers” talk about the fortunes and future of the conservative intellectual movement is not blogging.  I will be at CPAC for an ISI-sponsored Friday panel from 1:00-3:00 in Congressional Room A.

P.S. It appears that the President will also be coming to CPAC on Friday.  That should be an interesting sight.

Several weeks ago, these forces decided to rally ’round Romney as their alternative. They picked the wrong horse. Had the movement conservatives gone with Mike Huckabee or Fred Thompson, they would have had a better chance of derailing McCain. ~Jonathan Last

This is mostly right, and since the flaws of the Thompson campaign are legion and well-known it seems clear that rallying around Huckabee would have been the only conceivable way to halt McCain.  The problem, of course, is that the anti-Huckabee campaign made that impossible and it wasted precious time that could have been used in building up a specifically anti-McCain candidate.  As I have said before:

For those now fretting about the Return of McCain, I would note simply that it was the conservative establishment that managed to subvert Huckabee with their relentless campaign against him over the past six to eight weeks, and and it was the vanity campaign of Fred Thompson, which must now come to an end, that paved the way for McCain to win in South Carolina and so propel him towards the nomination.   

Many leading figures in the movement have declared themselves opposed to two candidacies, and these are the two that will probably win most of the delegates on Tuesday.  The one these people have backed–in some part because of his alleged “viability”–is failing.  The Huckabacklash effectively made it impossible to stop McCain, since the anti-Huckabee forces had already ruled him out as an instrument of their anti-McCainism.  Since many anti-McCain conservatives evidently loathe Huckabee even more, they will not be too upset by this.  Nonetheless, when you hear a great wailing and gnashing of teeth about McCain from these mainstream figures who mocked, belittled and rejected Huckabee (sometimes for legitimate reasons, sometimes out of dread that actual Southerners and evangelicals rising to positions of importance), bear in mind that they had a chance to throw their weight behind Huckabee a month ago.  They chose a different path, and now they–and we–are reaping the fruits of that decision.

Yesterday, Barack Obama said there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between he and Senator McCain [bold mine-DL] on illegal immigration. ~Mitt Romney

I’m sorry, this may seem small and unimportant, but this butchering of a basic element of the English language is just awful.  It’s one thing when idiot sports announcers and actors can’t put pronouns into their proper cases, but when you have someone who is often praised for his education and intelligence it is the final straw.  This is more annoying than Obama’s habit of speaking about the ”amount of troops” lost in Iraq, as if there were some undifferentiated mass of Troop to which members of the armed forces belong.

Some people are put off by this drippy effort at putting Obama’s words to music, but far more worrisome is Obama’s ad that apparently ran in some markets during the Super Bowl (we were fast forwarding through many of the ads with Tivo, so I cannot say whether it appeared in the Chicago market).  The song is just silly (its silliness is underscored by the fierce intensity of so many of the assembled B-list actors as they are singing it), but the condensed message in that ad should make people think twice about this candidate.  “We can change the world” is a completely commonplace claim, but frankly we have had quite enough of Presidents on a mission to “change the world.”  We don’t need planet-savers and world-changers.  We need some minimally competent executive who can occasionally veto an oversized budget and not start wars.  As the candidate with the largest spending pledges and a hyper-ambitious foreign policy, Obama is not going to be that executive.  We have had quite enough of the candidates of Big, Sweeping Ideas–they have a bad habit of getting us embroiled in Big, Destructive Conflicts.  It’s enough to make you long for the days when utterly small-bore trivia dominated election campaigns.

Given all these procedural oddities from state to state, it’s unlikely any single candidate will deliver a knockout blow on Feb. 5. We still have a ways to go, and it’s hard to know at this point whether the preacher, the prisoner, the woman or the ethnic minority will win. ~Steven Hill

It struck me as odd how Romney managed to disappear from the list of potential winners somewhere between the beginning and ending of this column.  While that may not have been Hill’s intent, this is probably an accurate assessment: there are only four candidates with a chance at nomination right now, and Romney is not really one of them.  This is all the more remarkable when you consider that the coverage has been almost incessantly repeating a McCain v. Romney theme.  There is a very outside chance of a McCain v. Huckabee splitting of states on Tuesday and again in the weeks to come, but not much chance that Romney picks up any states besides his two natural bases of support in Massachusetts and Utah. 

On the day of the South Carolina primary, I wrote:

Because Huckabee has decided to lay off of McCain, and prior to tonight still had strong polling in a number of Feb. 5 states, Romney faces the daunting prospect of an anti-Romney pact between the two of them, effectively shutting him out of the South on Feb. 5 and then having Huckabee drop out and endorse McCain soon thereafter.  As McCain and Huckabee divide up the spoils of February 5 and work in concert to keep Romney down, Huckabee’s withdrawal and endorsement then throw his supporters and the race to McCain. 

As you have probably all heard ad nauseam over the last few days, this is exactly what has been happening.  One thing that I didn’t foresee was the extent to which Huckabee and McCain are competing for supporters, and that Huckabee isn’t so much sapping Romney’s strength in the South as he is showing his rival a mirage of victory, giving him a tantalising chance to stay in the race that then vanishes into thin air.  Whichever target Romney chooses in his advertisements in several of the Southern states, the voters he drives away from one will likely just go to the other candidate. 

There are plenty of reasons that might explain the former Massachusetts governor’s surprisingly weak support among his former colleagues. But one of them stands out: He appears to have inadvertently alienated a good many of his fellow governors as RGA chairman.

“Right or wrong, the general impression was that he spent way too much time on himself and building his presidential organization,” said a top Republican strategist who has worked closely with the RGA in recent years. “I don’t think anyone ever questioned Romney’s commitment to the organization or the work he put in. They questioned his goals or his motives. Was it to elect Republican governors, or to tee up his presidential campaign?”

A campaign manager for an unsuccessful 2006 Republican gubernatorial campaign echoed the sentiments. “We definitely got the vibe from the staff that our state was never a national player when it came to the strategy that the RGA was putting together,” he said. “Everything they were telling me was about Michigan. They were dumping everything into Michigan.” ~The Politico

Long-time Eunomia readers will remember that I was talking about this in the wake of the 2006 debacle.  The RGA under Romney directed a lot of its funding to gubernatorial races in three crucial early states (Florida, Iowa, Michigan) for the nomination in 2008, including a hopeless Michigan race in which Dick DeVos ended up being blown out by 18 points.  The Michigan case was the most transparent example of Romney using the RGA as his own springboard, since Granholm’s re-election was never really in doubt and Romney’s personal and political interest in Michigan was obvious.  We didn’t know at the time, but Romney’s penchant for throwing money at lost causes prefigured his own presidential campaign only too well.   

This WSJ poll is about six weeks out of date, so it is pretty useless for tracking the presidential race.  There are some other results that have more lasting relevance.  58% say that the globalisation of the American economy has been on the whole “bad,” with just 28% saying the opposite and 11% declaring it a wash.  That is pretty clearly bad news for the party most closely identified with globalisation at present.  The number for those saying globalisation has generally benefited “the American economy” has dropped 14 points from a poll 10 years ago.  There are as many dissatisfied with their financial circumstances (33%) as there have been since the wake of the ‘01-’02 recession.  52% said that immigration “hurts more than it helps” the United States, up eight points from last summer and back at the same levels two years earlier.  As of mid-December when the poll was taken, 56% said that victory in Iraq was not still possible.  All of the pro-”surge” talk affected the respondents over the course of 2007, but as of last December 44% said it had made no difference and 14% said that it had made things worse.  57% agreed with the statement that most American soldiers should be withdrawn from Iraq by the start of 2009.  Except for immigration, obviously, the Republicans are on the unpopular side of every one of these questions.    

The poll also has two interesting figures on anti-Mormonism.  59% could correctly identify that Romney was a Mormon, and 26% “felt uncomfortable” about Romney’s  Mormonism and its possible effect on his presidential decisions (this was how the question was phrased), which was slightly higher than the percentage “uncomfortable” about his religion in the abstract. 

Coulter on McCain again: Ready, set, crazy!

A winning slogan: “Four rotten years!”

Joe Lieberman’s old flack communications director appears in the pages of The Wall Street Journal today to declare victory for the “politics of hope” over the “politics of Kos.”  (Supposedly, the Connecticut Senate election from 2006 represented the triumph of hope over netroots–Joe Lieberman, hopemonger!)  How ridiculous is this?  Let me count the ways.  Kossacks are above all interested in Democratic electoral victory.  Ideologically, they tend to be more progressive, but Kos himself has seen the advantage of promoting the most electable candidates in marginal districts.  Unlike the Hewitts on the other side, they are typically interested in actually growing the size of their political coalition and increasing Democratic numbers in Congress, rather than engaging in masochistic purgings for the sake of purging.  There is nothing fundamentally inconsistent between the two ”kinds” of politics.  Obama’s public rhetoric is that of a politician trying to win an election, while netroots progressives are venting their tremendous frustration with the administration on a regular basis–the same frustration and hostility, incidentally, that Obama clearly shares.  That Obama uses “uplifting” rhetoric, rather than the “depressing” and combative rhetoric of Edwards, masks that he is advancing almost exactly the same agenda and regards the administration almost every bit as poorly as do netroots progressives.  The difference, and the thing that seems to scare Republicans, is that he doesn’t yell about it, and he doesn’t answer every question, Patricia Madrid-like, with complaints about the evils of Bush.  In calm, measured tones he denounces administration policy and the Democrats who accommodated the administration, but he is still denouncing them, no different in substance from anything Lamont said about Lieberman and Bush.    

The Kossacks went after Lieberman in much the same way that conservatives are now going after McCain, because they saw him as unreliable and deeply wrong on at least one major issue of the day.  Within the Democratic primary electorate, the Kossacks were successful.  Lieberman lost the primary, as Gerstein must remember.  Lieberman was able to draw on Republicans and independents in the general election to save his seat, and has since proceeded to confirm progressives’ doubts about his reliability.  In a more normal state with a viable Republican candidate, Lieberman’s victory would have been very unlikely.  Hillary Clinton can’t like what the comparison portends for her campaign, since the more progressive “wine-track” candidate won the primary in Connecticut.  Whatever else happens on Tuesday, it appears that this is about to happen again in Connecticut.  Unlike Lieberman, Clinton isn’t going to get a second chance to foist herself on the voters if she loses to Obama.  

That brings us to the Democratic nominating contest this year.  Gerstein sees Obama’s success and Edwards’ failure as proof that the “politics of Kos” has failed.  It isn’t just, as Gerstein allows, that Obama has “co-opted” the Kossacks’ views.  He and Clinton were pulled in that direction by the netroots’ favourite, whose candidacy soon lost its rationale once the more cautious leading candidates occupied the same ideological space.  As numerous observers on the left have been keen to point out recently, Edwards’ combative progressivism compelled the other two leading candidates to adopt policy plans that imitated his.  I think the case could be made that Edwards did a lot of Obama’s dirty work in hitting Clinton on her inconsistencies and her war vote back when Obama was still being overly cautious about attacking his rivals, and that Edwards helped to soften Clinton up and made Obama’s rise easier.  

Many have observed that many progressive activists have responded coolly to Obama, because he has seemed too accommodating and conciliatory towards Republicans (he said something marginally positive about Reagan!), but this is the same Obama who has received the endorsement of and who will be receiving the vote, if not exactly the enthusiastic support, of Kos himself.  This is a recognition, however belated, that the goals of the netroots and Obama’s goals are mostly the same.  In fact, this opposition between “the politics of hope” and “politics of Kos” is one more illusion that works to obscure Obama’s progressivism and adds to the myth that he is some great uniter of opposites.  In terms of policy, Obama has embraced a large part of Edwards’ agenda and weaves the same anti-corporate and anti-lobbyist themes into his speeches in between references to bringing America together.  So, as a matter of substance, the “politics of Kos,” or more accurately the netroots-backed progressivism championed by Edwards, has become the agenda that Obama will attempt to sell by way of his “hope and unity” rhetoric.  In other words, Obama has accepted the diagnosis that Edwards has made, and he basically agrees with Edwards’ prescription (with a few changes of detail here or there), but he wants to sugar-coat the prescribed “medicine” to make it go down easier with a lot of talk about cooperation. 

It is a very bizarre kind of analysis that sees the current two-person Democratic field, which has become almost completely dominated by the policy agenda of the netroots’ candidate, as proof that the politics of the netroots has somehow failed to catch on.  On domestic and foreign policy, Edwards carried the netroots’ flag and dragged the entire field to the left.  If his own campaign did not succeed, you can attribute that as much to his own radical makeover from Southern Democratic centrist to populist firebrand in a matter of a few years.  Unlike Romney, who underwent the same metamorphosis in a different direction, Edwards defined his party’s policy agenda for this cycle.  The Democratic shift to the left in the last four years has been pretty dramatic, and it owes a good deal to the netroots, and this shift is reflected in the near-unanimity of the remaining candidates on policy (such that they have to quibble over the relative universality of their health care plans).  In fact, the “politics of hope,” so called, did not exist until last year, and it has gotten as far as it has because of the groundwork laid by the netroots and other progressive activists in the last decade.  Meanwhile, if progressives are becoming less angry, it is because they are slowly winning within their own party and in many parts of the country.  

Ronald Reagan knew what he believed in for thirty years.  He read Burke and consulted Buckley and Freedman [sic]. ~Matt Lewis

Is this misspelling of Friedman’s name some new requirement that is gaining currency?

So it’s four days until Super Tuesday, the big name Romney endorsements have been pouring in (Ingraham, Hannity, Santorum, etc.) and, in Romney’s own words, the “world of conservatism is considerably behind my effort.”  If so, it is a small world after all. 

Consider, to take two of the states where the GOP will be voting on Tuesday, Alabama and New York.  In Alabama, Romney gets 21% and in New York he gets…21%.  Nationally, according to FoxNews, Romney gets about 20%.  So, about one out of five Republicans agree that Mitt Romney is the right candidate.  If Huckabee’s limitations as the “evangelical candidate” have been revealed, Romney seems to have hit something of a similar ceiling (though it may vary some from state to state) in all those states where he has not campaigned intensively.

More interesting yet is the breakdown of the preferences.  In Alabama, Romney finishes third among conservatives with McCain and Huckabee pulling in a third each while he gets just 24%.  23% of Alabama Republicans support him–fewer than support Huckabee and McCain.  According to SurveyUSA, he trails McCain by 19 points in the state and he trails Huckabee by ten.  He finishes third among pro-lifers.  There is not a single issue that he dominates, and he finishes third among those who say the economy is their top issue.  Meanwhile, in New York, you might expect Romney to do significantly better (though New Yorkers do have this thing about people from Massachusetts…) and he simply doesn’t.  27% of conservatives and 24% of pro-lifers back him.  Unlike in Alabama, he finishes in second in all these categories, but he trails by much larger margins and trails McCain overall by 34 points (55-21).  Again, he dominates no single issue, and loses among those who think the economy is the top issue 62-19.  The Northeastern states are providing the proof: even where Huckabee isn’t a factor, Romney just isn’t competitive.  He loses upstate New York by 23, loses in the city by 33 and gets destroyed in the city suburbs, losing by 46.  New York may be a special case, but that seems to throw into doubt the “Romney as suburban candidate” idea.

You’ll say, “What about other states?  You probably picked those because he is doing so badly there.”  Fair enough.  Let’s see a few more.  He does lead in Massachusetts, but while his lead of 23 ahead of McCain seems secure it is interesting that he can get just 59% of Republicans in his own state.  Somewhat surprisingly, he is down four in Missouri, but is just two ahead of Huckabee, who is still quite competitive there.  Missouri is one of the few states where Romney narrowly leads among conservative voters, and he ties Huckabee for the lead among pro-lifers.  Central Missouri appears to be Romney’s life-preserver in that state.  So one of his best states is also a virtual three-way tie and could conceivably go for any one of them. 

With that exception in mind, once you move beyond his power base, however, his problems re-emerge.  Romney trails by 23 in New Jersey, and by 22 in Connecticut.  He loses conservatives to McCain in Connecticut, and just barely wins them in New Jersey.  The same story is repeated in Oklahoma, narrowly losing conservatives to both McCain and Huckabee, and receiving just 19% overall and trailing McCain by almost 20 points.  If he were the obvious conservative alternative, it would never be this close among conservatives, and he would be leading in some of these states.  Conservatives represent pluralities or even majorities in all of these polls, which should give Romney an edge…if he were credible.  A Minnesota poll released on the day of the Florida primary showed McCain ahead of Romney, who was in third place, by 24 points.  The poll still included 6% for Giuliani, most of whom probably have since gone for McCain.  Huckabee was in second at 22%.  McCain and Huckabee both lead Romney among “economy and jobs the most important problem” voters, of whom 8% supported him.     

In Illinois, in a pre-Florida poll that included Giuliani, he trails among conservatives by 2 and he is behind overall by 8.  He loses every income group and every religious group (Huckabee, naturally, wins evangelicals).  He wins with immigration voters, but loses to McCain with economy, Iraq and security voters.  In California, Romney seems to have the best chance of any of the big states to win overall and score some delegates regardless.  A post-Florida Rasmussen poll that still includes Giuliani had him within four of the lead.  Romney wins among conservatives, but does not outperform McCain and Giuliani together.  He wins one income group ($75K-100K earners) and none of the religious affiliations.  Again, he carries immigration voters, and loses the rest.  Remarkably, the one issue on which he is probably least credible is the one that he is dominating more or less consistently these days.   

Huckabee states the obvious:

To say that you’ve never thought about the origins of human life until you were nearly 60 years old — I find that hard to believe even for somebody who hasn’t run for office before, but certainly for somebody who had.

In a new FoxNews poll, McCain leads Romney nationally 48-20 with Huckabee at 19 and Paul at 5, along with 5% not knowing and 2% refusing to vote.  If you reduce it to a two-man McCain v. Romney race, the result among Republicans is McCain 62, Romney 29, 6% not knowing and 3% refusing to vote.  These numbers are almost the reverse of Bush v. McCain at this stage in 2000.  Granted, this is a national poll and is not terribly reliable for predicting actual voting, but what this seems to show is that most of the Huckabee and Paul voters simply will not go for Romney.  You do have to assume that anti-Mormonism has something to do with this, particularly among Huckabee supporters, but it is also hard to miss that Huckabee supporters have made clear in state after state that their second choice is McCain.  Perhaps these are the voters who are drawn to candidates on the basis of personality and biography and are not issues voters, in which case they align with the candidates who have received the most favourable media coverage and who appear through that coverage to be the most appealing characters. 

Romney appears to have picked up most of the hard-core anti-McCain vote by default: two months ago with the same question about a two-way race, 23% said they would not vote.  Over half of those since went to Romney, and McCain has gained only a few points.  This seems to mean that more than half of Romney’s current supporters nationwide are only coming to his side grudgingly because the McCain v. Romney match-up has now become the reality, and their preferred candidates are no longer likely to win.  That implies that Romney has a very weak base of support that has settled for him for lack of other competitive options.  Romney has managed to end up in an almost unheard-of bind: he is getting trounced nationally in a three- or four-way race, and he then actually loses ground in the two-man race his campaign is trumpeting in its latest communications.  Strangely, Huckabee’s persistence in the race, while slowly but surely killing Romney’s campaign, is also preventing McCain from delivering the fatal blow right away.  This means that a vote for Huckabee is not so much a vote for McCain as it is potentially a vote for chaos.  Indeed, at this point chaos may be the anti-McCain forces’ best and only real friend.

I understand what Rod is saying here, but I think he and Gerard Baker are making the same mistake when they describe the rise of McCain in terms of change and revolution respectively.  McCain is the essential status quo candidate, and represents continuity with the current administration on a range of questions.  Some would argue, correctly, that the current administration has not governed  conservatively using any reasonable definition of that word, and those who have opposed the administration from the right since the beginning know this better than anyone, but where McCain’s critics have embraced, indeed celebrated, the administration for the most part they have determined that McCain is apostate, anti-conservative, and so on.  In this bizarre universe, where Giuliani can be seen as one of the last of the Reaganites but Huckabee and McCain are political lepers, the people who have the most to gain by emphasising the idea of a McCain nomination representing a radical departure from conservatism are the very people who have apologised and flacked for the administration that did most of the actual damage that they fear McCain might do in the future. 

Rod is right that there are several conservatisms (around which orbit, I would add, many a Republican constituency dressed up as a pseudo-conservatism), and he is right again that these conservatisms are not coterminous with the GOP.  Indeed, one of the problems of conservatives in America today was the persistent effort to identify themselves with the party when it was riding high (”Republicans are winning because they are conservative”) and attempting, rather unsuccessfully, to wash their hands of the party’s mistakes, blunders and disasters when the public turned against the party (”Republicans lost in 2006, not conservatives”).  The horror conservatives are feeling and the loud protests they are registering at the prospect of a McCain nomination all stem from this same confusion.  If you have grown accustomed to identifying the fortunes of conservatism rather closely with the GOP, you begin to treat Republican nominees as representatives of the new direction of conservatism.  McCain could not threaten the movement, except that the movement has welded itself to the GOP in so many ways that what happens to the one affects the other as well. 

So it is a mistake to see McCain’s rise marking a “changing of the guard,” if that “changing of the guard” means ”McCain’s rise is eroding the hegemony of the established conservative opinion-makers.”  On the contrary, movement leaders are setting up a gauntlet for McCain, as if they were soldiers demanding a donative for a would-be emperor, and they will finally raise him on their shields only after they have extracted that payment.  Until they receive it, they will continue to serve as the guards, so to speak, and should he come to power they will have left McCain with the unspoken threat that they will unmake him and topple him if he goes against them.  A McCain administration, as unlikely as I think it will be, would be one plagued by having constantly to give assurances to core constituencies and would be a period racked by internecine fighting within the party and movement.  The recent anti-McCain campaign has served to put McCain on notice (perhaps there are still a few true believers who think they can vault Romney to success by tearing McCain down), and perhaps he has once again ”gotten the message,” as he says, but more likely the rise of McCain does not amount to a “bloodless coup” (per Baker) or a “changing of the guard,” but the beginnings of “palace” intrigues and plotting among the many factions. 

In fact, the coolness with which leading movement figures are receiving McCain, or rather the heat of their fury against him helps to secure their authority with their audiences, misleadingly give them credit for resisting the corruption of conservatism (even though they did little or nothing to stop that corruption for the past seven years and much to facilitate it) and allows them to portray themselves as oppositional, independent figures when they are nothing of the kind.  This pose of opposition and independence is the same one that many of the leading radio hosts and pundits assumed after the ‘06 electoral debacle, having right up until then exhorted their audiences to support the GOP regardless of what it had done or failed to do.  This is the phony independence that permits them to retain some shred of credibility as critics when their influence is in less of a position to drive policy change (i.e., when the GOP is in the minority) after having squandered opportunities to wield influence when it might have mattered.     

Since Eunomia was inaccessible on Wednesday night, I was unable to comment on the Republicans’ debate at the time.  For those who haven’t had their fill of debate commentary, I recommend the live-blogging post by Justin Raimondo, who recorded his impressions from the night at Taki’s Top Drawer.  I was watching the debate at CNN’s site and saw most of it alongside their “viewer response” graph.  The striking thing about the comparison was that Romney consistently scored well every time he spoke–it didn’t matter what he was saying–and McCain almost always scored negatively regardless of the content of his statements.  I am a poor judge of these things, since I am annoyed every time I see Romney, but he seems to have come across much better to that particular audience.  Part of this probably had to do with McCain’s foul mood and harping criticism.  If many undecided voters watched this debate, Romney should have won them over easily.  However, being the umpteenth cable network debate it was probably not seen by very many people, and the media commentary on the debate struck me as surprisingly favourable to McCain.  Casting the arguments the two had in a simple “clash of rivals” narrative, most reports did an injustice to Romney, since he did have the better of his exchanges with McCain, who was petulant and obnoxious the entire night.  Ron Paul was absolutely correct, of course, that the two were arguing over inconsequential nonsense and right again that these debates ought to be about major questions of policy.  Unfortunately, serious policy debate does not lend itself to snappy headlines and easily-digested stories, and these are the things that commentators and reporters want.

I’m not sure that it is at all reassuring for Romney’s camp that they have won the endorsement of Rick “The Venezuelans Are Coming!” Santorum.  It is fitting, I suppose, that the former Senator who sided with the incumbent, establishment, pro-choice candidate Specter in that Pennsylvania Senate primary four years ago is similarly supporting the candidate with the far less conservative record.  Things like that make conservatives and pro-lifers eager to back the one whom Santorum has named as a defender of ”the conservative principles that we hold dear.”

Santorum said, “Governor Romney has a deep understanding of the important issues confronting our country today…”  Important issues such as preventing Iranian world-mastery and stopping the Venezuelan empire from conquering Argentina. 


As yet another blast of “Romney will save us, if we save Romney,” this Hewitt post is unremarkable, but in its assessment of the outcome of the Democratic race and its expression of Obama-fear it is just odd:

It will be very, very difficult to defeat Barack Obama with an old face from inside the Beltway, even one with the heroism and courage that John McCain embodies.

So, if I understand Hewitt’s rationale for opposing McCain, it would better to run a phony against the candidate that the media has declared Authenticity personified than it would be to run an old veteran who supports the war, which he, Hewitt, also supports, against a young man with essentially no relevant experience who opposes it.  For someone who recoils against the “MSM-created McCain resurrection,” he doesn’t seem to be able to see through the MSM-created Obama deification.  If he did, he would know that Obama is the one adversary McCain has a chance of defeating.  It seems as if these folks are allowing both their Clinton-hatred and McCain-loathing to get the better of their judgement (which is not to say that an egregious Romney booster such as Hewitt has very good judgement in the first place).

Coulter on McCain: Ready, set, crazy! 

This is something I don’t quite understand.  I can understand the objections to McCain’s policies, which I definitely share, and I even sympathise with the deep-seated personal dislike of the man that so many have.  But how confused must you be, if you are a pro-torture, pro-war jingo (or is that jingoess in her case?), to say that you would sooner side with Hillary Clinton than John McCain?  This is absolutely batty.  Who would better suit the pro-war crowd than an inflexible, unbalanced and angry old man who has nothing to lose?  I wouldn’t dispute Clinton’s hawkish inclinations, and I think her opposition to Iraq is purely opportunistic and reflects nothing about her foreign policy views, which are interventionist and generally quite dangerous, but if you are a hawk it is inconceivable that you would prefer her to him. 

Via Ross 

Update: Suddenly Hewitt has discovered the importance of rationality in voting!

Another small piece of evidence that McCain is Dole redux: I went back and found that Dole’s lifetime ACU rating in 1996 was 83, which is actually seven tenths of a point higher than McCain’s lifetime rating but close enough to be a bit uncanny.   

Bush has received little attention or thanks for his compassionate reforms. This is less a reflection on him than on the political challenge of compassionate conservatism. The conservative movement gives the president no credit because it views all these priorities — foreign assistance, a federal role in education, the expansion of an entitlement — as heresies, worthy of the stake. ~Michael Gerson

It doesn’t help that these “compassionate reforms” are all monumental failures and/or appalling burdens on the national fisc of dubious value and poor implementation.  Why might no one be congratuating the President on sending unfunded mandates to the states?  Could it be that introducing vast new entitlements–when our current entitlement system is already in serious trouble over the long-term–is an irresponsible, short-sighted gamble with the wealth of future generations for the sake of brief, transitory and already vanished political gain?  No, it must be that there are unimaginative inquisitors who are intent on ripping out Bush’s bleeding heart and throwing it on the pyre.  That must be the only explanation.  What would we do without Gerson to explain these things to us? 

He views both meditation on the past and speculation about his legacy with equal suspicion, preferring to live in the urgency of the now. ~Michael Gerson

Who knew that George Bush was already living Obama’s dream?

Mitt Romney’s campaign is based on the wholesale deception of voters. ~John McCain

This has been, and remains, the crux of the problem with Romney.  Of course, McCain can be charged with deception every time he denies that “comprehensive immigration reform” is amnesty, and the same criticism can be leveled at the other candidates who have suddenly discovered the importance of border security, but with Romney it has always been on an entirely different scale.  It is conceivable that Romney could have legitimately changed his mind on one or two questions, but there have been so many changes (or evolutions, if you prefer) in such a short span of time that depart so radically from the core assumptions of what the man publicly claimed to believe earlier that he simply cannot be trusted.  Where he once would not dare “impose” his values on others in matters of life and sexuality (his dear, departed relative had once been pivotal in his views on abortion, but her fate ceased to bother him when the White House beckoned), he suddenly discerned that it was essential that he do so.  The awakening of his moral conscience occurred in direct relationship to the approach of the 2008 campaign season.  That in itself might not be so bad, were it the only instance of Romney’s re-invention.  Where he once derided the idea of deportation and accepted McCain’s immigration legislation as an acceptable alternative, he has since adopted the pose of a restrictionist true believer.  The man who brought you government-mandated health insurance enforced by the assessment of penalties is the one who now casts himself as more Reaganite than Reagan…all the while promising subsidies to weakened industries.  The proponent of federal gun control laws discovered his inner varmint-slayer.  You assume there will be a certain degree of opportunism and shifting in an election.  To some extent, that is how elections hold politicians more accountable to what voters want to see in government.  But for someone who has gone through a complete political metamorphosis to then adopt the pose of the righteous enforcer of True Conservatism and to accuse his opponents of being willing to say anything to get elected simply amazes me.  What amazes me still more is the willingness of so many people, who can see perfectly clearly the dishonesty of the entire thing, to go along with it. 

On an ascending scale of willful arrogance, there is gall, then there is chutzpah, and then there is whatever Romney is doing.  In fairness, no politician should ever receive very much trust, and what trust is bestowed should always be provisional and easily revoked, but even by the extremely low standards of a cynic who assumes all politicians are out to mislead and abuse the citizenry Romney is unacceptably deceptive.  Any past or present Bush supporter who now wants to complain about the rise of McCain should look first to the absolute fraud many of them were willing to rally behind as the alternative to understand why their anti-McCain candidate did not succeed.  As wrong as McCain is on so many things, for which we anti-Bush conservatives were criticising him all along, the idea that you ought to hold McCain accountable for his deviations from the movement and party lines while embracing a man who had been, as of three years ago, far to McCain’s left on almost everything was and still is preposterous.  This is not about the relative purity of their conservatisms as such, but the ridiculous application of a purist standard for one and an absolutely accommodating, flexible standard for another, especially when the latter only rates as ”more conservative” on account of this incredible metamorphosis.  This is one of the reasons why the concerted effort to rally anti-McCain forces has fallen short for the second straight week: the bulk of this effort has no intellectual or moral credibility when the rallying point is Romney’s campaign and the opponents of McCain are simultaneously some of the strongest supporters of George Bush.  Those who wish to label McCain a liar for his past and recent false statements, but who will pretend that Romney’s many new positions are proof of his true convictions, are the same kinds of people (in some cases, literally the same people) who embraced, legitimised and shilled for George Bush, the greatest liar of them all, for seven years.  They are right about McCain, but what they would offer in his place and what they have defended in the past throw into doubt their ability to discern conservative principle and their willingness to confront deception when it is politically disadvantageous for them.      

So Giuliani dubbed the GOP the “party of Bush” on the night that McCain won out over Romney 36-31 and the day before Giuliani endorses McCain.  That is unfortunately fitting, as it is only the “party of Bush” that could have ever briefly vaulted someone like Giuliani into major contention or propelled McCain to his frontrunner position (for a second time), since the presence of these two in national roles is almost unthinkable without Mr. Bush, the Iraq war and the ruinous transformation Mr. Bush has wrought in the party.  Why the most plausible anti-McCain candidates have fared poorly is part of my next column, so I will hold off on that point, but I can make this observation: two-thirds of Florida primary voters opted for the candidates deemed unacceptable to one or more factions of the party, while the alleged “full-spectrum conservative” could scarcely cobble together 30% of the vote.  Once again, in a real contest Romney fell short and has shown his limitations as a campaigner.  The party of Bush has discovered its true heir, who represents clear continuity with Mr. Bush on the major policies (and major blunders) of his administration.  Whether he did so consciously or not, Thompson delivered the killing blow to the efforts to stop McCain.  His last-ditch anti-Huckabee salvo cleared the way for McCain, and the way is now clear for him all the way to Minneapolis.  The disastrous “new fusionism” has taken hold of the party and will in all likelihood drag it down to defeat.       

P.S.  It is true that the exit polls show that McCain’s strongest support comes from anti-Bush voters.  Once again, he did best among those who were dissatisfied and angry with the administration.  This represents a deep confusion and sickness in the Republican Party, when even most of the people who are alienated by Mr. Bush seem to have no idea that they have just rallied around someone who give them a more intensified, less sane version of Bushism.

Giuliani must be dropping out.  He just included Ron Paul in the list of other candidates he respects.

It’s still a bit early, so the Republican result is not certain, but if Romney should lose it will reinforce the impression that, having tried to buy his way to a victory through massive ad buys (3x McCain’s advertising), he could not persuade most voters to bring themselves to vote for the man even though they probably saw his ads more often than almost anyone else’s in the last week.  There will be a temptation in the pro-Romney conservative media to blame Huckabee for a Romney loss, because he seems to have pulled away many of the same kinds of voters that backed Romney, but Giuliani’s role in siphoning off likely McCain voters will have to be kept in mind.  Huckabee’s result will hurt him, but he has a future at least through next week.  Giuliani has little reason to continue.  Certainly, Giuliani can help the establishment and keep holding down McCain’s vote by pulling away supporters, but so long as Huckabee ties up a sizeable part of the conservative vote it won’t do Romney any good.  Nothing compels Romney to withdraw, but he has few likely prospects for success next week if he loses tonight.

Ross responds to Yglesias:

But as an analysis of what’s actually going through the minds of those same sophisticated conservatives as they say nice things about Obama now - and especially of what’s going through the mind of David Brooks - this imputation of machiavellian bad faith seems like the purest nonsense.

I don’t know who is supposed to be counted among the “sophisticated conservatives” in question, but assuming we are talking about all the conservatives, including Brooks, who have been heaping praise on Obama in the last six months I have to agree with Ross.  The typical Obama-praise is paired with an immediate statement of Obama-fear: “Obama is a wonderful proponent of liberalism, and I would much rather live in an America with Obama liberals, but he is so wonderful that he may destroy the right for a generation.”  This is a bit exaggerated, but this is basically the refrain one hears.  Granted, this response to Obama sounds like a parody because it is so excessive and slightly detached from reality, and so naturally inspires a cynical response from those on the left who are not nearly as smitten with Obama’s supposed potential for landslide victory and realignment.  “What’s their game?  They must think Obama is an easy target–nothing else explains this overflowing panegyric!”  Some of the Obama-praise is getting pretty embarrassing, and if his admirers are right they are actually enabling the landslide victory they fear by providing all of these very friendly quotes that his staff can dig up and put in campaign commercials.  “Even so-and-so of The National Review thinks Obama is just swell, so you have nothing to worry about.” 

Obama undoubtedly generates a lot of enthusiasm, especially among the young and the unthinking, but what is striking is how little enthusiasm he generates among bloggers, pundits and activists on the left.  For example, Kos can barely bring himself to vote for him, and emphasises that he will not be “supporting” him actively.  If Obama were the Democrats’ Reagan and the leading progressive candidate in the race, this would almost be equivalent to the editor of Human Events grudgingly saying that he would support Reagan if he really had to do it.  Therein lies an important clue: Obama is neither the progressive movement leader nor the realignment-making, revolutionary political figure of conservatives’ nightmares.  This is not someone who toiled in the trenches for past progressive candidates at the national level for more than a decade, nor is it someone who built up a large, loyal following and then launched a national campaign.  Instead, he has descended as if from on high, translating airy speeches and media frenzy into political capital to manufacture an Obama movement, which is coming into existence alongside and not out of the progressive institutions that have been developing in recent years.  Where Reagan rose in collaboration with the conservative movement, Obama has created his own that represents a competitor of sorts with the new progressive institutions, and his style of politics represents a departure from the more pugnacious, unapologetic and polemical progressivism of the netroots, which is probably a large part of why he was received somewhat more coolly than Edwards in the beginning and continues to receive criticism for being too accommodating and conciliatory.  In other words, the very things that make conservative observers think Obama has the potential to realign American politics in a pro-progressive way are the things that make the professional progressive bloggers and activists embarrassed and annoyed.  This is not the making of a realignment. 

But it is unmistakable that there are many on the right who seem certain that an Obama nomination spells doom for them, yet they seem willing to welcome that doom because Obama makes them feel good, whether it is feeling good about themselves or about America or about something else all together.  Nothing could better capture the confusion and disarray of the American right than this emergence of a conservative Obama admiration society. 

Wait a minute.  Why is Obama giving his own response to the SOTU?  Didn’t Sebelius already say everything for him?  He sounds surprisingly combative and not very “post-partisan.”  Obama pushes back on the rhetoric about the “surge,” insisting on holding the administration accountable for its claims that progress on the Iraqi political track was the purpose of the “surge.”  On this he is entirely right–it is the only thing he is right about–but he doesn’t talk about this nearly often enough.  The “politics of fear” also make a guest appearance.  He rehashes many of the points from his South Carolina victory speech.

And isn’t that a fitting end for the Bush Administration: resurrecting the best of the Bob Dole 1996 campaign… ~Andrei Cherny

It is all the more fitting when you consider that McCain is on the verge of launching the Bob Dole Mk II down in Florida, and represents mind-numbing continuity with the administration on a host of major policies. 

A final thought on the now-preposterous notion that anyone would select Kathleen Sebelius as a running mate: if Obama chose the female governor of Kansas, wouldn’t that be over-egging the Obama symbolic biography pudding just a bit? 

The shameless insertion of the Kennedy line on the day of Ted Kennedy’s endorsement of Obama is the epitome of a partisan argument: we are the New American Majority, we are the New Frontier.

P.S. Did she just wish the President a good night’s sleep?  That was weird.

Update: Word is that Sebelius is endorsing Obama tomorrow, which may help him a bit in Kansas next week.  For his sake, I hope that she delivers a better endorsement speech than she did a SOTU response.

“Caring for our children…is what grow-ups do.”  Apparently, grown-ups do this by passing federal subsidies.  This speech is a guarantee that no one will confuse Gov. Sebelius with a potential vice presidential pick ever again.

“Each of you is, above all, an American.”  I was wrong.  Sebelius is going to rehash Obama’s stump speech.  She’s right about the eye-rolling line.  The eyes are still rolling.

It’s like this, James: if you push for more neoliberal policies in Latin America, that will magically reduce the popularity of the “false populism” that has flourished on account of the backlash against the last round of neoliberal policies pushed by Washington, whereas if you don’t support those policies “false populism” will run wild.  That’s clear, isn’t it?

My assumption is that this response is going to be much more low-key than Jim Webb’s “I’ll show you where you can put your agenda” speech, especially since Sebelius is reportedly going to declare as an Obaman.  Her state holds a caucus next week, and it seems unlikely that she’s going to craft the response in a way that aids one candidate or another.  I expect a fairly unremarkable, ho-hum response. 

So far, he has vowed almost as many vetoes (2) as he has actually issued (3) in his entire Presidency.

The emerging theme seems to be “trust.”  Bush makes for a rather odd messenger for this kind of “restore people’s trust in the government” message, wouldn’t you say?

Rod says of Obama:

A conservative’s dilemma: Is the pleasure one takes in watching the vaderish Clintons vanquished by Barack Skywalker worth the increasing possibility that not only will Obama win this fall, but he will transform the political landscape such that the GOP turns into what the Tories were under the Blair government?

There is a solution to this dilemma, which seems to be confronting more and more people, and it is simply this: stop cheering on Obama.  I drank a toast to him on caucus night, because it was satisfying to see those people humbled, but if you believe (I think incorrectly) that Obama represents a dire threat to your views and interests, stop giving him a pass.  Of course, if the Clintons are “vaderish,” that means that Bill Clinton fills the role of Obama’s father, which is a disturbing thought. 

Suppose that Obama admirers on the right are correct that he could be for the Democrats what Reagan was for Republicans.  Leave aside that only two post-war Democratic nominees have ever won over 50% of the vote in a national election (and Carter only barely achieved this under pretty unusual circumstances), and that a “liberal Reagan” would need to win by a margin of approximately nine points to get close to replicating the ‘80 result. (That requires Obama to repeat Clinton’s ‘96 re-election result and the Republicans will have to make a similarly, well, doleful effort.)  Forget for a moment that Obama has less experience in elective office than any major contender for the Presidency in at least a century and a half, or that his ADA is 95.  If that is right, and they can foresee the danger to their ideas and politics, why take the chance?  In a strange way, Republicans and conservatives have become so dead-set in their opposition to the Clintons that they would, by their own admission, embrace political and electoral doom rather than give them another chance at power.   

They take this view despite the fact that the Clinton administration was, relative to the current horror-show, more conservative in most of its effects and ultimately worked to the advantage of the GOP (an advantage they have shamelessly squandered).  The right reason to cheer on Obama is if you think he is the weaker of the two and the one likely to deliver the Democrats to unexpected defeat, while giving the GOP an entirely undeserved victory.  I am also not enthusiastic about going this route, since a failure to hold the GOP accountable in a presidential election will mean that they will ignore the ‘06 elections as a fluke and will change little or nothing from the failed policies of the current administration.  If the Democrats nominate Obama, they let the GOP leadership off the hook.  Besides, what better way to drive home the error of their ways than to make it clear that the wages of Bushism are Bill and Hillary Clinton returned to power?   

What still puzzles me about the Obama-fear is how it can be driven by Obama’s delivery of speeches that are mostly about nothing.

Between Ryan Sager and Giuliani, that is.  In his analysis, Sager has missed the crucial point: there was never any reason to have a Giuliani candidacy when McCain provided a viable alternative for the “moderate GOP electorate.”  Because McCain was already occupying his space in the race, and because the one thing that nearly destroyed McCain’s campaign was the immigration debate last summer, Giuliani needed to win McCain supporters without appearing to be pro-amnesty (even though he has been, in fact, to the left of McCain on immigration all along).  Hence Giuliani’s laughable attempts to run to the right of Romney on immigration. 

Sager writes:

But faced with deficits to make up on abortion and past support for gay rights, Giuliani pursued a strategy that systematically dismantled everything that once made his candidacy appealing to his core supporters. 

Yet the very things that Sager finds so distasteful are the things that made him remotely viable: playing the tough authoritarian leader who will “get things done,” restore order and protect you from the villains of the world.  Without that, he had no possible claim to the support of a majority of Republicans in a nominating contest.  Of course Sager thinks Giuliani pursued the wrong message.  But then he doesn’t think that Giuliani’s liberalism on social issues matters and doesn’t really see it as a deficit, he thinks the one issue where the GOP has an advantage (immigration) is one of its greatest liabilities, and he continues to operate under the strange assumption that “the Christian Right” runs the Republican Party, which ought to make you doubt the value of his analysis.  Giuliani’s mistake was not that he tried to appeal to the majority of Republican primary voters, but that he ran for President at all, especially when McCain was already in the race and was likely to attract likely “moderate” Giuliani voters anyway. 

Finally, if Giuliani’s “the Arabs are out to get you” ad sickened him, he must not have been paying much attention to Giuliani’s view of the rest of the world before that ad aired.  His entire campaign has always been centered around such fearmongering.  The only reason he was still a national political figure was that he had played on the reaction to 9/11 and the urge to lash out at anyone that followed; his would have been a more successful candidacy in 2004, when much of the country was still much more in that frame of mind.  Sager was too busy painting Giuliani as some kind of “libertarian” to notice.

I will second Will Wilkinson up to a point when he complains about this pro-McCain article, since I am probably just as appalled for different reasons by “National Greatness Conservatism” and its cousins as he is.  The misspelling of Friedman’s name in the article (and the fact that no editor there managed to catch it before it was published) is indicative of a general inattention to what libertarians say, and the purpose of libertarians in this article is obviously to serve as a foil for the supposed prudence and virtue of John McCain.  It is particularly unfortunate that someone from the Committee on Social Thought would seem not be familiar with the most famous economist ever to work here at the University, but in defense of the Committee I have to add that it is, by its nature, an eclectic and wide-ranging program that could not be reduced to the “big fire and antlers on the wall” approach to life that Wilkinson imputes to it.  Plus, it was once home to Hayek, so that must count for something.  Most libertarians (and Mr. Wilkinson in particular) would probably say that I don’t pay enough attention to what they say, either, but even I would argue that the description of libertarianism here is rather crude.  Of course, it is intended to be.  If you can make a candidate into a Man of Virtue who resists pernicious ideology, his reputation will increase and his opponents will be demonised as fanatics.  It helps, though, if the effort isn’t completely transparent and entirely unpersuasive.  

The Wall Street reference reveals something else important about the real source of hostility to McCain in the Republican Party: McCain’s worst enemies are not adherents to “strict free-market ideology,” because his worst sins, according to the indictments columns you read these days, are departures from adhering to the demands of corporate interests, which need not have anything to do with the free market, much less “strict free-market ideology.”  (That doesn’t mean that he isn’t, in general, on board with corporate interests with respect to trade, etc., but he is being criticised in these cases not because he questions the Market, but because he threatens to raise costs for multinationals.)  Republicans and mainstream conservatives these days certainly do not actually espouse a “strict free-market ideology,” yet it is they, not primarily the folks at Reason or elsewhere in the Beltway libertarian set, who wish to be rid of McCain more than anyone.  The libertarians are dragged in to serve as the right-wing version of the “dirty hippies” who threaten to thwart the glorious onward progress of the state.  (If the way many Beltway libertarians have run away fron Ron Paul in recent weeks is any indication, it should be clear that the “national greatness” types have nothing to fear from them on this score.)  This Weekly Standard article reminds me of nothing so much as Michael Kinsley’s op-ed, in which he claimed to be talking about Ron Paul and modern libertarianism, but never actually engaged any arguments of living, breathing libertarians (or Ron Paul supporters of any kind for that matter).  The difference is that this article was openly pushing for McCain, while Kinsley was just wasting our time.

As for the objection that “liberal individualism” is more functional than the cluttered and garish “National Greatness Conservatism,” I also have a hard time disagreeing in this particular case.  Though he would probably not agree, what Wilkinson objects to here is something that I think any sane conservative who takes seriously ideas of virtue, honour, duty and sacrifice should also reject.  What Wilkinson is objecting to in this case is, in fact, the crass abuse of these things and the manipulation of their meaning in service to the state and to the constant drive for conflict.  Virtue would require not only andreia in a conflict, but also the wisdom and temperance to not start wars (McCain has never shown much of either on this count).  Virtue also calls for restraint and moderation, which you do not find in the unseemly eagerness to offer up young Americans to a “cause higher than themselves,” as McCain always puts it.  Sacrifice in defense of your friends, your family,  your neighbours, your plot of land is a worthy thing, but it has precisely nothing to do with what “National Greatness Conservatism” is calling for.  In lumping these worthy things in with what he calls a “quasi-fascist” impulse, Wilkinson does more to validate the Storeys’ criticism of libertarians than they could ever have done in their own polemic.     

Compassionate conservatism was, in practice, nothing more than spin and a vague gesture at a higher-order justification for corruption. ~Matt Yglesias

Speaking as someone who viewed “compassionate conservatism” as something more than spin, I would note that from a conservative perspective the first term proposals of “compassionate conservatism,” whether NCLB or the “faith-based initiatives” or something else, were a form of corruption all their own–a corruption of schools on the one hand, and a corruption of churches and charities on the other.  But to divide the high Gersonian rhetoric from the corruption and policy disasters of the Bush years is a mistake that allows both to escape from real censure much too easily.  Gersonism facilitates corruption, because it breeds a sense of entitlement and a loss of restraint in how power and resources are used.  Gersonism almost has to lead to policy disasters, because its assessment of ends and means is horribly wrong.  Fundamental to the entire project is an unreflective optimism and self-confidence that says, “I know I’m trying to save the world (and I will save the world), and anyone who doesn’t appreciate that is a moral monster.”  The obvious danger with self-appointed revolutionary transformers of the world is that the only thing they see more clearly than the rightness of their own view is the depravity of their foes, which makes for the perfect recipe for fanaticism and abuse of power.

This is the trouble that both cynics and progressives have in trying to make sense of Bush.  People will assume that he is using “compassion” and “democracy” talk as cynical cover for something else or that he’s cloaking his allegedly deep right-wing commitments (ha!) beneath a lot of talk about government moving to assist hurting people.  What is difficult for Bush’s critics, myself included, to appreciate is just how obliviously sincere they are that they think they really are caring for people and helping people by laying waste to their countries, imposing absurd unfunded mandates on their schools, frittering money away on feel-good foreign aid projects that leads directly to more corruption abroad, etc.  They feel they are doing good, and so the consequences do not concern them, which is probably why they apparently give so little thought to consequences and the possibility that things will go awry.

Romney told the crowd of roughly 150 at the Jorge Mas Canosa youth center that he ‘’would never give money to Fidel Castro'’ — prompting a swell of cheers. ~The Miami Herald

Perhaps I haven’t been following Florida politics as closely as I thought I was–is there a live controversy about subsidies for Castro that has eluded my attention?  Now that Liz Cheney is advising him on foreign policy, perhaps he can also pledge that he will not fund Bashar Al-Assad.  Before Cuban-American voters get too swept up in these bold promises of not funding Castro (that’s some bold leadership for America, Mitt!), I would remind them that this is the same master of the pander who insisted that patria o muerte, vinceremos! was a wonderful, patriotic message that free Cubans should “reclaim” as their own.  Who let the dogs out, indeed. 

Watch out, Romney supporters: Liz Cheney, fresh from badly advising Fred Thompson on foreign affairs, is backing your candidate.  It’s only a matter of time before the cold, creeping touch of Matalin follows and brings political doom with it.  In the endorsement race, McCain has picked up nods from two popular Floridian politicians who endorsed him out of annoyance with Romney’s sleeve-tugging, and Romney has the support of…Liz Cheney.  Those who have proposed that Romney represents some meaningful break with the Bush administration in foreign affairs might want to reconsider that view.

According to American Spectator’s Prowler, Romney’s over-eager approach to courting endorsements in Florida backfired spectacularly on him:

In the past week both Florida Sen. Mel Martinez and Gov. Charlie Crist wavered on their promised endorsements for Sen. John McCain, before finally having their fill of the heavy-handed arm-twisting of the Mitt Romney campaign.

“It finally got to the point for both of them that they just got fed up with the constant harassment,” says a source close to both men who has worked for them as a political consultant. “They weren’t going to endorse Romney and under the right circumstances, one or both of them might have chosen to sit the primary out, but the Romney people just made it intolerable.” 

Note: Sorry for the interruption Sunday night.  Whatever server problems there were seem to have been resolved. 

Since, unlike the present, tomorrow is always imaginary, such idolatry can be manipulated in many ways.  On the one hand, of course, the Stalins of the world can demand the death of millions in the name of a future paradise.  This is an especial concern of Camus, who complains of those who “glorify a future state of happiness, about which no one knows anything, so that the future authorizes every kind of humbug.”…

Given the ironic character of history, we should, at the very least, make sure that our actions have some value in the present.  The future that we imagine is unlikely to come about, if it does come about it will not last, and when it does come about we will probably despise it. ~Prof. Joshua Foa Dienstag, Pessimism


This election is about the past vs. the future. ~Barack Obama


I saw the Obama victory speech live on C-SPAN online, and I admit that it was an impressive rhetorical display.  It was all the more impressive because he managed to amaze his listeners and yet he didn’t say very much at all.  He kept saying things like, “We’re looking to fundamentally change the status quo in Washington.”  This is a line that gets cheers, and sets up a nice opposition between Obama the unifying insurgent and the divisive, nasty status quo.  He pushed his campaign themes effectively, and he got in some clever digs at the Clintons.  That is what victory speeches are for, and he gave a good victory speech.  There is still something hubristic about the idea that his campaign marks the chance to end the old politics “once and for all.”  It is curious to me that Obama’s us vs. them rhetoric, while he defines himself as a candidate dedicated to unity, does not receive the same scorn for being like a “conspiracy theory” that Edwards’ similar rhetoric routinely receives.  The one solid, substantive line in the speech is his implicit pledge to end the Iraq war.  The rest of it is quite vague.  If that is what is scaring Republicans these days, they are in worse shape than I thought. 

Here’s a Giuliani ad that seems more like a parody of a Giuliani ad (don’t they all?), as if there were a movie trailer about Giuliani’s campaign: “In a world full of danger, only Rudy Giuliani knows what to do!”  I kept recalling National Treasure previews for some reason.

Well, Obama surpassed the pretty high standard that I was setting.  I said that he needed to win convincingly with Romney-in-Nevada-like numbers, and he did.  Even taking the large black electorate into account, winning by 28 points in a three-way race is a convincing victory.  Obviously, the significance for the Democratic race is great, especially for his potential in Illinois, California, New York, New Jersey and states across the South, and Obama deserves credit for his impressive win.  Still, let’s keep some perspective.  There’s no need to be overcome by Obama-fear just yet. 

This result does not necessarily mean that he will be able to compete effectively in a national race, much less does it mean that he can “put Southern states into play.”  Some points: he finished third among non-black Democrats (23%), and he likewise finished a closer third among non-black non-Democrats (27%).  He received a similar level of support from white men (27%), and was weaker with white women (22%).  An Obama-led ticket would probably not ”put Southern states into play,” but would rather take them out of play.  It would not necessarily be race that does this, but instead a combination of his left-liberal record and his “politics from above” that will simultaneously drive away moderate voters and downscale voters.              

If the current numbers hold up, Obama will have won 55-27 over Clinton.  If both Clintons are going to run against him as they have been doing, it is oddly fitting that he get two votes for each one of hers.

P.S.  He seems to have exceeded all expectations tonight, and won by 12 points more than his best poll results before the vote and outperformed the RCP average of his South Carolina position by 17 points.

Related to the infrastructure post below, I was watching Huckabee talk about delays in commuting and travel on roads and at airports on C-SPAN, and he had this one brilliant line that we should work to have “time to be Americans again.”  He was referring specifically to the lost time and wasted social capital (he actually used the phrase “social capital”) that people are losing in commuting and travel.  That line is perfect for a slogan–it states Huckabee’s message succinctly while still actually meaning something.  If there are any Huckabee people out there reading this, you should latch on to this phrase and work it into Huckabee’s speeches as often as possible.

McCain snags one of the most-coveted endorsements in Florida, and probably one of the few endorsements in the state that may move votes to a candidate.

According to exit polls, Obama has trounced Clinton by a very impressive margin.  He received about a quarter of the white vote, and won four out of every five black votes.  He won almost every age group, and he did win every education and income group.  Obama has a good chance of winning this by at least 20 25 points.   

The polls are closing in South Carolina in about twenty minutes, so we’ll begin to see just how large a margin of victory Obama has racked up.  There has been talk of a possible Edwards surge into second, which I suppose might keep him slightly viable for another week.  More important will be the effect of an Edwards second-place finish on Clinton, who has clearly written off S.C., but probably wouldn’t be expecting to lose to Edwards.  Failing that, the margin of victory will be important for Obama, since there is already an expectation that he is going to carry an overwhelming percentage of the black vote, so he will need a gaudy Romney-in-Nevada-like result to put to rest the concern that he is becoming the 2008 Jesse Jackson in terms of his base of support.  Like Romney with the large Mormon turnout, Obama needs to be able to show that he would have been competitive had he carried a much smaller percentage of the black vote.  If not, he becomes the Democratic equivalent of Huckabee in one sense only: he starts to be seen as the candidate of one constituency.  Just as Huckabee’s Iowa victory has been discounted because of the large number of evangelicals who participated, Obama’s South Carolina victory, as many other observers have already said this week, will win him a good number of delegates but give him only a very small boost.

I was reading this Andrew Ferguson article on Fred Thompson’s campaign, and it occurred to me that Thompson suffered from a deficiency of the thing that Obama has in excess, and this excess will eventually bring down the latter as surely as the deficiency has the former.  Thompson and Obama do not have exactly the same problem, obviously, but their problems are related.  Thompson was the candidate who hated process and did not like to be constrained by the rules of the process in this cycle.  It was a telling moment for Thompson that one of his best moments in the entire campaign was his refusal to raise his hand in a debate, the perfect example of a rebellion against a genuinely stupid part of the process that nonetheless reflected a deeper antipathy to the role of the media in campaigns.  Huckabee and McCain, by contrast, are virtually always available to journalists and talk shows (how many times has Huckabee been on Scarborough’s show? at least 32 times), while the loathing for the ultra-scripted Romney among many journalists is palpable.  Accessibility and personaibility lead to more and more positive coverage.   

On the other side, Obama is obsessed with process and with transforming process.  To that end, Obama subjects himself to the rigours of campaigning more readily than Thompson was ever willing to do (it helps that he is also twenty years younger), but also gives the impression that he finds much of it as distasteful as Thompson does.  (In fairness, I think any reasonably well-adjusted, intelligent human being would have to have distaste for what these people are called upon to do–put it down as another mark against mass democracy.)  It is in his desire to “change” the process and “change” politics in the capital that Obama wins the endless positive coverage from the press, while he feeds their cynical hearts with the ambrosia of his ”uplifting” rhetoric.  Thompson was hoping to change the electoral process by ignoring the rules, while Obama wants transformation of politics as such by going along with them, albeit somewhat reluctantly.  The chant that has now become an inescapable part of the Obama campaign, “Fired up! Ready to go!” was, as many of you will already know, the product of Obama’s own listlessness one early morning on the campaign trail when his supporters had to spur him on. 

Michael Crowley described the scene last fall:

Tired and cranky, he steps out into a downpour, and his umbrella blows inside out. On the interminable drive, “my staff’s not talking to me because they know I’m in a bad mood.” Obama arrives at a small building to find a mere 20 supporters. “And they don’t look too happy to be there, either.” The mood shifts, however, when an elderly woman in the back strikes up a call-and-response cheer. “Fire it up!” she shouts. “Ready to go!” answers the group. Obama describes being baffled at first. But then, he says, “I’m startin’ to feel fired up! I’m feeling ready to go!” At big rallies, the recitation of the anecdote culminates with Obama himself leading a spirited call and response with his crowd. “Fire it up!” “Ready to go!” “Fire it up!” “Ready to go!”

It’s an uplifting story. But it’s also, notably, one about a cranky candidate who needs firing up in the first place.    

Both candidacies emerged in a similar way, as the result of glowing media coverage and an initially enthusiastic response to the personality of the candidate, but their fortunes diverged sharply as Thompson embraced a largely adversarial relationship with all media, both mainstream and conservative, and Obama cultivated his media image and his campaign remained fairly open to journalists.  Both are celebrity candidates, but an important difference in their fortunes is that Thompson made the mistake of shunning the trappings of being a celebrity and sought instead to become the Serious Policy Candidate.  The policies he proposed were often quite good by conservative standards, but evidently he thought that he had been drafted into the race because he was smart and informed, and not because he had a deep baritone and made jokes about sending Michael Moore to mental asylum.  Obama, meanwhile, has done best when he keeps substance to a minimum and can talk about being a hopemonger.  The hopemonger who nourishes the media with high-flown, empty talk naturally fares much better than the candidate who takes a certain pride in his contempt for mass media (a notable if not entirely surprising attitude for an actor to take).  In the end, however, even the hopemonger must provide more than fluff and soaring phrases.  When he has tried to provide this, as he has done in the debates, the “magic” of his speeches is gone and he reverts to the one-term Senator with slightly uneven delivery, a lack of discipline in fending off attacks and too little, well, “fire in the belly” for throwing punches at his rivals.

Most of the candidates ignored Wyoming and focused on the New Hampshire primary, except Rudy Giuliani, who’s following a shrewd strategy, originally developed by the Miami Dolphins, of not entering the race until he has been mathematically eliminated. ~Dave Barry

This latest Tennessee poll was timed just perfectly to be almost completely useless for the Republican race, as it included Fred Thompson in the polling and was then released on the day he dropped out.  The interesting thing about it was that Thompson was just barely ahead of Huckabee in his home state, 25-24, and the competition was very weak with McCain at 12, Romney at 7 and Giuliani and Paul at 2 apiece.  (26% said they still didn’t know, but I have to say that it doesn’t look good for the single-digit candidates.)  Assuming the Thompson vote splits more or less evenly three ways, or even possibly goes more to McCain and Huckabee, Huckabee’s position in Tennessee appears to be much better than his current standing in Alabama and Missouri, where he is only tied for first.  The main post-Florida question seems to be: will Super Tuesday be entirely a McCain blowout or will Huckabee manage to steal a few states to keep things interesting?  Romney trails badly in non-Mass. Northeastern states, he trails in Illinois, and McCain understandably leads him in California and Arizona.  I don’t see where Romney breaks out in the space of a week. 

What can our men in Tennessee tell us about what’s going on down there? 

While immigration hurts black and white low-wage workers, the authors note, the effect is three times as large on blacks because immigrants are more likely to compete directly with them for jobs. ~Steve Malanga, City Journal

TAC had an article that was related to this same topic in its 12/19/05 issue, and, of course, Chronicles has been emphasising the effects of mass immigration on American labour for decades.

Looking at it in terms of the election, this issue was the reason why Tancredo was the lone Republican at the NAACP gathering last year.  It’s also notable that the only candidates who mentioned the Newark killings mentioned in Malanga’s article were Republicans.  The strong opposition between the two groups is also one of the causes of the resistance to Obama’s candidacy among Hispanic voters, even though he has adopted the same pro-immigration line that every other black Democratic politician takes.

The strange whisper at Thursday night’s debate when Romney was being asked about Social Security continues to puzzle all of us who bother to worry about strange whispers at presidential primary debates.  The easy shot would be to say that Romney needs constant reminders of what his positions are and are not, since he has changed so many of them.  My more cynical guess is that there was some malfunction of whatever device was being used to feed Romney his answers or to clue him in to how he should respond to Russert’s “gotcha” question.  That would give new meaning to the “empty suit” criticism, if he needs to be prompted on his debate answers by campaign staff.  There seems to have been a second incident of this that many have missed. 

Ross says:

I know conservatives weren’t great admirers of Bill Clinton’s AG choices either, but the prospect of Attorney General John Edwards is exactly the sort of thing that ought to make right-wing Obamaphiles think twice.

One would hope that “right-wing Obamaphiles” would do a lot more than that, but I think we should put this Edwards-as-AG talk in perspective.  This is the sort of thing Obama’s campaign would have to say to bolster its support among union members as well as among downscale Democratic voters who have tended to vote for Clinton in larger numbers.  Whether or not this represents the beginnings of an Obama-Edwards pact, it reveals the present limitations of Obama’s appeal.  That Obama and his campaign feel compelled to start spreading information of this kind is a sign of Obama’s electoral weakness within the Democratic Party, to say nothing of his electoral liabilities with the broader electorate, so we would all be getting ahead of ourselves if we are worrying about Obama’s supposed Reagan-like potential and the damage that could be done by his first Cabinet appointments.  As I’ve noted before, conservative fear of Obama’s candidacy, much less his Presidency, seems to be driven by false assumptions

As implausible as it seems to me, let’s speculate on Obama’s chances.  If 2008 really is an election that will focus on competence, is that an election Obama can win?  It is doubtful.  Behind the gauzy talk of hope, Obama is actually quite ideological.  After two terms of a highly ideological administration, will a majority support someone almost as ideological as the current President?  Even if Obama somehow won because of the deep unpopularity of the other party, he would find himself in the odd position of having constantly to prove himself to progressives who think that he is all together too accommodating while not allowing himself to be isolated and portrayed as a “radical.”  Any early overreaching could leave him hobbled after the first midterm elections, and if there is one thing that proponents of grandiose visions of “change” are most susceptible to it is going too far too quickly.  In one sense, he would be like Reagan, in that he has declared himself an enemy of the status quo–and not just the Bushian status quo–and would find Washington to be very hostile.   

When the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis went crashing into the Mississippi River, everyone was suddenly paying a great deal of attention to our old, overburdened infrastructure, which is still, as it was last summer when this happened, old and overburdened.  Now, as it turned out, that particular collapse did not result from a lack of maintenance but from a structural flaw, but this hardly makes the overburdening of the rest of our highways and bridges any less real.  When Huckabee talked about doubling I-95 along its entire length, a frequent reaction on debate night was to laugh or make cracks about Huckabee’s Keynesian economics, but there were some who saw something of value there.  One of the common themes that can be found among a number of different advocates for a genuinely middle-class-oriented conservatism is a recognition of the incredible amount of time and energy put into commuting, as well as the huge opportunity cost of this commuting. 

Though all of the advocates in question might not agree with this entirely, mass commuting over long distances is a function of the unsettled and highly dependent nature of American life that creates the vast spaces between home and work and obliges people to rely increasingly on automobiles to go anywhere or do anything.  While the “whirlwind of creative destruction” makes mobility from city to city commonplace, sprawl daily compels frequent long-distance mobility.  In such an arrangement, people are settled neither in place nor really even in state of mind.    

The trouble with Huckabee’s proposal is that it seems to be a kind of ad hoc alternative to even more dubious “stimulus” packages on offer and does seem to reflect the logic of government work programs, but it also shows him as someone who appears to understand the strains commuting–and the traffic jams those commutes create–puts on families, on energy resources and on the environment, to say nothing of the additional transportation costs that are passed on to consumers.  Ross spoke about addressing the length of commutes in his bloggingheads appearance with Ruy Texeira here.  The larger problem with Huckabee’s proposal is that it is really almost nothing more than a Band-Aid, the sort of temporary fix to structural problems of our (sub)urban life and zoning regulations, and it is ultimately no different from paving over more rural and suburban landscape to provide larger roads for ever-growing settlements, except that this proposes to do the same on a semi-national scale.  As people live farther and farther away from their places of work, highway expansions are either going to become increasingly necessary to accommodate the increasing numbers of cars driving ever-longer routes or the divisions among residential, commercial and industrial zones will have to be reduced or eliminated.  Ideally, the less dependent on the highway system communities could become the better, and the less need for mass commuting the better.  Until then, highway expansions are probably the best make-shift solution. 

The objection to Huckabee’s I-95 proposal reminds me a lot of the complaints against Huckabee’s fiscal record in Arkansas.  Some significant part of the tax hikes for which he is now being demonised went to rebuilding Arkansas’ main highways.  This is what the Huckabee campaign says, but it also happens to be true.  Anyone who drove through Arkansas on I-40 during the very beginning of his tenure and then drove on it a few years later (as I did for four years going to and from college four times a year) knows how much Arkansas’ main highways improved in just a few years.  While I can think of some traditional arguments against internal improvements that would make highway spending undesirable, I don’t believe for a second that most of Huckabee’s critics think that highway maintenance is not an acceptable function of government.  Infrastructure is costly to build and maintain, and it is reasonable that it is a public expenditure that pays for it, since these roads serve a public purpose and, at least in theory, benefit the entire commonwealth. 

James asks in response to this Romney post:

But what if Mr. Global Capital is also Mr. Nationalist Bailout?

As the man has already told us, he doesn’t believe in bailouts–he believes in “workouts”!  And here you were thinking that Huckabee was the only fitness nut in this race.

Rasmussen has new polls from Missouri and Alabama, showing statistical ties between Huckabee and McCain with Romney about ten points behind in both states.  Not surprisingly, Giuliani is not a factor in these states.  Together with the strong lead Huckabee seems to have in Georgia, it seems unlikely that Romney is going get much traction at all anywhere in the South. 

What happened in 2006, what were the two big factors? George Bush and Iraq. Iraq’s going better, and George Bush isn’t on the ticket. ~Sen. John Ensign

Ensign heads the NRSC, which means that he is supposed to be one of the main Republican strategists for the upcoming elections.  He seems entirely too confident that the war won’t be a significant net negative for the Republicans this year, but at least he understands it was a large part of what harmed them in ‘06.  This is one of the relatively few times I have heard a leading Republican figure acknowledge that Iraq was a major factor in the defeat in 2006 in the last year.  However, it appears that Ensign hasn’t really absorbed what this means:

It [Iraq] just becomes more of a non-issue [bold mine-DL], I think is what it does. You see it keeps dropping farther and farther down on people’s radars, they may be opposed to the war but it’s not as important. But national security is still important to people, and who can handle national security.

The latest Pew survey shows that 27% say that Iraq is the “most important problem facing the nation”–this view is most frequent among Democrats, but 25% of independents (and 21% of Republicans) say the same.  The economy does take first place, and the GOP is not faring well in public opinion there, either.  Even if you say that Iraq is only the second-most important issue, that is almost as far from a “non-issue” as it gets.  It’s hard not to conclude that Republican leaders remain as oblivious to the majority’s view of the war as they have ever been in the last two years.

Ensign is probably right when he says:

This election is going to be about independent voters. You know, our base is fine, their base is fine. It’s going to be about independents. Who attracts independents on issues, whether it’s the economy, whether it’s health care, whether it’s education, those kinds of issues that are core issues anymore, I think whichever candidates communicate the best, who has the best solutions.

If that’s right (and he may again be too optimistic about Republican voters), the GOP is pretty well sunk.  Independents have been trending towards the Democrats for the last year and show no signs of coming back anytime soon.

Then there was this bit about the New Mexico race:

He’s an ultra-liberal Udall. Udalls are pretty left-wing, but you know it’ll be a good contrast down there, but you know, it’s certainly a swing state, a tougher state, kind of a purple state.

They have a little advantage because we have a primary and they don’t. At the same time, that doesn’t mean you can’t win. We saw that in Virginia. Virginia had a primary, George Allen didn’t. He lost. So it still depends on who runs the good races.

So the NM GOP is in good shape, provided that Tom Udall runs the worst Senate campaign in American history.  The Republicans are going to be tearing each other down for the next four months, while Udall has every advantage.  Whichever one emerges to compete with him, he is going to win by a pretty sizeable margin.  Talk of “purple states” is misleading this year.  New Mexico is essentially a Democratic state that occasionally votes for Republican executives on state and federal levels for a change of pace.  New Mexico is quite uncanny in matching the results of presidential races and the national mood, and I don’t see a lot of New Mexicans voting for the Republican candidates this year.

Meanwhile, someone check Ensign’s office for hallucinogens:

I think we can actually sneak back into the majority on our best case scenario. I think we could get to 51. I think worst case scenario — 45, 46. That would be a real bad night, if we have a real bad night, we’re 45. A good night for us staying 48, 49, that’s a real good night. A great night is 51.

James writes on Romney’s re-creation of himself, which may actually be who Romney would remain if he stopped trying to be all things to whichever group he is addressing at the moment, and he sees something worthwhile:

I can handle that, because, finally, I think Romney would make a much better President than candidate. When he runs — and when he’s run — in the mode he was in tonight, he does great. When he runs as he did during the late Iowa-early NH phase, he’s a magnet for calumny, mockery, and contempt. Such a wild swing is rather alarming to see in a candidate, but let’s not forget this is a heavily contested and very confused primary campaign for the nomination of a party whose President seriously damaged its brand, tradition, trust, and track record. Romney’s great advantage from the beginning was as a sober, alert, sharp fellow capable of turning around a party that had lost its way. When trying to run for the base that still loves Bush just cuz, he’s a disaster, ineffective and unconvincing. But how could he avoid posturing in that way given the early dynamics of the primary season? Let’s all hope those days are over: neither Romney nor his party has any use for the contorted Mitt, and Republicans all have something to appreciate in what seems so obviously to be the Real Romney.

I understand James’ point, and he’s right that there is something more agreeable about a candidate who sticks to what he knows and stops pretending to be the authority on matters where he has no credibility.  On his “superpower” remark, I will add this: he did say “in the region,” which seems to me to be an even more bizarre  comment.  Superpowers are powers that can project power to different continents and regions of the world.  A regional power is just that–a regional power.  Superpowers can be and obviously are also regional powers, but they would additionally have to be powers that could meaningfully project power almost anywhere in the world beyond their own region.  Jihadis, despite their transnational character, do not possess that kind of power and, I suspect, never will. 

One thing that comes to mind about Romney’s new persona is this: has he stopped pretending in time for it to make a difference?  After all, just as Mr. Bush has trashed the Republican “brand,” Romney has harmed the value of his campaign’s brand with his issue acrobatics and chameleon-like shifts.  The value of a “brand” is significantly tied to its reliability and stability.  Does Romney have enough time in the next week and a half to reassure voters in Florida and elsewhere that he will not resume his contortionist act when he starts campaigning in the rest of the country?  Probably not.  Like Thompson’s last-minute discovery of enthusiasm, Romney’s new persona comes too late to do him much good.

On the larger Republican dilemma: they seem to be headed towards a McCain nomination, assuming Romney cannot somehow eke out a victory in Florida, which means a general election candidate taking the unpopular (and also wrong) positions on two of the major policy questions of the day.  On one side, his nomination will depress conservative turnout somewhat, whether or not the establishment comes to terms with his candidacy, and on the other his fabled ability to attract independents will ultimately be undone by his position on the war.  The Republicans have waited too long to throw up the barricades to stop this and they wasted their energy on other targets, as I have noted before in my remarks on the anti-Huckabee campaign.  If they do succeed in stopping McCain, the alternative will be someone who personifies globalisation just as McCain personifies militarism, which will not, contrary to the developing conventional wisdom, be a boon for the GOP in a year in which a recession may well have been going for months by Election Day. 

At the risk of repeating myself, I will say that the party and movement leaders have trapped themselves in this bind by ruling out absolutely the idea of a Huckabee nomination and aiming so much of their criticism at him in the last six weeks.  Arguably, he is the one leading candidate who could poach on Democratic territory with rhetoric about economic anxiety while nonetheless pushing an agenda broadly favourable to economic conservatives, and the one who could also maintain the GOP line on the war while moving away rhetorically and to some extent substantively (at least apparently on Iran) from the administration on foreign policy.  Selecting Romney as the VP could have then united the party and possibly alleviate residual fears about his economic heterodoxies, both real and imagined, and given the Republicans a reasonably good chance to compete.  A Romney-led ticket wouldn’t generate enough turnout for a number of reasons and it could be easily put on the defensive in an election that turns on the economy.  Even if Romney somehow prevails against McCain, I don’t see how he becomes the President even with his original problem-solver persona. 

Via Sullivan, this Focus on the Family candidate guide is something to behold.  How far out do your views on the Iraq war have to be for you to believe that Mike Huckabee is somehow insufficiently supportive of it?  Responding to a statement that Huckabee made that “we broke it, we have to fix it,” one man on the candidate guide video declares in disbelief, “We didn’t break Iraq.   Saddam Hussein broke it!…To say that we broke it, we have to fix it, rings a bit hollow.”  This is crazy stuff.  No wonder Huckabee can’t gain any traction on foreign policy, even when he repeats the party line on the war, “Islamofascism” and takes a position on the Palestinians far more extreme than Likud’s.

The Romney video states, quite inaccurately, that Romney has acknowledged that Mormonism is “not a Christian faith.”  He has done no such thing, and every informed observer knows that he hasn’t.  Viewed one way, this is a transparently pro-Romney deception aimed at putting the religion question to the side.  Then again, considering the target audience, the Romney campaign could reasonably complain that Focus on the Family has injected anti-Mormonism into its campaign video in a direct attempt to undermine his candidacy.  Whatever the intent was, the effect of this video will be to remind the audience that Romney is not a Christian, which is probably exactly the opposite of what his campaign wants to see from such organisations.  Huckabee’s people are trying to spin this as an endorsement of Romney, but if it is it is one of the most poorly-worded endorsements ever.

In the latest bloggingheads between Rod and Reza Aslan, Aslan suggested that the “Republicans fear Obama” idea that I commented on before is actually a ploy to trick Democrats into backing the weaker candidate.  That might be true for a handful of people, but I think the Republicans genuinely fear a progressive Democrat whose public image has not pigeonholed him as the left-wing politician that he obviously is, because the key to Republican electoral strategy every four years is to label the Democratic nomine as being “too far to the left” and therefore unrepresentative.  I think there is an idea that Obama’s unity talk makes his progressivism seem non-threatening; the conciliatory approach he uses, which so annoys many hard-core progressives, sets his opponents at ease and, so I assume, Republicans fear that this then sets them up for a fall.  I think this is completely wrong, but Republican fear of Obama is unavoidably tied to Republican admiration for Obama; since I have no particular admiration for him, and I don’t put much credit in the “atmospherics” that he tries to generate, I don’t see him as a general election threat.  Indeed, in any other cycle where the Democrats do not possess so many inherent advantages, Obama would probably never have been able to reach this point.  It is actually rather bizarre to fear the less nationally competitive, more progressive candidate in the general election, while assuming that the “centrist,” albeit widely disliked, is the one who will be easy to defeat.  Likewise, it is bizarre for Democrats to fear the one candidate closely tied to the two policies that have so badly discredited the GOP with the country and with its own voters, but I think they do truly fear McCain, even though running against McCain would almost guarantee them victory.    

Despite this, Mandell Ganchrow, a former Orthodox Union president and longtime leader of a major pro-Israel political action committee, recently posted an item on his Web site suggesting Obama’s early exposure to Islam could make him a danger to Israel.

“In the Jewish religion when someone is far away from observance, however at a certain time he has a spark of Jewishness, we call it a ‘pintele Yid’ — a smattering, or a deep-seated unconscious attachment to one’s roots,” Ganchrow wrote. “With a Muslim father, and being surrounded in his early youth in a Muslim environment, is there such a thing as a ‘pintele Muslim,’ with deep-seated feelings which could color decisions re: terrorism and the Middle East?” ~The Jewish Week

Via Sullivan

This wouldn’t be quite so ludicrous if Obama had ever shown the slighest hint of disagreeing with most U.S. policies in the Near East and had ever gone beyond beyond standard left-liberal criticisms of the treatment of Palestinians.  Of course, except for Iraq (which a rather large number of non-Muslims who actually knew something about the Near East also opposed), he hasn’t.  I have argued before that this perception of an affinity for Muslims or attachment to the Islamic world would hurt him politically, and that it was crazy for him and his supporters to keep emphasising his foreign roots and attachments.  Whatever else you want to say about this, it really isn’t a vote-getter. 

I would like to use some of my personal history to explore just how ridiculous this line of criticism of Obama is.  First, as any long-time readers know, I am not a fan of Obama and I think he would make a terrible President.  The problem with his foreign policy views is not that they are too passive or “friendly” (or whatever counts as a grave sin in the eyes of such people) to Near Eastern and Islamic countries, but that he is essentially indistinguishable from the foreign policy consensus views of Washington, except when he overcompensates out of fear of looking “weak” by proposing sending American forces into Pakistan whether or not Islamabad agrees.  In other words, when he isn’t being merely conventional, he may be more dangerous than the people we have in power now.  This is not the result of his family background or upbringing, but a result of his inexperience and his misguided ideas about the U.S. role in the world that many of his colleagues share. 

As has been brought up elsewhere, for a very short time (about six months) I professed Islam (albeit pretty idiosyncratically–I doubt if my “conversion” would have ever been recognised as a proper one), mostly out of an attraction at the time to a somewhat coherent monotheism that was neither Jewish nor Christian, since I had been raised with no real religious education and had been conditioned by my multiculti private schools to an aversion to Christianity about whose teachings I knew relatively little and which I understood even less.  After a few years of syncretistic dabbling in various religious literatures, I came to Islam, mostly through the English translations of Rumi and the like, but rather like the dabbling before it this was not, on reflection, a serious conversion and it was one I could never enter into fully.  (Incidentally, anyone who would like to make more out of this than that is wasting his time.)  In a way slightly similar to Obama’s conversion to Christianity, I approached Orthodoxy at first intellectually that then became more firmly grounded in a practicing Orthodox parish.  So while I have no sympathy with Obama’s politics, I have found the persistent effort to label him falsely as a Muslim or crypto-Muslim, when he very definitely decided, as I did, to become a Christian (however liberal a denomination he may have joined), and the credulity of stupid voters to believe this falsehood, to be obnoxious.  There are dozens of reasons not to support Obama.  But the problem is not that he was raised for a few years in Indonesia with an Indonesian step-father or that his grandfather was a Muslim, but that he actually claims that living for a few years in Indonesia in his youth and having a Kenyan grandmother still living in a village in Kenya give him relevant foreign policy experience.  The problem is not where he grew up, but that he is substituting a kind of symbolic capital for expertise.   

As for the effect of my brief time as a self-described Muslim on my policy views, my attitude towards the world overseas had been poisoned much more by reading The Economist and The Wall Street Journal than by reading the Qur’an.  I had far more sympathy for Bosnian Muslims and Chechens as an ignorant American teenager than as a putative Muslim thanks to interventionist agitation on their behalf.  By the time of this brief Islamic phase, I had stopped thinking of foreign policy as a morality play in which other countries could be simplistically portrayed as incarnate evil.  Indeed, perhaps this kind of thinking only really works for thoroughly secular people who must find their great moral struggles in politics rather than in asceticism and worship.  Who knows?  In any case, Western media reported incessantly that the perpetually evil Slavs were the villains of the story, and that  it was as simple as that, and, young, foolish kid that I was, I believed them.  Mujahideen in the Balkans?  Why worry?  Truthfully, as a result of reading Chronicles more regularly, becoming better educated in European and Near Eastern history and becoming more familiar with Christianity, I began to move away from the pro-jihadist positions of the WSJ, Weekly Standard and the like, while the war against Yugoslavia and its aftermath finally brought me around to the non-interventionist views that I have held ever since.  I base my current views on what is in the American interest and how justice obliges us to act towards other nations.      

If there were anything to this idea that Obama’s experience of growing up around and among Muslims (for a relatively shot period of his life in his earliest youth) would have an effect on his policy views, he would have to have policy views that were not virtually identical with every other conventional Democratic hawk.  

P.S.  Ross, Yglesias and Ambinder talk about Obama and the Muslim charge.

On the other hand, James, Chuck Norris has the good sense to stop making sequels of his old movies when he’s in his 60s, for which we can all be grateful.  He has voluntarily relegated himself to the infomercial and WorldNetDaily set, where we wish Sly would go.  Doesn’t that translate into some sort of political advantage for his favoured candidate?

Mike Huckabee recites from the warmonger hymnal, plus weird references to Jordan!  Why hawks have a problem with Huckabee, I will never understand.  Opponents of the war are the ones who should find Huckabee to be unacceptable.

We Americans laugh at the people of India and Pakistan who choose party leaders on the strength of their last names, and then a significant number of us run out to vote for George W. Bush or Hilary Clinton. Benazir Bhutto may be as crooked as Hilary Clinton, but she spoke far better English and was a fine-looking woman, which makes her superior to every female I know in American politics. And, while on this low topic, what man would not follow a pretty air hostess like Sonia Gandhi? Good looks, charm, and an impressive demeanor have always played a part in human affairs, but here in America even our screen idols are monkey-faced women and epicene males. To restore the republic, we should have to undertake a massive program of disenfranchisement, beginning with people who work for or receive benefits from government, moving on to unmarried women, and finishing off with anyone who has seen three films starring Heath Ledger or Brad Pitt. ~Thomas Fleming

Ron Paul concludes the debate with an answer that might be rephrased as, “Come home, GOP!”

The New York Times has managed to help Giuliani more than anything he could have said in this debate.

Romney is in denial about anti-Mormonism.  He has Article VI memorised!  He gets into the Europe-bashing act again.  Will he mention France before it’s all over?

McCain said that he received a majority of Republicans in New Hampshire.  This seems to be inaccurate.

Did Giuliani just refer to Ron Paul as a “terrific candidate”?  He must be getting desperate.

Ron Paul asks McCain a fairly arcane question on a presidential financial advisory board.  This allows McCain to dissemble and ramble.

Giuliani refers to Bill Clinton’s “peace divided,” neglecting to mention that much of the “peace dividend” through reductions in defense spending was sought by then SecDef Dick Cheney and President George H.W. Bush.  This made sense, since we no longer needed a military that large.  It still makes sense.

Huckabee seems to have no idea that there would have to be a federal bureaucracy just like the IRS to calculate and provide the “prebates.”

I have been following the Jim Antle method of debate-watching, except that instead of an hour of watching the debate without drinking I kept it to about fifteen minutes.  I find this approach to be excellent.

The Republican field (save Ron Paul) marches in support of the war to their eventual political doom. 

Huckabee likens WMDs to easter eggs–Pinkerton, call your office!

“A superpower, if you will,” Romney says of jihadis.  It makes Huckabee’s easter egg remark seem informed.

By the way, whatever you think of Paul’s monetary views, his statement that wars produce inflation is absolutely right and pretty much irrefutable.  At some point, you have to be either pro-dollar or you can be pro-war.

Watch Romney and McCain go after those Thompson votes with their newfound enthusiasm for entitlement reform!

Does Huckabee enjoy people ridiculing him?

As the GOP field gears up for another snoozer of a debate in Florida tonight, here are some interesting Rasmussen polling numbers from Georgia: Huckabee 34, McCain 19, Romney 16, Paul 12, Giuliani 11.  Huckabee seems not to have been hurt by his second-place finish in South Carolina, and he has probably been helped by his active campaigning in Georgia earlier this week.  Assuming this lead holds up, it may be that his decision to stop contending in Florida and focus on the states he has a much better chance of winning on Feb. 5 will turn out to be very smart.  Oklahoma, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri, together with Georgia, offer Huckabee a possible 308 delegates, and he has definitely shown strength in Oklahoma, Alabama and Georgia.  Arkansas is presumably an easy win, and he should benefit in Missouri and Tennessee by coming from a neighbouring state.  (The inevitable “he’s a Republican Jesse Jackson” jokes will follow soon thereafter.)  The remarkable thing about this scenario is that come February 6th Huckabee could be in a competitive second place behind McCain, leaving Romney eating their dust.   

It’s conceivable that a McCain win in Florida eats into Huckabee’s lead in Georgia, but I don’t see Romney turning around an 18 point deficit in a week and a half even if he prevails next Tuesday.  Once again, Giuliani trails Ron Paul, even though Paul’s fav rating is almost forty points lower than Giuliani’s (an appalling piece of information, but there it is).  It will quite strange if New Hampshire turns out to be one of a very few states where Giuliani received more votes than Paul, while Paul bests him almost everywhere else. 

Aides to Mr. Huckabee say he did not get to know Mr. Romney very well as a governor, finding him distant at meetings. The aides said they were also irritated that Mr. Romney did not call after Mr. Huckabee’s victory in Iowa. ~The New York Times

He has no convictions and he has no class?  Is it any wonder so many people dislike him?     

Dennis Kucinich has dropped out of the race, and so departs the last consistent antiwar Democratic candidate for President.  It has puzzled and dismayed me that so many Republican antiwar voters have backed McCain in defiance of all logic, but at least there is a core of voters in the Republican primaries that has rallied to the real antiwar candidate on the right.  Meanwhile, Democratic antiwar voters mostly divide among those candidates who would bomb Iran and those who would invade Pakistan, all of whom endorsed the war against Lebanon in 2006.  By all rights, Kucinich ought to have been able to pull together 10% of the vote in every vote, but instead was usually drawing less than half the support given to Ron Paul on the other side.  However bad you think the GOP is, and I think it is pretty bad, don’t ever let anyone tell you that the Democratic Party is a party opposed to needless and illegal wars. 

Jim Antle makes a very similar argument to the one I made here on the anti-Huckabee campaign’s result of clearing the path for McCain.

Rod suggested Huckabee might start building up his connections and ideas in a reformist direction  in the wake of an ‘08 failure in the primaries, I doubted the prospects for the success of such a move, and Ross noted the lack of institutional infrastructure for such “reform conservatism,” but I now realise that there is an additional problem with this beyond the fact that Huckabee is apparently also not terribly interested in ideas (something I think we assumed all along).  Building on this conversation, Ross observes in a new bloggingheads, I think mostly correctly, that if Huckabee were to do what Edwards has done in his network-building, policy work and philanthropy he would end up building up support with the “Republican Party’s left.”  This would be the same part of the party that is, I think it’s fair to say, in utter disrepute with a substantial number of Republicans after the debacles of the last seven years, but even that isn’t the most significant difficulty here.      

Building support with the Republican left is, of course, exactly the opposite of the direction he’s been going in this year’s campaign, but it is also exactly what he needs not to do if he wants to be taken seriously by the mainstream movement figures as an acceptable candidate for the Presidency, since he has already been tagged by virtually everyone on the right variously as a Gersonist/Christian leftist, a not-very-closeted liberal or, in a memorable phrase, an “open borders drag queen.”  Perhaps Huckabee’s “vertical politics” will save him.  Otherwise, he will probably be tagged by the movement leaders as RINO and consigned to that political netherworld inhabited by the Republican Leadership Council, Olympia Snowe and Chuck Hagel. 

Incidentally, the hilarity of the reaction to the Huckabee campaign is that the shouts about his nice-guy liberalism have grown louder in direct proportion to the increasing number of his hard-right poses (and at the moment I still assume they are just poses) on issues. 

With his second place finish in Saturday’s Nevada caucus, where Paul defeated Giuliani in every county in the state, the Texas congressman has now received 106,414 votes to 60,220 for Giuliani. ~The Politico

The Politico claim that neither Paul nor Giuliani has collected any “actual delegates” appears to be inaccurate, at least for Paul.  According to CNN, Paul has received four pledged delegates from Nevada and two from Iowa.  From the same source, it appears that Giuliani has received one pledged delegate from Nevada.

Here’s a passing thought on the politics of global warming.  David Brooks, in a column that I otherwise found reasonably persuasive in its main argument, proposed a rather odd claim:

An oppositional mentality set in: if the liberals worried about global warming, it was necessary to regard it as a hoax.

The problem with this, besides treating reasonable skepticism as reflexive opposition, is that the debate on global warming, or “climate change” as it is more irenically called these days, has focused on the reality of the phenomenon mostly as an arguing tactic to undermine support for the proposed solutions.  From there the debate shifted away from the reality of climate change, which I think most informed conservatives accept to one degree or another, to the question of causes.  Obviously, if the phenomenon isn’t real, there’s no reason to do anything, and if it is real but humans are not a significant cause we are no position to prevent it by changing behaviour.  Certainly, if climate change is happening (and I think it is), it will have real effects on weather and temperature patterns, just as past changes in the climate have done, and these are things for which we should be preparing.  But talk of hoaxes misses the main point, as does much of the argument over whether the phenomenon is anthropogenic, which is that conservatives have and will continue to oppose the “solutions” to global warming whether or not they acknowledge its reality, because they do not see climate change as the cause of impending cataclysms, much less on the scale portrayed by alarmists.  Barack Obama, ever the conciliatory figure, routinely refers to “the planet in peril,” which is roughly the liberal fearmongering equivalent of Republicans who go on and on about the “existential threat” from jihadism. 

The reaction against this kind of fearmongering, which has unfortunately been one of the main ways most Americans have become familiar with the question, is a natural skepticism about and hostility to granting regulatory agencies the kind of power needed to enforce the reduction in emissions that is being demanded.  The use of emergency to promote state power is not unique to this question or to one party, and again it finds a parallel in the alarmism about the jihadi threat.  Both alarmisms stem from a loss of perspective, a conviction that a major issue on which one party believes itself to have a significant advantage is one of the most, if not the most, important issues of the age and a sense of urgency that unless citizens surrender to the government whatever it demands in the emergency the world, or civilisation, or our way of life, will be irreparably damaged if not destroyed.  The Kyoto skeptics occupy the same ground vis-a-vis their opponents that civil libertarians and antiwar folks occupy vis-a-vis the “existential threat” alarmists in that they can recognise the reality of a problem, even a serious problem, and believe that it needs to be addressed, but they refuse to adopt absolutist and fanatical stances on the question when these make no sense and when they may actually do nothing to address the problem at hand. 

The more obvious move is to find a Sister Souljah–after Saturday–to stiff arm. The most promising candidate is not a person, but an idea: race-based affirmative action. [bold original] Obama has already made noises about shifting to a class-based, race-blind system of preferences. What if he made that explicit? Wouldn’t that shock hostile white voters into taking a second look at his candidacy? He’d renew his image as trans-race leader (and healer). The howls of criticism from the conventional civil-rights establishment–they’d flood the cable shows–would provide him with an army of Souljahs to hold off. If anyone noticed Hillary in the ensuing fuss, it would be to put her on the spot–she’d be the one defending mend-it-don’t-end-it civil rights orthodoxy. ~Mickey Kaus

This would certainly be a bold move, but this is a cure that is worse than the illness from the perspective of keeping Obama’s campaign afloat.  In the wake of Obama’s speech in Atlanta (in which he rails against the “profound structural and institutional barriers” to opportunity and the “insidious role that race still plays”), can you really see him taking this position?  I’m also just trying to imagine the progressive reaction to this.  Many on the left had a conniption because the man referred to Reagan in a mildly positive way.  Just think of what would happen if Obama took a position that would actually be to the right of the Bush administration on such a policy–it wouldn’t just be the civil rights leaders who would react strongly.  How better to demonstrate his alleged lack of progressivism to the left than to take what is, in effect, the Republican position on race-based preferences?  Then, from the other side, his support for a “class-based preference system” would lead to predictable attacks from the right that he is stirring up “class warfare.”   

“Giuliani for all intents and purposes has virtually no chance to win,’’ said pollster Rob Schroth, noting the difficulty of overtaking two other candidates comfortably ahead. ~The Buzz (St. Petersburg Times blog)

Duncan Hunter, who actually opposes free trade and illegal immigration, has endorsed Mike Huckabee, who wants you to think that he does.  My one-time, quite ludicrous prediction that Duncan Hunter would be the Republican nominee (based once again on the implausibility of all of the alternatives) was informed partly by the idea that Hunter’s protectionist and border security credentials would help the GOP this cycle with those states that they must win.  One of the crucial flaws with this is that I assumed voters would want the experienced legislator who knew what he was talking about, rather than the artful showman who does not.  Nonetheless, the Huckabee phenomenon shows that there is some response among Republicans to the themes Hunter has articulated–they just needed someone a bit smoother and more glib to gesture towards them very generally before they would get excited. 

P.S. Hunter’s endorsement statement is here.  It clearly helps Huckabee’s reputation on border security and national security that one of the leading restrictionists and former Chairman of the Armed Forces Committee has endorsed him.  It’s an interesting split of the two also-rans: Tancredo went for Romney, which was frankly more bizarre than this, and Hunter has backed Huckabee.  As recent and cynical as Huckabee’s shift on immigration has been, the Hunter endorsement doesn’t strike me as being nearly as odd as Tancredo’s support for Romney.  The latter is just wrong on so many levels.   

People love Obama down here.  The scene a moment ago was a bit like that anecdote from Gregory the Theologian about the people in the marketplace holding forth on the Trinity, albeit concerning a much less elevated and important matter.  Out of nowhere people offer you their opinions on the presidential contest.  Down the street came a black man asking for some help to get to a shelter (tonight it is miserable out in Chicago, must be in single digits), and so we got to talking.  I explained that I lived in the neighbourhood and studied history, which prompted the man, out of the blue, to complain about Hillary Clinton’s use of MLK to attack Barack Obama.  Granted, this is Obama’s turf and he will probably carry this part of Illinois about 98 to 2, but the genuine disgust the man felt for Hillary Clinton was something to behold.  Obama may lose this contest, but I don’t think I appreciated how much the Clintons had alienated black voters until tonight.  Come November, she may find a lot of very unmotivated Democrats here and around the country.

With his departure from the race, it’s time to look back on selections from Eunomia’s Fred Thompson coverage, starting right from the beginning.  After recognising the absurdity of his candidacy, I was forced to acknowledge that Thompson had far more support than I could have ever imagined.    I then embraced that absurdity and claimed that he would win the nomination (mainly for lack of any viable alternatives), whereupon his campaign imploded with the same kind of dullness with which it began in September.  Only then, after the implosion of his campaign, did the NRLC endorse him, which pretty much everyone thought to be a mistake.  It turns out I was just a little too impatient–the lack of any rationale for his candidacy soon overtook his most earnest efforts.  Now, here we are at the end.

Jim Antle concludes:

If Mitt Romney can’t prosper with Thompson out of the race, there are no conditions under which he could win the nomination.

Let me be the first, then, to affirm that there are no conditions under which he could win the nomination.

Here’s something that keeps puzzling me.  Some people say that Democrats are afraid of McCain as the GOP nominee, and some people say that Republicans are afraid of Obama as the Dem nominee.  No doubt, this is an accurate portrayal of attitudes within both parties.  One party or the other may be right to be afraid, but I’m pretty sure that both sides can’t be right in their assessment of the danger.  The more I think about it, though, the less it makes sense to me that Democrats fear McCain and Republicans fear Obama.  It seems to me that there are at least two things that explain this fear: admiration for the opposing party’s candidate and contempt for that candidate’s rivals.  Contempt blinds both sides to the political strengths of the other candidates, while their admiration exaggerates the abilities and appeal of the one candidate, whose exaggerated abilities and appeal then make them fear for their party’s success in the fall.  Another factor seems to be that the candidate whom each side fears the most seems to represent something, whether in style or substance, that exposes what each party sees as a glaring weakness in itself.  Republicans have built up an entire mythology about the importance of optimism as central to the appeal of Reagan, and if there is one thing Obama has in spades it is optimism, while the modern GOP traffics in the most blatant fearmongering and doomsaying, so perhaps Republicans fear that Obama’s comparison of himself to Reagan isn’t merely self-important bluster.  Meanwhile, Democrats fear McCain because he represents unvarnished militarism and appears to Democrats, conditioned for decades to be constantly on the defensive on military and national security matters, to have an insurmountable advantage on foreign affairs and national security.  What neither side seems to grasp is how completely wrong its assessment is: one of the last things Americans want after seven years of Bush is more starry-eyed optimism, and probably the last thing they want is more of the same confrontational, aggressive meddling overseas.  What each side fears about the other’s possible nominee is actually the candidate’s weakness, and what each party believes to be its weakness is actually one of its best electoral assets in the current cycle.     

It would probably be best for John [McCain] if there were still three potentially viable opponents splitting up the Florida pie. ~John Weaver

But even if that vote were split just two ways, Thompson wasn’t drawing that much support in Florida anyway, so the gain for either candidate would be minimal.  If Thompson supporters in Florida are anything like his supporters in South Carolina, more will break for McCain and Huckabee than for Romney.  Working even more to McCain’s advantage, Huckabee is reducing his presence in Florida, which may not bode ill for his campaign if he can hang on for two more weeks to those strong leads in Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma and the like.  But whatever happens to Huckabee later, some of his supporters in Florida will probably drift to McCain, while only a few will go to Romney.  Romney seems to have a marginal advantage among Thompson supporters, and no advantage among Huckabee supporters.  McCain stands to expand his lead over the field during the next week, and there is every reason to assume that weak Giuliani supporters will decide to back a similar candidate who already has won a couple of primaries.  Romney will gain strength, but he won’t be able to gain as much as quickly as McCain.  The remarkable thing about all of this is that reporters and pundits have assumed, as have I, that Thompson’s supporters were obvious Romney voters, but nearly two-thirds (at least in South Carolina) were apparently more interested in other candidates.  That doesn’t just reflect Romney’s last-minute retreat from the state, but hints at a deeper resistance to Romney’s candidacy. 

Of course, based on my track record of making predictions about this race, you can almost certainly ignore all of that.

P.S. Nationally, if I’m reading this right, Thompson supporters seem most likely to favour McCain and Giuliani, but they have the profile of a Huckabee voter.  (Don’t ask me to explain it!)

Fred Thompson has withdrawn from the presidential race.  I have had my criticisms of his views and his campaign, and I never understood the movement to draft him into the race in the first place, but he always inspired more feelings of pity than indignation, which is more than I could say for any of the other one-time leading candidates.

His [Brooks’] position doesn’t stray much from the neo-conservative position, in which foreign policy rules supreme, and limited government is of little concern. ~Mark Levin

As opposed to all the great constitutionalist champions who fill the movement to overflowing these days, for whom limited government is a top priority and foreign policy is an afterthought?  This criticism would be much more telling against Brooks if it weren’t also applicable to a huge number of conservative columnists.  If mainstream conservatives want to complain about the rise of McCain, they probably ought to consider how they have empowered or acquiesced to ”the neo-conservative position, in which foreign policy rules supreme, and limited government is of little concern” over the past ten years and more.  If you allow your movement and your party to be made over in the image of Bush, don’t be terribly surprised when his natural ideological heirs receive a lot of votes from those who call themselves conservative.        

Now no one can possibly confuse me with a David Brooks fan or with someone friendly to the policy agenda of neoconservatives or their preferred candidates, and obviously I don’t endorse Brooks’ meliorism or “reform” agenda, but there is something distinctly odd about the degree of hostility shown to these two candidates relative to that shown to Giuliani or Romney.  Besides their capacity to send talk radio hosts into seizures, Huckabee and McCain have something else in common: they come from those parts of the country where the core constituencies of the party actually live and work, while Romney and Giuliani come from places where conservative Republicans are something of a rare, exotic species and Republicans of any kind are a dying breed.  I can’t help but think that this has something to do with the antipathy towards the former and the leniency shown to the latter.   

If anyone represents the tradition of the “Nixon-Ford domestic agenda — i.e., a muck of compromises and government expansion that surrenders the ideological playing field to the Left or, if you will, an incremental socialism which Brooks sets forth as a new way,” it would probably have to be the man who gave you MassCare, just promised a boatload of subsidies to the auto industry and has been pro-life for less time than I have been in graduate school.  Romney grew up in a Rockefeller Republican family and belonged to that tradition until it became convenient for him to discover the virtues of Reaganism.  By the standards that these people condemn McCain, they would have to throw Romney overboard as well, but they simply don’t spend the time or energy doing this.  Their general indifference to the obvious frauds Romney perpetrates against the public in his campaign shows the hollowness of their complaints against the other two.  McCain is, of course, well to the left of me, he is deeply, amazingly wrong on immigration and foreign policy, and I will oppose his candidacy as much as I possibly can, but he has actually been to the right of Giuliani and Romney (which isn’t saying that much, but there it is) for decades.  The mind that can accept the turnaround artist who has turned himself 180 degrees on virtually everything as acceptable, but regards flawed but consistent candidates as beyond the pale, is a very confused one.  There was simply nothing like the intense attacks against McCain when Giuliani was the putative frontrunner, and by comparison Romney has been given a very easy time of it from conservative media, all of which points to the cynicism of at least some of those who protest against McCain and Huckabee’s deviations. 

P.S.  Just on an empirical point, Brooks’ claim that conservative voters have not followed conservative leaders is basically accurate.  In total votes, Huckabee/McCain have received 849,956 votes (per TownHall’s count, which apparently doesn’t include Wyoming) and Romney/Thompson have received 633,715 votes.  If you add in Ron Paul’s numbers to the total of voters not following conservative leaders, the margin obviously grows.  Even when you acknowledge that McCain has led among conservative voters only once this year (South Carolina) and independents have been an important source of support for McCain, Huckabee and Paul, it remains the case that most conservatives chose candidates other than Romney and Thompson in every contested race.  Given the choice between the vilified deviants and the approved candidates, most people voting in the Republican primaries and caucuses opted for the former.  That is significant, and these results are also generally in line with national surveys that ask Republicans which candidate “shares their values.” 

Along lines similar to this, Brooks observes:

Yet a funny thing has happened this primary season. Conservative voters have not followed their conservative leaders. Conservative voters are much more diverse than the image you’d get from conservative officialdom.

The intense reaction against Huckabee in particular seems to show an inability among movement leaders to accommodate the diversity of the political coalition with which they have allied themselves.  Dissident conservatives from the right have long complained of the tendency to over-identify the conservative movement and the GOP, and in this election cycle we have seen a continuation of this, albeit somewhat in reverse.  The identification between the party and the movement institutions has become so complete that the institutional movement leaders react against candidates in the GOP primaries as if the eventual Republican nominee were the de facto leader of the movement as well.  A fairly strict, meaningful definition of conservatism would not be a problem if it were not considered an absolute requirement that every major elected Republican describe himself as a conservative.  Currently the GOP voting coalition is arguably much less conservative, by the standards of what that term meant in 1980, than it was just ten years ago, and yet far more Republicans describe themselves with this term than was the case just a decade ago.  This does not represent the triumph of conservative principles so much as it represents the dilution of the term’s meaning.  The name has become a marker and proof of your right to belong, but it has consequently become much less significant.  We are currently experiencing the confusion that inevitably follows the overuse of a term that empties it of all meaning.     

Movement leaders have some significant, legitimate objections to the records of Huckabee and McCain, many of which I happen to share, but they have opted to treat them as they have treated rightist dissident conservatives in the past: they do not simply reject this or that policy position for certain reasons, but take the departure from an official line as proof that a person is not just possibly mistaken on policy but must also be excluded from the realm of conservatism all together for raising the question in the first place.  At the very least, this response makes a mockery of the pretensions that Republicans and establishment conservatives entertain and value intellectual diversity.  Very little creative or valuable thinking can be done if conservatives are constantly made to feel as if any unconventional proposal threatens to dynamite the entire movement and endangers the proposal’s author with exclusion.  If the conservative movement is not going to be an appendage of the GOP in the future, its leaders will need to recognise that the outcome of the Republican nomination contest does not have to define the future of the movement, and that the movement’s support for a given Republican administration is not foreordained or guaranteed.  That, in turn, may yield some better results on policu, since it makes it harder for the party to take movement support or acquiescence for granted. 

If conservatives allow their priorities to be dictated by transient political needs of the GOP, they will find themselves increasingly dissatisfied with the direction of their movement and will also find themselves incapable of having an independent voice that will have credibility when it speaks out against Republican follies and failures.  Without that independence, they will find themselves, as they do today, complicit in the errors of the party and unable to do much about them.  This independence from the party cannot simply be rhetorical or a scapegoating tactic when things go wrong, but must be a consistent strategy of keeping a healthy distance from a party organisation that may have common goals in certain cases but which has its own interests that do not always align with those of conservatives.  If conservatives took that path, there would be much less anxiety every four years about the dangers of “redefining conservatism” for political ends.  An important step in the direction of independence would be the decentralisation of conservative movement institutions away from Washington and the East Coast.  As with every kind of decentralist approach, this would make conservative institutions better aware of different conditions around the country, it would reintroduce them to local and regional perspectives and would remove them to some degree from the proximity to and influence from party leadership.  Perhaps most importantly, instead of developing think tanks and institutes focused on national policy there would be a greater focus on local and regional concerns, which would of necessity eschew the sort of homogenised, uniform responses on matters of policy, and it would allow the kind of flexibility and ability to challenge assumptions.  This decentralisation of the movement would then also give the movement greater incentives to pursue and defend actual political and economic decentralisation, so that they would have a practical reason to advocate devolution of power back to states and localities.  When movement institutions have no concrete interest in devolution and localism, they will tend towards acquiescing in centralist policies that are ostensibly pursued for “conservative ends,” but which everything we know about consolidated power tells us will not achieve those ends and will actively subvert the natural affinities and remaining local institutions that are actually much more fundamental to realising those “conservative ends.”

I guess I’m sorry that I missed this debate.  As a matter of informing voters, it seems to have been the same waste of time that debates always are, but as political theater it will be remembered for a long time to come.  Clinton stated (correctly, as it happens) that Obama’s claim of continuous, unbroken opposition to the war was false.  Obama insisted, as some of us argued earlier, that his remarks about Reagan were not meant as an endorsement of Reagan’s policies, which should have been obvious to everyone.  Then there was loose talk of corporate lawyering and slumlords.  Then Edwards hit Obama on his numerous “present” votes.  Despite the much more conventional one-on-one nomination fight that is developing on their side, the Democrats seem poised to commit self-immolation than the GOP if they keep doing what they’ve been doing the last few weeks.

Okay, he isn’t saying that exactly, but he does seem to be one of the few columnists or radio hosts who recognises that there is something awry with the persistent demonisation of Huckabee and McCain when compared to the much more friendly treatment meted out to Romney and Giuliani, who are, by any fair standard judging by their records, far less conservative than the two receving the third degree from pundits, activists and talk radio hosts.  If the phrase “pro-war liberal” applies to anyone in the race, it is Giuliani, yet he typically gets a pass from the people who would try to persuade you that Huckabee wants something like “socialism in one nation under God.”  There is no doubt, as I have noted before, that the majority view of Huckabee in particular is that of someone who is seriously conservative, and Republicans likewise identify with Huckabee and McCain as people who “share their values” far more than Romney or Giuliani.  That Huckabee has not been noticeably more conservative than the President over the years and yet receives the highest rating as a conservative by Republicans should tell you something about cognitive dissonance among GOP voters, who claim in poll after poll around the country that they want someone like Reagan and not like Bush and are, according to national and Feb. 5 state polling, nonetheless happily embracing the two candidates who seem like natural heirs to a Bush-dominated GOP. 

Now by the standards of what I would recognise as conservatism, all of the four are badly wanting, none can really be trusted and all are deeply in the wrong on foreign policy to different degrees, but I am keenly aware that the standards I use are definitely not the prevailing ones in the GOP today and haven’t been for some time.  It was simply impossible for the GOP and the movement to tie themselves so closely to Bush, to rally core constituencies to his side time after time and to identify many of his worst policies (e.g., “the freedom agenda”) as their guiding principles and then suddenly reverse the effects of the last seven years on the attitudes of the voters who had been stampeded into the Bush corral.  The Republicans who say they want a Reagan-like leader and don’t think Bush is cut from the same cloth nonetheless approve of the President’s performance in approximately the same percentages as embrace Huckabee and McCain.  There may not be complete identification between Bush supporters and Huckabee/McCain supporters (McCain seems to have the backing of a remarkable number of anti-Bush voters), but if two-thirds of the GOP still back Bush how is it so remarkable that two-thirds would also back Huckabee and/or McCain?   

It seems more certain than ever that Ross was right when he wrote:

If you consider how the nation’s most ambitious Republicans are positioning themselves for 2008, Bushism looks like it could have surprising staying power.

Now that the idea of an anti-Romney McCain-Huckabee alliance is fast becoming conventional wisdom, it is worth noting that many of the institutional movement conservatives and party leaders shot themselves in the foot with their intense hostility to Huckabee and everything he represented.  When the GOP establishment needed to rally evangelicals and social conservatives to stop McCain, they could not throw their weight behind Huckabee, whom they had already denounced in the harshest terms, and they could not expect the favourite candidate of many movement conservatives to peel off supporters from Huckabee after he had tried to discredit Huckabee.  Incredibly, the same movement that just six months ago was powerfully opposed to McCain because of the immigration bill has, as I said earlier, spent much of its time for the past month vilifying the one candidate who could have checked McCain’s ambitions.  Now that they need to rebuild an alliance between the Republican center and right to replicate the success of Bush in 2000 to thwart McCain, they find that they have instead surprisingly driven many voters on the right into a tactical alliance with McCain and his “moderates.”  The (mostly baseless) antipathy to Huckabee on trade and economics–the opposition to his insubstantial ”populism”–and the exaggerated complaints about his fiscal liberalism when compared to the largely kid-glove treatment of Romney’s equally undesirable interventionist record helped to drive a wedge between large parts of the social and economic conservative factions that made it unlikely that Romney voters would vote tactically for Huckabee.  Furthermore, because the GOP has wedded itself so fully and blindly to the war in Iraq and McCain is on the side of a majority of Republicans on this question, a McCain candidacy protected by a tacit alliance with Huckabee becomes very hard to stop.       

Prof. Bainbridge preaches ashes and sackcloth:

Coupled with losing Congress in 2006, losing the presidency in 2008 will provide a pair of defeats that surely will prompt “attentiveness” on the part of the GOP leadership and the intellectual base of think tanks and academics who helped lay the foundation for the Reagan and Gingrich revolutions.

But attentiveness to what?  There is something frustratingly vague about Bainbridge’s complaint, just as there was always something frustratingly vague about Thompson’s campaign message.  Going back to first principles is a fine idea (assuming that you have sound first principles), but Thompson never made clear how he would differ from the current administration in those areas where it was most ruinous for the reputation of the party and the name of conservatism.  There is reason to think, given what he has said and who is advising him, that Thompson would have been worse and more prone to the same mistakes of this administration on foreign policy than would Romney or Huckabee.  In other words, in the one area where a return to first principles seems most necessary, Thompson plainly failed to deliver.    

2006 should have been a deafening wake-up call to the GOP that most of the country was not with them on Iraq, but that wasn’t the lesson they learned at all.  They decided to hang it all on corruption and overspending, as if Indiana ousted three Republican incumbents and New Hampshire turned into a Democratic state because of Abramoff and earmarks.  Depending on the nominee, the aftermath of an ‘08 defeat will result in slightly different conclusions, but whatever explanation “the intellectual base” gives to account for the defeat they will remain oblivious to the party’s blind spots on the war and foreign policy, and so will be unable to fix what is wrong.  Remarkably, many of the same people who have winked and nodded at executive usurpation and infringement on civil liberties, the ones who mock Paul’s constitutionalism as hopelessly antiquated, are all the more rigidly, inflexibly adhering to the memory of “the Reagan coalition,” as if conservatism existed for the sake of the coalition rather than the other way around.          

I am endorsing Ron Paul for the Republican nomination for President because of his commitment to less government, greater liberty, and lasting prosperity for America. We are at a point in this country where we need to reduce our dependency on government and regain control of our future. To this end, Ron Paul will bring back troops, end the War in Iraq, and will strengthen the U.S. dollar and the economy. For these reasons and more, Ron Paul has my support, respect, and vote. ~Fmr. New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson

Mr. McCain was the target of Mr. Norris’s apparent frustration over Mr. Huckabee’s loss and he went for a McCain sore spot, his age. Mr. McCain is 71, the oldest candidate in the field.

“I really don’t believe he’ll have the stamina to run the country for four years,” Mr. Norris said at a news conference. Mr. Norris is 67. ~The Caucus

Well, this may be the beginning of the end of this anti-Romney pact idea.  Perhaps Huckabee still has the odd idea that he can win the whole thing.  That would certainly liven things up a bit.

Last week I wrote about McCain as the candidate who had replaced Giuliani, and this seems to be holding true.  This will have an effect on Florida voting, since there is little incentive to take a chance on a broke, untested Giuliani campaign when you can back McCain, and you can get pretty much the same combination of crazy foreign policy and immigration liberalism but with none of the weird and creepy baggage that goes with supporting Giuliani.  What occurred to me tonight as I thought about the South Carolina result is how much McCain’s campaign has matched up in practice with Giuliani’s alleged “strategy” of exploiting a divided field on the right to propel himself to the frontrunner position.  The assumption of the Giuliani “plan” was that multiple winners in the early contest prevented consolidation around any one candidate, which then allowed Giuliani to sneak in through the back door.  The only problem with this was that he was supposed to retain a prohibitive advantage in February 5 big states where his New York Republicanism would not offend nearly so many.  In the event, his support in almost all the big states has started to collapse, even in New York and New Jersey, because he failed to consider that his candidacy was redundant and irrelevant the moment McCain’s campaign revived. 

Giuliani hoped, and probably still hopes, that the divided field would work to his advantage, but with his failed under-the-radar direct mail Iowa campaigning following his pre-Ames retreat, his on-again, off-again New Hampshire effort (which was, as Michael correctly said at the time, mostly an anti-Romney effort based on the reasonable assumption that Romney was his principal rival), his belated abandonment of Michigan and his simply miserable organisation in Nevada he ensured that the natural home for his voters would be with McCain.  McCain has shown that you can either exploit a divided field from the beginning or you cede the ground to someone else who can.  You do not get to wait for the  others to tear each other apart and expect to sweep in like a conquering hero.  McCain’s implosion last summer will now be seen as a blessing in disguise, since it made him hone his message, trim his operating costs and husband his resources carefully, while Giuliani took his reasonably successful fundraising and started throwing money around with little concern for long-term funding, when his supposed “strategy” relied on precisely the kind of close control over funds that McCain’s campaign had to practice out of necessity.

The flaw with Giuliani’s campaign was also the central flaw with Fred Thompson’s campaign, which the Fred Hysteria exacerbated severely: anointing a candidate as the “obvious” or “necessary” candidate to fill a void or assume a leadership role removes all incentive for the candidate to exert himself and do the necessary persuading that he is the best candidate, when has already received that title by acclamation before he got started.  When you treat a politician as if he is the answer to some woe, he becomes very pleased with himself, a little too pleased, in fact, and then he becomes resentful when you do not immediately provide him with the laurel crown.  Having no business in the race, but propelled there because of the official narrative that 9/11 qualified him for a completely different job with utterly different responsibilities from those he had in New York, Giuliani went with the official narrative and played it for all it was worth.  When that didn’t work, he had little else to offer.  Likewise, having no business in the race, but propelled there by the idea that he was the “consistent conservative” alternative to a field of squishes and heretics, Fred Thompson stuck to that “consistent conservative” message, as if to say, “Okay, Reaganites, I have arrived–now flock to me!”  When voters did not respond to this fairly weak appeal, Fred became rather surly and kept reiterating how very serious he was, and he wasn’t in the campaign to act like some game show contestant who had to buzz in with an answer in the form of a queston.  He had policy papers!  He even called them “white papers”!  Haven’t you read them all?  As with Fred, Giuliani’s was a celebrity candidacy, but one also premised on having the charisma and command to unify a disillusioned, confused party.  In the end, the candidates reputed to have charisma and command possessed neither, and their absence from the early contests (with the exception of Fred’s very belated Iowa push) reminded voters that the two candidates who were supposed to drive all before them had fled several of those states out of a very reasonable fear of defeat.  

P.S.  Earlier, I argued that, while satisfying to antiwar conservatives, the demise of Giuliani was a victory for hegemonists, whose goals will not be burdened any longer by Giuliani’s personal history and social liberalism.  No longer will social conservatives have to hold their noses to keep the perpetual war going.  In a strange way, Giuliani’s failure is a very good thing for the War Party.

He is the stiff technocrat chastised by the media for his awkward style and for his many changes of public persona.  He is the son of a politician, born to privilege and capable of tremendously detailed policy wonkery that bores most other people silly.  He is frequently compared to a robot or some other passionless humanoid, for which he then overcompensates with public displays of emotion.  This was the media image of Al Gore, but it is now the image of Mitt Romney.  Presumably someone has drawn this comparison before (it seems so obvious to me today that I wonder why I’d never thought of it before), but I think it is helpful in explaining why Romney has been such a weak candidate.  Both have switched positions on abortion in their ambitions for national office in their respective parties, in which they are hardly alone, but Romney has shown an even more plastic flexibility with his positions on a range of issues.  Most strikingly, like Gore’s later crusade against the evils of tobacco, Romney’s changed view on immigration has been startling…and also thoroughly unconvincing to many restrictionist voters.  Huckabee’s flip-flop on immigration has been even more dramatic, obvious and opportunistic, but he has somehow pulled it off with a lot of restrictionist voters because I suspect they are more willing to trust the avuncular preacher than the blow-dried robot.    

As with Gore, Romney’s personal associates insist that he is nothing like the public persona most of us have encountered through the media, and it’s fair to say that journalists have been even less forgiving to Romney than they were to Gore, but the public’s perception of both men was that they “did not know who they were” and were also fond of telling easily disproved whoppers about things from their past.  In fairness, Gore seems to have had a few more of these, but whether it’s his claim about his father marching with MLK or his lifelong love of the hunt Romney seems to have the same propensity to tell stories that lend him a certain authority or distinction out of the keen awareness of a political vulnerability.  Where Huckabee, like Clinton, responds to the awareness of his own weaknesses with jokes, Romney covers up for his liabilities with stories that don’t pass the laugh test, whether it is varmint-related or whether it concerns one of his serious policy shifts of recent years.  Not only has this chameleon act been transparent and insulting to the intelligence of informed voters, but it reflects a basic contempt for the public and reflects a belief that is probably widely shared in the business and political worlds that people can be made to buy anything if it is repackaged and promoted with the properly-tested marketing.  Considering our recent political history, this belief may be well-founded, but when the promotion of a candidate reeks of focus groups and consultants a great many voters will look elsewhere (I know this is hardly a novel or remarkable insight), and if there’s one thing that Romney’s chameleon approach tells voters it is that he is afraid to speak his own mind. 

Also, taking that Hayes piece into account, it’s easy to see why voters, especially late-deciding voters, frequently go against Romney and go for his rivals: these voters apparently do not decide their votes based on issues in any sense of the word, but emphasise character and those always slippery “values.”  Romney’s entire campaign has been, at least until recently, focused almost exclusively on issues and his “three-legged stool” of conservatisms, which satisfies pundits, activists and various other list-checking gnomes, and so keeps falling flat with these sorts of voters.  Until, that is, he made an appeal in Michigan that was much more politically savvy and consequently full of dubious policy promises.  For a change, he put away Mitt the Consultant to some extent (though at the same time actually emphasising his business credentials more than in previous contests), and he related to Michiganders in terms of sentiment, nostalgia and a sense of solidarity with them (as well as through his extensive campaign network and wodges of advertising cash).  The promise of federal research funding was beside the point–what mattered was that he said that he would “bring Michigan back,” a phrase as popular as it was almost certainly disingenuous.  The tagline from his ads in Michigan was “Michigan is personal for me,” which implied that he somehow intuitively understood Michigan’s problems in a way that someone with no direct connection to the state could.  When he cannot summon this combination of personal and emotional appeals, he wins a certain segment of the electorate that focuses and votes on issues, and this has usually not been enough in genuinely contested races.  Against him are ranged the master of bathos and the alleged “straight talker,” who win over voters in spite of their policy views and even, in Huckabee’s case, in the absence of them.  No wonder Romney keeps losing to them.          

P.S.  For the pedants, let me add that I am not literally arguing that Romney = Gore in all respects.  They are very comparable in the ways I have described.

I have two new posts up over there this week–one on Huckabee and the other on Romney.

One of the more remarkable results of South Carolina exit polling is the support Huckabee received from conservatives, especially from “very conservative” voters who made up 34% of the electorate.  Overall, he led among conservatives generally (35%) and among the “very conservative” he did better (41%).  In the eyes of a large number of these voters, he was the logical “conservative” alternative to McCain, just as Bush became that alternative eight years ago as he discovered that he needed to come at McCain from the right and played up to S.C. conservatives.  (In the same bizarre  way that conservatives bonded with Bush after this, the grateful anti-McCain forces might have started to see some virtue in the New Huckabee.)  For those now fretting about the Return of McCain, I would note simply that it was the conservative establishment that managed to subvert Huckabee with their relentless campaign against him over the past six to eight weeks, and and it was the vanity campaign of Fred Thompson, which must now come to an end, that paved the way for McCain to win in South Carolina and so propel him towards the nomination. 

The Great Conservative Hope, as Thompson has been treated and as he portrayed himself, facilitated the success of McCain, whom some sizeable proportion of the party and a huge part of the elite regard as unacceptable and more than a few see as not conservative.  Well, in their rejection of Huckabee they repudiated the person who, like Bush, could have halted McCain’s advance and possibly crippled his campaign.  Rather than rallying around someone who just pledged to be against amnesty, the Republicans of South Carolina (apparently half of whom favour deportation) who accepted the criticisms of Huckabee from Thompson and others have just empowered the one man most ardently committed to amnesty.  Either this was the goal of tearing down Huckabee all along, or the vendetta against the Arkansan has just come back to bite the people who have regarded him as little more than a “pro-life Democrat.”  Unwilling to tolerate the one who was probably the least objectionable, the GOP may have saddled itself with someone large numbers of Republicans will not be able to stand and who still supports amnesty in spite of everything.  The Bob Dole campaign mark II is getting ready for launch.   

Remarkably, those who voted for Romney in South Carolina have probably just ensured that their candidate loses sooner than if they had voted tactically for Thompson (or, somewhat more improbably, for Huckabee).  Romney’s ”delegate strategy” relies on the same divided field coming out of South Carolina that went into it.  Rapid consolidation of the race around one or two main rivals makes that strategy less likely to succeed.  Having recognised their failure to gain ground in South Carolina, the Romney campaign nonetheless did not foresee the danger that would come from their remaining supporters there splitting the opposition to the other two. 

I agree with Ross when he writes:

But with his “three golds and two silvers” and his delegate lead, Romney still looks sufficiently viable that he, not Rudy, is shaping up to be the natural “stop McCain” candidate in Florida for movement conservatives who can’t stand the Arizona Senator.

As I said long ago in the pre-Michigan era (Tuesday afternoon): 

Meanwhile, if Romney manages to win [Michigan], he becomes the default anti-McCain, leaving no room for Giuliani anywhere.  Even if Romney loses, he still has money to continue competing if he wants, while Giuliani cannot draw upon such a large personal reserve.  

Because Huckabee has decided to lay off of McCain, and prior to tonight still had strong polling in a number of Feb. 5 states, Romney faces the daunting prospect of an anti-Romney pact between the two of them, effectively shutting him out of the South on Feb. 5 and then having Huckabee drop out and endorse McCain soon thereafter.  As McCain and Huckabee divide up the spoils of February 5 and work in concert to keep Romney down, Huckabee’s withdrawal and endorsement then throw his supporters and the race to McCain.  McCain-Huckabee follows?  That might be too much for the party to swallow, but that could be Huckabee’s reward for helping to break Romney. 

P.S.  Since Romney is still the delegate leader, he was always going to be the logical opponent of whichever candidate emerged victorious out of South Carolina. 

If exit polling is correct, it seems very likely that McCain has won South Carolina, and Huckabee has placed a respectable, but still disappointing, second.  Romney appears to have done a little bit better than Thompson, who seems to have fallen badly short of what he needed to get, and Ron Paul has edged out Giuliani again

Just look at those numbers on immigration policy.  Huckapandering works like a charm.

P.S.  Early returns are currently showing Romney running weaker than exit polls suggested he would, and Huckabee is running stronger.  Here’s hoping for 7% or better for Ron Paul and fourth place for Romney. 

Update: Romney ended up in fourth, but Paul managed just 4%.  That’s a bit of a let-down after a second-place, double-digit result in Nevada, but not out of line with most of the polling.

Everything in the exit polling breaks down much as you might expect, but one thing that continues to puzzle me is Romney’s strong performance among Catholic voters, which is not limited to South Carolina.  As  I mentioned earlier today, 38% of Catholics in the Nevada caucus supported him, and the same pattern has emerged in the earlier contests and in Florida polling.  Among all Catholics in South Carolina’s primary, he got 24%, and 28% of weekly church-going Catholics backed him.  Despite finishing a distant fourth overall, he placed second among weekly church-going Catholics.  If there are numbers breaking down Romney’s Catholic support before his religion speech and after I would be very interested to see what they are, because I would wager a nice steak dinner that his support among Catholics increased significantly after that speech and remained strong ever since.  My guess is that the themes he outlined in that speech did nothing to assuage the doubts and concerns of evangelicals, but it may very well have won over a substantial bloc of Catholic voters.  In a strange way, the anti-Mormon problem for his candidacy may have started to boomerang and work to his advantage.  Perhaps it benefits him by providing a kind of sympathy specifically from Catholics.  

So Romney has easily won Nevada, which virtually no one else was actively contesting, except for the presence of some Ron Paul staffers.  With 78% reporting, Ron Paul is slightly ahead of McCain in state delegates, and they are both at 13%.  Once again, Romney leads all other candidates among virtually all demographic groups.  Granted, this was a caucus and necessarily had a make-up skewed towards activists and certain groups more than others.  According to entrance polls, Mormons turned out at a disproportionately higher rate than almost any other group (7.5% of the population, but 27% of caucus-goers), and supported Romney almost unanimously (Ron Paul was in an extremely distant second among Mormons with 3%).  Some find this troubling, but I can’t say that I do.  It is perfectly appropriate if Mormons want to vote for a Mormon candidate based on nothing more than their shared religion (and it would be perfectly appropriate, if they were so inclined, for them to refuse to vote for a non-Mormon candidate on the same grounds).  Presumably, these caucus-goers also liked what they heard from the candidate, but even if it were a purely identity-driven result I wouldn’t necessarily find it at all troubling.  It may not be the best way to make a voting decision, and it may not result in the best choice, but it is a normal and inescapable part of democratic politics.  (I could add that this is one of the reasons why a democratic system produces such poor government, but I think I’ve made that point already.) 

It appears that Romney would have won handily had he received the same level of support from Mormons that he did among Protestants or Catholics (43 and 38% respectively).  The strong Mormon backing turned a convincing win into a rout.  Huckabee locked down his quota of about a fifth of evangelicals, but as usual has not expanded much beyond that.  Ron Paul ran quite well among voters 18-59.  It was the voters older than that who made up a plurality of the total who gave a boost to McCain.  Interestingly, Romney led McCain among Latinos 41-25, which will become a bit of fodder for the immigration debate.  Giuliani once again is bringing up the rear in sixth place with just 5%–this in a state where he was polling in double digits just a month ago.

On the Democratic side, it seems that my Obama pick doomed him to a second-place finish.  Clinton has been projected as the winner, and Edwards suffered a humiliating blowout, which is all the more severe given his reputation of having supposedly strong union backing. 

Update: Counting only pledged delegates, Clinton and Obama are tied.  At this rate, unless Obama can win a lot more endorsements and gain many more superdelegates, he will lose the contest.  Update: Apparently, the Democratic caucus in Nevada is even screwier than we thought.  It seems that Obama may be awarded more delegates in the end because of counties with odd numbers of delegates congressional districts that he won, which would give him a lead among pledged delegates, while Clinton continues to have a massive lead thanks to her superdelegates. 

On the Republican side, there are not nearly so many unpledged delegates to obscure the results from actual voting.  Romney has a significant lead in the pledged delegate count: 64 to Huckabee’s 21 and McCain’s 15.  The problem is that Romney has gained a large part of this lead from winning two basically uncontested caucuses.  Without the 26 he received from Wyoming and Nevada, his lead is nowhere near as impressive.  It remains the case that he stands to come out of the four major January contests as of tonight with one victory despite extensive investment of time and money, and even that victory, as impressive as it undoubtedly was, was in his old home state.  When he can organise large numbers of supporters, spend great sums to turn out his people and skew the results in his favour, as he has successfully done in two caucuses now, he wins.  When he has to win voters in broader-based, less-controlled contests, he tends not to do very well.  Is that really the candidate that Republicans want for a general election?

Let me see if my cursed predictions can doom another pair of candidates to defeat.  In Nevada, Obama and Romney win.  In South Carolina, it will be McCain and Obama (next Saturday).     

This recent tussle among the Democrats over invoking Reagan–even to make an obviously pro-progressive, pro-Democratic point–reflects the character of the Democratic race and the nature of some of the lukewarm progressive response to Obama that you see expressed in the netroots.  Obama cited Reagan as an example of someone who “changed the trajectory of America.”  Now, as I understand modern progressive demonology regarding the 1980s, most Democrats agree with this, but often view the change in question negatively. Obama’s use of Reagan here, his rivals’ responses to it, and the criticisms from Democratic pundits and activists all capture quite nicely the main tensions on the Democratic side this election year.  Obama talks endlessly, constantly, incessantly, about change–his is allegedly the “change we can believe in,” while Edwards’ change is that for which you fight, and Clinton’s is the change that is no change at all (but for which you have to work really hard).  So Obama invoked Reagan as an example of someone who could build a large political coalition and bring “change,” while Clinton belittled this as she belittles everything Obama says, because her public persona and her record, such as it is, epitomise the Democrats’ response to the Reagan years from the “defensive crouch” on foreign policy to her overall mostly “centrist” positions and she and her husband memorably demonised the Reagan years as the “decade of greed,” etc.  Meanwhile Edwards is, as ever, in adversarial, fight ‘em-to-the-death mode and wants to make clear that he has no truck with any of those lousy Republicans.  Yeah, John, we get it–you’re a tough guy!  The typically flabbergasted netroots and progressive pundit responses were all along the lines uttered by Edwards: how dare you mention the name of the ancient enemy!  For progressives, this is just the kind of seemingly conciliatory language that makes them wary of Obama, whom they regard as lacking in the necessary zeal. 

At one level, I can sympathise with this response.  My family and I cringed when we heard Newt Gingrich give a much more fulsome paean to FDR in January 1995 when the new Republican majority took over the House.  But this is actually different–Gingrich actually admired FDR and what he did, and was making peace with FDR’s legacy, while Obama was not accepting, much less endorsing, what Reagan did.  He was acknowledging that Reagan had been a significant political player who had turned the country in a different direction.  In other words, he was acknowledging that Reagan was successful at implementing his agenda (or at least some of it) and thereby saying that the same opportunity might be available for Democrats in this election (with the none-too-subtle and none-too-modest implication that it would be a missed opportunity unless the Democrats nominated him).  This is a clever move, in the same way that Tony Blair paying respect to Thatcher’s legacy was clever, but it entails none of the ideological baggage that usually goes with these sorts of statements.  Unfortunately, because of the Democratic response to his remarks, the implicit comparison between himself and Reagan, who was vastly more qualified for the job in either 1976 or 1980, is not seen as evidence of the man’s delusions of grandeur, but is instead taken as another example of his transcendent power to unify America.  Well, I’m not buying.  I have generally dismissed or viewed very skeptically claims for Obama’s “transformational” potential, whether in foreign affairs or domestic politics.  These theories attribute too much importance to symbolism and vague rhetoric, and they take Obama’s views too little into account.  However, I might be willing to see how Obama represents the possibility of the Democrats’ reconciling themselves to Reagan and the Reagan-Bush years, in part because there may be good reason to think that the political era that began in 1980 is coming to a close.   

Cross-posted at The Americann Scene

As America marks the first anniversary of the troop escalation in Iraq, at least one thing has become clear. Although the “surge” is failing as policy, it seems to be succeeding as propaganda. Even as George W. Bush continues to bump and scrape along the bottom of public approval, significantly more people now believe we are “winning” the war.

What winning really means and whether that vague impression can be sustained are questions that the war’s proponents would prefer not to answer for the moment. Their objective during this election year is simply to reduce public pressure for withdrawal, which is still the choice of an overwhelming majority of voters. ~Joe Conason

This is pretty much in line with what I argued in one of my TAC columns last month (sorry, not online).  As others have noted, the real political goal of the “surge” seems not to have been to stabilise a viable Iraqi government, but to shore up collapsing support for the war here.  Even so, the domestic political effects have mostly been limited to Washington.  Public opinion remains as resolutely against the war as it was a year ago.  Three quarters of Americans do not want a “large number” of troops in Iraq two years from now, and half the country wants most of our forces out in less than a year. 

Rod looks to the future:

For us Huckaboosters, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for our man to drop out, and spend the next four years doing some hard thinking and networking, getting ready for 2012.

I don’t intend the title to be as insulting as it sounds.  What I mean is that a failed Huckabee run would put him in much the same position that Edwards’ failed ‘04 campaign put him these last several years (and Edwards had the advantage, so to speak, of being the VP nominee, which I doubt Huckabee will receive given the intense hostility to him wthin the party leadership.)  Huckabee may spend the next several years doing hard thinking and networking if he drops out, but I doubt he will be preparing for another presidential run.  If the example of John Edwards tells us something, it is that repeat candidates for the nomination tend to perform less well in the second attempt (Reagan being a big exception that leaps to mind).  Despite his policy and philanthropy work in the last four years, and despite his intensive cultivation of supporters in the netroots and in Iowa, John Edwards has become a has-been and also-ran who does not yet realise that he is either one.  Given the incandescent loathing of Huckabee in elite conservative circles and among big-money donors, I don’t know exactly what kind of networking he could build that would make him more successful in four years.  Rod’s talk of Huckabee ‘12 was premised on the speculation that the GOP loses this year and loses badly, which I think is quite likely at the rate they’re going, but then if that is what happens the incumbent Democratic President Huckabee would be running against would probably be, barring epic incompetence or disaster, able to resist any Republican challenger.   

There has been a lot of speculation in recent weeks about the possibility of a brokered convention.  Yglesias even proposes that it would be good for the GOP to have the high drama of a nomination contest that came down to the end.  He’s right that it would draw a lot of media attention, and it would give endless material for political reporters and pundits to talk about, but while there would be a lot of media exposure it’s not clear to me that this works to the benefit of the eventual nominee and the party.  In some respects, a hard-fought nomination contest improves all of the candidates running and prepares them for the general election, but as with any long, drawn-out internal contest the winner at the end comes away muddied and bloodied and vulnerable.  In open elections, a party doesn’t really want an automatic coronation, which then allows the nominee to become lazy and rusty in his campaigning, but it doesn’t want the kind of free-for-all in which all of the participants are made to look vulnerable and small.  While the media would be paying more attention to a four- or five-way grudge match, the image that this sends to the country is that the party is in disarray, rudderless and imploding before their eyes.  While it’s true that a third candidate typically benefits from a fight between two leading rivals, no one really benefits from a four- or five-way scrum, since the very existence of the contest reminds the public that any one of these candidates was unable to weld together a political coalition within his own party.  If, as David Brooks has said, the Republicans are beginning to talk like the 1970s Tories on economics, they are behaving like the late 1990s Tories in their leadership contest, and it will have similar general election results.  Also, a contest that goes all the way to the convention makes it that much harder for any eventual nominee to unify the obviously fragmented party around himself, and in the course of the next six months until the convention the divisions wiithin the party would become wider and more damaging as each faction would be jockeying for position.  The Democrats in 1952 had a brokered convention and then lost badly that fall, but then they, like today’s GOP, were on the wrong side of public opinion regarding an unpopular war.  If the Republicans cannot unite around someone before April, this year could be even worse for them than it was already likely to be.

Ross agrees with James on the foreign aid debate: 

I might even go further than this, though, and suggest that even when these sort of efforts turn out to be ineffective at fostering the sort of order we ought to be concerned with, their effectivness as public diplomacy shouldn’t be underestimated.

Ross is right about the effect on foreign public opinion of even limited assistance, especially in cases of disaster relief, whether it is the Kashmir earthquake he refers to or the assistance for the Southeast Asian tsunami over three years ago.  In this respect, foreign aid to Africa has made Africa into an unexpected success story, if you measure success by how favourably many African nations view the U.S. relative to the rest of the world.  Then again, there also seems to be a general correlation between how much Washington generally ignores a part of the world, except to give aid packages, and how much the people in that region view America favourably.       

However, unless these programs really do help to foster some order and unless the goverments of the countries receiving aid are capable of maintaining some basic order on their own, I don’t think I have to tell you that American public opinion will sour on giving money to these governments over time.  There was a strong and understandable reaction here to the chaos in Pakistan after Bhutto’s assassination, which was actually much less pronounced and grave than the civil strife going on in Kenya, and to the extent that the American public thinks about aid to Pakistan I would guess a large plurality, if not a majority, was asking itself, “Why are we giving them all this aid?  What’s the point?”  In the case of Pakistan, there are good answers to that question, but the damage done by civil disorder to American support for this kind of aid, even when it may be strategically justified (as I doubt it is in many parts of Africa), should not be underestimated. 

Rod commented on Huckabee’s recent “pandering” on the battle flag:

Similarly with Huck’s pandering on the Confederate flag. If he really believed that stuff, that’d be one thing. But I don’t think he really believes it.

Here’s the thing that puzzles me a bit about the reaction to Huckabee and his comments on the flag, which Ross has dubbed “unsavory”: this was the position that helped Bush in South Carolina eight years ago and helped sink McCain.  So you can put this in the “Huckabee is running like Bush in 2000″ file, since this was exactly Bush’s position in 2000.  That is, leave it to South Carolinians to decide.  From what I’ve seen, Huckabee didn’t give a stirring ode to the importance of the battle flag, or the sacrifices of Southern soldiers who fought under it, but said simply that non-South Carolinians should generally keep their noses out of South Carolinian business on this question.  This has the virtue of being what I think is probably a widely-held view in South Carolina and also the correct one.  (Though how he reconciles his hostility to “outsiders” meddling in South Carolinian affairs with his disparaging remarks about federalism in other matters is another story!)  The effect of this pander is mitigated or complicated somewhat by the fact that he is campaigning alongside a former governor of South Carolina, David Beasley, who pressed successfully to have the flag removed from the state capitol’s dome.  This sends the message: “I am with Beasley, but it’s not up to me to decide what you do with your flag.”  That’s about as close to threading this particular needle as it gets.  Huckabee’s problem might be that people who value the battle flag will view him poorly because of the Beasley connection, while he will get no “credit” from others for being associated with Beasley.  That’s the problem with living off free media–you become in the public’s perception what they say you are.  

I don’t dispute that his flag remarks are a kind of pandering, but it isn’t the head-spinning, neck-snapping kind of radical change in a policy view that Huckabee’s signing of the “No Amnesty” pledge is, but even this isn’t purely pandering just for South Carolina.  It was direct pandering when he adopted an anti-amnesty position in Iowa after having had a quite liberal record on immigration, and now he is simply confirming or reinforcing his earlier about-face.  Viewed in a favourable way, he has locked himself in with a public pledge to oppose something that he had previously rejected only in rhetoric.  Viewed skeptically, as I would view it, he has simply repeated his earlier opportunism.  In case you’ve forgotten, his earlier opportunism worked out pretty well for him, so he probably thinks he can succeed with it again. 

Thank goodness it’s Friday–there must be another insipid Michael Gerson column to read!  And indeed there is.  This week, he’s complaining about mean, ol’ Fred’s remarks on government funding for AIDS in Africa:

While he is not an isolationist, he clearly is playing to isolationist sentiments. 

It is now “isolationist” to oppose foreign aid for disease prevention on a continent where the United States has negligible interests, because apparently our resources are as infinite as the ever-multiplying “interests” that the Gersons of the world discover for us in every problem around the world.  More than that, Gerson tells us, Fred has revealed his lack of “moral seriousness.”  For Gerson, governing isn’t a matter of making choices and setting priorities in the American interest, but of unburdening his conscience about suffering on the other side of the world with someone else’s money.  I can understand why Gerson is annoyed–this kind of foreign aid was one of his favourite administration policies–but the reasoning here is beyond laughable:

America is engaged in a high-stakes ideological struggle in Africa, where radicals and terrorists seek to fill the vacuum of failed and hopeless societies. Fighting disease and promoting development are important foreign policy tools in this struggle, which Thompson apparently does not appreciate or even understand.  

Now the overwhelming bulk of the foreign aid in question goes to sub-Saharan and East African countries, where there are not actually very many of these “radicals and terrorists.”  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t violent, brutal militias and governments, and it doesn’t mean that there isn’t political instability in some of these countries, but it does mean that the political woes of these countries do not figure in to any larger, much less “high-stakes,” ideological struggle.  Uganda, one of the recipients of our current aid, suffers from a long-running insurgency in the north, but this is not connected to a broader “ideological struggle,” unless you assume that the “ideological struggle” is being waged everywhere on the planet and can be used to retroactively justify any do-gooding overseas that comes under reasonable scrutiny.  If health-related foreign aid is a weapon in this “ideological struggle,” shouldn’t we at the very least be targeting it at countries that are more strategically significant?  But no, Thompson must be engaged in some kind of “isolationism” because he doesn’t favour frittering away resources on what are frankly, from the perpsective of the American interest, low-priority issues.  

Reading Gerson’s moral hectoring, you have to conclude that there is no logical limit to the outpouring of state-funded compassion that he would support, since to limit it would be to declare someone, somewhere, less of a priority for the U.S. government than someone else, and that would be evidence of a hardness of heart rather than responsible government.  In trying to lay a guilt trip on Thompson for expressing what I have to assume is the view of a substantial number, if not a majority, of Republicans, Gerson reminds us why so many of us on the right are instinctively averse to foreign aid proposals: the arguments used to advance them are usually loaded down with this self-important moral preening that says Americans must be concerned with the problems of people on the other side of the planet and that they are necessarily shameful and despicable people if they prefer primarily to help their own.  This is not simply an insulting way to make the argument, but it suggests a frankly deranged set of priorities in the one making the argument.  Gerson, like Mrs. Jellyby of Bleak House, seems to be able to see nothing closer than Africa.

The requirements of charity do call us to help the sick and the poor (which Thompson never denied, but rather took for granted), but what Gerson is talking about is almost the opposite and negation of charity.  Invoking the tradition in Christendom of public authorities providing for the poor, Gerson implicitly takes for granted that the United States government has the same obligation to provide for the poor of other continents that it may have for its own citizens, which suggests that he thinks that our government is the public authority for all the world.  Abandoning persuasion, the redistributionist resorts to coercion to send money to whatever cause he believes is most deserving, and here Gerson is no different.  This is his “heroic conservatism,” which does not conserve much of anything but fancies itself very heroic for wasting things that belong to other people.  As sure as public money always tends to drive out private money, foreign aid spending, when it is not misappropriated by the receiving government, will tend to reduce and limit the extent of private philanthropy dedicated to a particular country or problem.  It might just be that the public policy Gerson supports will ultimately hamper the development of private institutional and charitable support and so perpetuate dependency on this aid indefinitely.  As with so many proposals of state support, the helping hand of government, even when offered in good faith and with the best of intentions, can have a long-term crippling effect on the recipients who are “benefiting” from the aid.  

Update: James makes the much more cogent case for ths kind of aid on the grounds of promoting or preserving stability and social order in these countries.  It still seems debatable to me that doing this is the U.S. government’s responsibility or that the stability of Uganda or other such African nations should be a priority of our government, but this is the only kind of argument for this aid that will persuade and it is the just about the only kind of argument for it that can be defended coherently.  That said, Peter makes the good pragmatic case against the actual aid program that the government has.  Before throwing money to corrupt governments, it would be wise to know whether the money will ever assist the people for whom it is being donated.  Americans generally and conservatives in particular would have far fewer objections to foreign aid if there was much confidence that the money would not be wasted or stolen, and that it would accomplish the things that the government says that it will.  In principle, containing the spread of disease strikes me as a far more useful and humane use of our resources than invading and occupying other countries that pose no threat to us, but there need to be cogent arguments as to why we should focus on one region rather than another and why our government is the one that should be doing this.  Given the current state of the federal government’s finances, I’m not sure that we can afford to keep throwing good money after mostly bad on programs that are being minimally effective. 

This Chris Hayes report of the mind of the undecided voter (via Peter Suderman’s bloggingheads with Ezra Klein) is amazing to me.  Voter irrationality I understand, even when it infuriates me, and voter ignorance is frequently a given, but the completely apolitical thinking of undecided voters just baffles me.  Here’s Hayes:

These questions, too, more often than not yielded bewilderment. As far as I could tell, the problem wasn’t the word “issue”; it was a fundamental lack of understanding of what constituted the broad category of the “political.” The undecideds I spoke to didn’t seem to have any intuitive grasp of what kinds of grievances qualify as political grievances. Often, once I would engage undecided voters, they would list concerns, such as the rising cost of health care; but when I would tell them that Kerry had a plan to lower health-care premiums, they would respond in disbelief–not in disbelief that he had a plan, but that the cost of health care was a political issue. It was as if you were telling them that Kerry was promising to extend summer into December.

To the extent that many voters are like these undecided voters, this could explain many things.  It could help to explain why largely issue-driven protest candidacies always fail: the people to whom the protest candidate should be the most attractive ((i.e., the embodiment of the anti-establishment, the opponent of the failed system, etc.) are the very kinds of people who don’t even think in terms of “issues.”  It helps explain how McCain succeeds with voters, while those informed on and actually concerned about his policy views rule him out as unacceptable.  He talks about himself as he does in this ad and bases his candidacy on his biography.

This reminds of some of the basic insights of Applebee’s America, according to which, “People are desperate to connect with one another and be part of a cause greater than themselves.”  That last part of the sentence is virtually McCain’s campaign slogan.  He talks about a “cause greater than ourselves” all the time, and evidently people love it.  If voters crave authenticity, it does make you wonder what Michiganders were doing electing Mitt Romney, but nationally it seems to be the case that many voters are responding to McCain and Huckabee with the baffling irrationality of the undecided voter’s mentality.

Cross-posted at The American Scene

Let’s assume for a moment that Huckabee finishes strongly in South Carolina, thwarts the Thompson comeback and overtakes McCain.  Among February 5 states with polls available, he’s still running in first in Oklahoma, Alabama and Georgia and might still win in these states regardless of what happens on Saturday, and a South Carolina win might propel him on to a surprise success in Florida.  Assuming that he can then wend his way to the nomination, which is by no means certain, and perhaps hones a winning Pinkertonian-style message, is it so far-fetched to think that he would be competitive in the general election?  I know that he does poorly among Catholic voters, and he seems to be stuck in the evangelical ghetto that is partly of his own making (and partly the media’s fabrication), but in head-to-head polls among likely voters he tends to do much better against Clinton and even beats her in a couple of match-ups.  Given that Clinton is a machine when it comes to reciting policy wonk details and Huckabee would prefer to tell an amusing story than give a straight answer, this may all be very misleading, but there is nothing obviously implausible about a Huckabee nomination or even a Huckabee victory…except that every conservative activist and pundit (except for Jim Pinkerton) wants him to go jump in a lake. 

P.S.  There is the additional problem that Huckabee has lately started to take on the traits of a factional leader rather than someone who is trying to lead the entire party.  He is vying for influence, rather than trying to consolidate all factions behind him.  Am I the only one who is reminded of the desultory Tory leadership battles of the pre-Cameron years?  It seems as if we are still in our William Hague phase–who will be the GOP’s ineffectual Iain Duncan-Smith?

Update: This Pew poll shows that Huckabee runs a decent second to McCain in all of the states from Jan. 29 onwards (see page 8).  If McCain falters and Giuliani does not recover, doesn’t he benefit the most among voters?

Ironically, given the intense dissatisfaction of conservative elites with Huckabee, the same poll shows that GOP voters place Huckabee furthest to the right of any of the leading candidates, and they place him just to the left of Bush, while all of the others are perceived as being to Bush’s left (which may be true in a couple of cases).  Among all voters, Huckabee is seen as being furthest to the right.  Only 34% of GOP voters see Huckabee as moderate or liberal, yet this is the overwhelming consensus of conservative elites.  Arguably, this is because they are better-informed, but it also means they are entirely out of step with a majority of Republicans. 

In 2004, the University of Michigan’s American National Election Studies (ANES) survey asked about 1,200 American adults to give their thermometer scores of various groups. People in this survey who called themselves “conservative” or “very conservative” did have a fairly low opinion of liberals — they gave them an average thermometer score of 39. The score that liberals give conservatives: 38. Looking only at people who said they are “extremely conservative” or “extremely liberal,” the right gave the left a score of 27; the left gives the right an icy 23. So much for the liberal tolerance edge.


The bottom line is that there is simply no comparison between the current hatred the extreme left has for Messrs. Bush and Cheney, and the hostility the extreme right had for Messrs. Clinton and Gore in the late 1990s. ~Arthur Brooks

This seems like a lousy way to measure tolerance of differences.  I may be unrepresentative (no, in fact, I am unrepresentative), but take this for whatever it’s worth.  I grew up with Clinton hatred.  If you were young and exposed to a lot of conservative media in the ’90s, it just came naturally to distrust and loathe these people.  I certainly still strongly dislike both him and his wife, but I guarantee that my “thermometer” score for Bush and Cheney would drop below whatever it would be for the Clintons.  It does seem to be true that more progressives are furious with Bush and Cheney than conservatives were furious with Clinton and Gore, but then that might have something to do with the respective policies of the two administrations. 

There are plenty of things in the last administration to find fault with, trust me, and whatever I say about the Clinton administration is just in comparison with the current administration, but it is difficult, even as a conservative, to view Clinton and Gore more negatively when they objectively presided over a relatively more conservative government overall.  Some of this was imposed on them by the voters in the 1994 election, but comparatively the last seven years have simply been worse in most important respects.  If that’s how I see it, how much much more true would that be for progressives who regard Bush (incorrectly) as a crazed right-winger?  Brooks is prepared for this, but gives a response that isn’t entirely persuasive:

Yes, Mr. Clinton may have been imperfect, but Mr. Bush — whom people on the far left routinely compare to Hitler — is evil. This of course destroys the liberal stereotype even more eloquently than the data. The very essence of intolerance is to dehumanize the people with whom you disagree by asserting that they are not just wrong, but wicked.

But how many people on the left actually compare him to Hitler?  This is a favourite of some in the netroots and the crazed world of ANSWER and MoveOn, but how representative are they really?  There were more than a few (not always inapt) Nazi references in conservative circles when Clinton was pushing his gun control legislation or after Waco.  It may be that there is simply vastly more vilification of Bush, but if you were trying to make a case for relatively greater liberal irrationality and intolerance I can scarcely think of a worse way to show it. 

Probably a much more relevant measure of tolerance of different ideas would be to look at how left and right respond to dissenters in their ranks.  You could try to make an argument that progressives are more intolerant of war supporters than conservatives are of war opponents and cite the example of the netroots’ campaign against Joe Lieberman (the Purge of Joe Lieberman!), but that would end up being pretty unpersuasive, since the lone antiwar candidate on the right is widely loathed and shunned by a majority of conservatives and the actual antiwar candidates on the left are trailing behind a woman who voted for the authorisation resolution.  Even granting that Clinton has now adopted an antiwar pose, she is most reluctant war opponent you’ll ever see.  

Looking beyond foreign policy, you could find more ideological rigidity on the left, and these days you could argue that the right is overflowing with dissenting views on all kinds of things (or you could see this simply as evidence of chaos and confusion), but it seems to me that it is in policy debates and arguments over ideas (or the lack thereof) that you’re going to find the real proof of tolerance or intolerance.  In the end, it will probably depend on the issue or policy.  On abortion, pro-lifers on the left keep a lower profile than pro-choicers on the right, and on trade free traders try to stamp out any hint of opposition on the right.  Tolerance of differences tends to decline as you approach core beliefs, or positions that are considered untouchable or inviolable.  It is human nature to be more tolerant in those areas that are less important to you, and perfectly normal to be less compromising and accommodating over things you believe are fundamental.  In this sense, evidence of greater “intolerance” of this sort is also possibly evidence for firmer conviction.

Roger Cohen repeats a meme that has been getting on my nerves, especially since McCain did better among antiwar voters than among supporters of the war, who voted for Romney in both New Hampshire and Michigan:

McCain was politically dead six months ago, his campaign undone by his backing of President Bush’s Iraq policy. His remarkable resurgence, which has put him in the lead among Republican candidates, according to recent polls, is one measure of the Iraq shift.

This first sentence is a complete media fantasy.  His campaign was undone by his support for the immigration bill last summer.  Opponents of the war in the mainstream press don’t like McCain’s position on the war and so conclude that this must be what has brought him down, but they are judging the war’s popularity by the entire population, continually neglecting to note that most Republicans still support it.  It wasn’t as if he was terribly popular with conservatives before the immigration bill, but that pushed a lot of people away from him and destroyed his status as the “next-in-line” nominee.  Also, his “remarkable resurgence” was tied to his victory in New Hampshire, which had to do with his personal popularity in New Hampshire that has endured since 2000 and his ability to attract independent voters.  Public opinion about the success of the “surge” hasn’t changed very much, so it is difficult to trace McCain’s resurgence to anything Iraq-related.  If his resurgence were a result of getting credit for his position on Iraq, he ought to be winning most of the war supporters rather than a plurality of the opponents, wouldn’t you say?

Related to the question of self-reliance are the paired concepts of self-restraint and self-indulgence.  You may remember that there was a lively debate about Crunchy Cons in the spring of 2006, and much of the argument was over patterns and types of consumption (or overconsumption, as we on the crunchy side saw it).  On one level, we were talking about an overconsumption of things, but this could be applied more narrowly to an overconsumption of food and of the unhealthiest–but frequently most convenient–kinds of food.  The debate was regularly sidetracked as we were chided for being snobbish foodies who were trying to impose our love of manchego on the masses.  We were pushing the ideal of enkrateia (I don’t think any of us used the word at the time, but this is broadly what we were talking about), and we were told that we were hypocritical busybodies, socialists-in-waiting and the like.  Overconsumption comes from disordered desire, or rather an excess of desire, and what the “crunchies” or neo-traditionalists were arguing for was moderation.  We were calling for cultivating self-restraint and constraining impulses towards gluttony.  (This in turn would tie into matters of land usage, such as how much land and how many resources are being devoted to raising livestock, and to questions of the treatment of animals in factory farming to provide the mass production of meat demanded by an overconsuming public–the kinds of questions that my green friends were putting to me years ago and which I, still in a rather unreflective libertarian phase, laughed off as unimportant.)   Accustomed to thinking of such arguments in terms of calls for government action, which we were not making, the critics presumably saw us as little better than pro-life Michael Bloombergs on a quest to eliminate transfats by edict.  They were, are, wrong.  

When Mike Huckabee started running for President (and was busily running, training for a marathon as part of his health kick), the prospect of having a weight-loss guru in the race was dispiriting for some of us, and his vague answers to health care questions indicated that he thought there was nothing wrong with the health care system that a good diet wouldn’t cure.  It has been easy to make light of Huckabee’s talk about preventive care and a national ”health crisis,” since he is usually heavy on quips and light on details, but I may be starting to see some value in what he’s talking about here.  Not as a matter of policy, but as a matter of pushing for changes in habits and making arguments that the good life entails moderation and that this must affect how we consume food.  This is not to move away from joie de vivre and festivity, which I believe are complements to a certain asceticism that a conservatism of virtue has to try to instill, but to encourage a return to proportion and limits and, above all, restraint.  The return of restraint would be a boon to conservatives in virtually all areas, whether we are talking about spending, foreign policy or conservation, but it can be applied more immediately in daily life.   

As Americans, our cultural responses to indulgence and restraint tend to veer towards extremes, and you find a generally humourless, puritanical lot crusading for various public health causes on one side and those who insist on their God-given right to kill themselves with smoke and fat if they so choose.  One area where cultural conservatives might make a valuable contribution is trying to bring these two views more into balance.  Promoting a sense of proportion, limits and restraint and encouraging the healthy enjoyment of food, and furthermore making the case that how and what a people eats is actually significant and not an irrelevant choice, could be one way that conservatives could attack a significant cause of health care expense by working to transform the culture and instill habits more in keeping with the virtues.  This is a classic example of the need to have checks imposed from within if they are not going to be imposed from without.   

Rod and I were exchanging messages with a colleague earlier today with the recent remarks by Limbaugh over self-reliance as the starting point.  At the conclusion of my message, I wrote:

Self-reliance is an excellent thing to instill and to follow, and that is and should be the ultimate answer, but almost everything about the current regime works against self-reliance and creates disincentives for practicing self-reliance.

By that I mean that we have a dependency problem that has been fostered to a significant degree by what some people like to call “economic dynamism” or “creative destruction.”  Knocking out the old mechanisms of social support, scattering communities with the draw of “better opportunities” elsewhere (and thereby helping to kill whichever small towns weren’t already ravaged by the highway system) and encouraging consumption and the mandate of “growht” with cheap credit all work to make Americans less economically independent and make sure that they have few, if any, private institutions they can fall back on that are capable of bearing the load.  Having creatively destroyed support networks that were fulfilling the functions that must be assumed more and more by the state, the “greatest force for change” is the greatest force for facilitating the growth of intrusive government to clean up the wreckage of all that destructive creativity.  Further, having become so dependent on either government or employer (or both), Americans are at the mercy of policy decisions over which they routinely have little influence, except at election time when the people who have fashioned the system that puts them in the present predicament of dependency promise them…more government assistance!  This reminds me of Caleb Stegall’s op-ed from 2006:

One of the primary conditions of freedom is a widespread distribution of capital, both economic and cultural. This accounts for conservatives’ long-standing skepticism and mistrust of centralized and concentrated enclaves of money and power with their tendencies toward societal management at every level. The oppressive effect of the management elites is essentially the same whether those elites sit in the board room, the judicial chamber, the legislative halls or the Oval Office.   

Or as I said during the debates over Wal-Mart and similar corporations back in 2006:

I don’t know if it is “counterfeit Americanism” to find troubling or objectionable the considerable dependence of the well-being of a town on the unaccountable decisions of one corporation that has no stake and no real attachment to the place, but I would suggest that there is nothing terribly consistent with the listed American “core values” in this development.  We do well to be wary of the road to state serfdom and advocate going in the other direction, but we make a great error if we think that road to corporate serfdom does not lead in the same direction and does not eventually meet up with the other road.  The masters of both use fear of the other to aggrandise their power.  The state tells you, “I will protect you from exploitation, give me power (and money)!”  And so you do.  Then the corporation says, “I provide you services and represent your freedom from government interference, so give me money (and power)!”  And so you do.  At no point are you concerned that the corporation generally supports what the state is doing and vice versa, or that some of the money you give to each one goes towards empowering and influencing the other.  

Fundamentally, all of this comes back to the question of whether dependent people can be the governors of those upon whom they depend, and the answer is no.  Without that, there can be no real self-government, and as Caleb said no real freedom.  To the extent that he has no intent on breaking this chain of dependency, Huckabee is not any kind of populist that Caleb or I would recognise.  He uses the opposition between “Main Street” and “Wall Street” rhetorically, but one has to wonder if he thinks that their interests are really all that divergent, or if he thinks that there has just been some misunderstanding in allocating the benefits.  He acknowledges that something is awry, but he apparently thinks the answer is to elect him so that working Americans will feel better about their President (he will remind them of their co-workers!), as if that will alleviate their real ills.   

This ties into the debate that has been going on over Romney’s “I’ll fight for every job” routine that he is now reprising in South Carolina.  I sympathise with calls to self-reliance generally, but these are being made as much in a vacuum as Romney’s false promises.  How do I know Romney’s promises are false?  It isn’t just that I think he’s untrustworthy (though if his recent display in Michigan hasn’t persuaded you of that, nothing I say here will), but that he is not going to make the auto industry in Michigan competitive with production facilities in other countries simply through deregulation and research subsidies.  For one thing, Washington only has so much control over the cost of doing business in Michigan, and the one area where Washington does have control over relevant policy (i.e., trade) is the area where Romney isn’t going to do anything to shore up domestic manufacturing.  Not only is he not going to do anything, but he has all but vowed to make sure thhat the same process that has been hollowing out Michigan factory towns will keep happening elsewhere–that is what his “Reagan Zone” offers American manufacturing. 

For those who have been missing his insightful commentary, you can find Dan McCarthy running the Ron Paul campaign blog.

Via Richard Spencer

I don’t want to cause Ron Paul any extra grief, but I would note that Ron Paul stated his opposition to Lincoln and the War on national television just a few weeks ago and gave a reasonable answer when he was asked about this.  Among other things, he said:

How much would that cost compared to killing 600,000 Americans and where it lingered for 100 years?  I mean, the hatred and all that existed.  So every other major country in the world got rid of slavery without a civil war. 

Those who would like to defend the Unionist cause should ask themselves: “Is there any other conflict where I would view the invading, aggressive party driven by ideology and, among a few, religious fanaticism as the obviously right side?”  The story of the War is that it was tragic, in that it was between two flawed peoples (as all peoples are more or less flawed) who warred against one another to the ultimate detriment of both.  Moreover, unlike in classical tragedies where the hero is destined to suffer, that conflict was avoidable. 

Nowadays, it is possible for some modern historians to see the massacres in the Vendee as a French-on-French ideological “genocide” of sorts, but it seems that we are still a surprisingly long way from coming to terms with our destructive revolutionary experience in the mid-19th century. 

To stave off recession, the Fed appears anxious to slash interest rates another half-point, if not more. That will further weaken the dollar and raise the costs of the imports to which we have become addicted. While all this is bad news for the Republicans, it is worse news for the republic. As we save nothing, we must borrow both to pay for the imported oil and foreign manufactures upon which we have become dependent.

We are thus in the position of having to borrow from Europe to defend Europe, of having to borrow from China and Japan to defend Chinese and Japanese access to Gulf oil, and of having to borrow from Arab emirs, sultans and monarchs to make Iraq safe for democracy.

We borrow from the nations we defend so that we may continue to defend them. To question this is an unpardonable heresy called “isolationism.” ~Pat Buchanan

Jim Antle makes an important point:

It’s worth clearing something up about the strategy that led to the Paul newsletters. Paleolibertarianism began as a way to get libertarian politics back in touch with the normal customs, habits, and mores of most people while keeping the focus on antistatism. The idea was that libertarian hostility to religion and to the nation-state was hurting the cause of more freedom and less government. Most people are to some extent religious. They don’t reject all forms of social authority. When they hear that a country is just a bunch of people who happen live in the same geopraphic location, and that there is no reason to feel more loyalty to an American than someone else, it doesn’t quite ring true to them.

Unfortunately, as evidenced by the types of people these newsletters were marketed to, some prominent paleolibertarians took these insights and then veered off into rather ugly directions with them. Ironically, by doing so they have probably strengthened the very tendencies in libertarianism they once sought to mitigate.

The paleolibertarian turn was and remains basically the right one in principle for libertarians to take.  That is, a libertarianism that is not antithetical to religion and patriotism will fare much better politically, and it will also be more in agreement with human nature.  A libertarianism that pretends that there is something unnatural or even immoral about preserving national sovereignty will never appeal to more than a handful of people, and that’s as it should be. 

By destroying the states’ right to secession, Abraham Lincoln opened the door to the kind of unconstrained, despotic, arrogant government we have today, something the framers of the Constitution could not have possibly imagined. States should again challenge Washington’s unconstitutional acts through nullification. ~Walter Williams, c. 1998

Via J.H. Huebert


Unless my memory is playing tricks on me, Tom Coburn is one the most ardent opponents of Kyoto and any federal legislation relating to global warming.  So, naturally, given the insane nature of the GOP race, he has endorsed John McCain, one of the leading Republican proponents of cap-and-trade and raising the alarm about global warming.  Apparently it is McCain’s promised pork-busting that has won his support.

This is rather amusing.  Apparently I have become worthy of being denounced by Jamie Kirchick at Commentary for my sympathy for the Confederacy.  Kirchick’s “discovery” that I have belonged to the League of the South for many years will come, I expect, as no surprise to anyone who has been reading this blog for very long.  On my sidebar are links to the League of the South’s webpage and its blog, I have written several times for Chronicles, which also links to the League’s site, and I have repeatedly defended the principles of secession, decentralism and constitutionalism that I regard as being an inseparable part of the political tradition of the Antifederalists, Jeffersonians and the Confederacy.  I still belong to the League, but I am not active in the group.  My statements about Lincoln over the years should have left no one in any confusion about my views of the War or its negative effects on the Republic.  In essence, Kirchick believes that it is somehow disqualifying or unacceptable to reject the acts and legacy of an executive usurper and that it is wrong to sympathise with the people who fought for their constitutional rights against this usurper. 

I don’t consider my membership or my views on the War to be shameful or requiring any apology.  I don’t defend the legacy of the man who ushered in a destructive, illegal war that killed hundreds of thousands.  It does take a certain fanatical mindset to see mass destruction and violence as the correct solutions to morally repugnant institutions, and let me be clear that I believe slavery was such a morally repugnant institution.  I reject the mentality that says that the ends justify the means, and that the slaughter of other people is acceptable for the sake of ideology and centralising power.  I will gladly compare my views on this with anyone who defends illegal and aggressive wars and the intrusive reach of the central state. 

I should say that some of the things I said in the post to which Kirchick refers were intemperate and at least one was wrong.  The shot at Boot was excessive, and I shouldn’t have said that.  In that I was being hot-tempered and wrong.  However, the rest of my views are so “repellent and noxious” that they are shared by such conventional pundits as Walter Williams and even to some degree by no less than Democratic Sen. Jim Webb, who once said about the cause for which two of his ancestors fought:

I am not here to apologize for why they fought, although modern historians might contemplate that there truly were different perceptions in the North and South about those reasons, and that most Southern soldiers viewed the driving issue to be sovereignty rather than slavery. In 1860 fewer than five percent of the people in the South owned slaves, and fewer than twenty percent were involved with slavery in any capacity. Love of the Union was palpably stronger in the South than in the North before the war — just as overt patriotism is today — but it was tempered by a strong belief that state sovereignty existed prior to the Constitution, and that it had never been surrendered. Nor had Abraham Lincoln ended slavery in Kentucky and Missouri when those border states did not secede. Perhaps all of us might reread the writings of Alexander Stephens, a brilliant attorney who opposed secession but then became Vice President of the Confederacy, making a convincing legal argument that the constitutional compact was terminable. And who wryly commented at the outset of the war that “the North today presents the spectacle of a free people having gone to war to make freemen of slaves, while all they have as yet attained is to make slaves of themselves.”

All of that states the matter very well.  I remain convinced that the vast majority of Confederate soldiers were fighting for constitutional liberty, including one of my own ancestors, and I think that was, is, something worth defending.  If that repels the Jamie Kirchicks of the world, I have to conclude that I am on the right track.

I’m a little late to this, but I wanted to add a few remarks to what Rod said about Huckabee’s allegedly horrifying remarks about God and the Constitution.  But first, Lisa “Go Pack To Dogpatch” Schiffren:

What do you think God’s standard is on anchor babies and birthright citizenship? (Manger!) Does Huckabee’s God believe in borders? What is God’s monetary policy? Is Jesus a capitalist? How much economic disparity will he tolerate? Wouldn’t God want us all to have health care? Nice shoes?

What about rendering unto Ceaser that which is Ceaser’s [sic], and unto God that which is God’s? Mike Huckabee is going to force those of us who have wanted more religion in the town square to reexamine the merits of strict separation of church and state. He is the best advertisement ever for the ACLU. Even if you share his ultimate views on the definition of marriage, or the desirability of abortion on demand.

Is this “Ceaser” the one who ceases and desists from something?  Tell us more about “Ceaser,” please. 

These comments, and others like them in recent days, are revealing about what some movement conservatives really think about religion in the public square, “values,” and eternal verities.  Religion in the public square is all very nice so long as we’re talking about nothing more than prayers at high school football games and maybe a creche here and there, but just watch these people who allegedly “have wanted more religion in the town square” run screaming the moment a religious conservative proposes to do something and to do it for religious reasons.  Suddenly the great friends of religiosity cannot get away fast enough, which suggests that their earlier interest in more religion was very weak or it was simply a pose for the benefit of their audience. 

What is most remarkable about all of this is that these reactions are coming from people who mostly support the exact same constitutional amendments on marriage and life that Huckabee does.  Most of them, I assume, have supported the life amendment plank in the GOP platform, and I assume virtually all of them have voted for candidates running on that platform in the past.  If they don’t agree with these amendments, it is also probably not because they think that these amendments represent some horrible intrusion of religion into the public square, but because they think they are politically misguided.  There is a good federalist, decentralist argument against both of these amendments, and that is the real issue with what Huckabee is proposing.  He is trying to set up candidates who still have some nominal respect for federalism as relativists, as he has done before.  The reaction against what Huckabee said seems to be driven entirely by the way that he said it and the fact that he dared to suggest that the laws of men should be in line with the law of God.  In this, he is making a standard Christian conservative argument.  By their reaction, they have shown how much contempt they have for that kind of argument and the people who make it.  That isn’t news to some of us, but it is a little surprising that they would express it with so much vehemence.

Why Michigan’s evangelicals abandoned Huck is the inetersting question.  The most likely explanation is that the reality of Huck’s policies caught up with his funny, winsome style. ~Hugh Hewitt

Here Hewitt is repeating the sort of line we frequently hear about Huckabee, whether it is coming from a friendly or hostile source.  Going into the primary yesterday, quite a few observers assumed that Huckabee’s “populism” would help him, and it is this same “populism” that makes Huckabee persona non grata to the institutional movement types, and there are these references to Huckabee’s “policies” that I have never been able to understand.  Aside from the FairTax and his cut-and-paste immigration plan, Huckabee doesn’t have any domestic policies.  That is a legitimate reason to question his preparedness and oppose his candidacy, but it does not explain how his “policies” could have caught up to him in Michigan.  Here’s the thing: Huckabee is a “compassionate conservative,” which by my lights means that he’s pretty far to the left of me such that I have no problem regarding him as someone as liberal as Bush, but based on his current campaign and even based on his record in Arkansas he’s still not quite a “pro-life Democrat.”  More to the point, if Huckabee is a “pro-life Democrat,” Romney would have to be declared a Democrat as well based on his recent display in Michigan.     

Voters did not suddenly discover Huckabee’s great scheme to nationalise health care (or whatever it is that people think Huckabee stands for) and turn away from him.  Huckabee’s great health care insight is that we should eat smaller portions of healthier food, and maybe stop smoking.  Not necessarily bad ideas, but they are not policy proposals.  Outside of a narrow range of supporters tied into the church and homeschooling networks, plus a few others, Huckabee got little support because he had little money with which to advertise and spent little time advertising there.  He went on the air in Michigan less than a week before the vote, so he mainly retained those voters who had heard about him through other means.  What his Michigan ads said was: “I’m a tax-cutter, and I remind you of a working man and not a CEO.”  What Huckabee was offering was a symbolic repudiation of corporate managers and…tax cuts.  Romney promised a huge infusion of government spending.  The two who actually proposed interventionist policies of various kinds (whether they included deregulation or more regulation) won the race and finished second, while the one running as the relatively more laissez-faire candidate came in third.  So, in a sense, Huckabee’s limited number of policies may have caught up with him, but that would imply that Michigan voters rewarded the two most statist candidates in the race and punished the more simple anti-tax candidate.  Of course Hewitt will keep perpetuating the myth of Huckabee the “pro-life Democrat” because he is a Romney shill, but what is remarkable is how much currency this notion has gained in just a couple months.

Ponnuru chastises Ross and says:

Many of Romney’s policy specifics involved removing Washington-imposed burdens on the industry, such as the prospect of new regulations. You can think he exaggerated their impact—I do—but that’s not left-wing. Convening industry reps and government officials to gab about the industry’s problems doesn’t strike me as all that alarming, either: It’s what comes out of the meeting that matters, and Romney didn’t commit to anything statist. Romney’s plan to quintuple research spending was pretty bad, in my view—but plenty of free-market folks are okay with such subsidies. The reason Romney got a “slap on the wrist” is that it’s all he deserved.

Plenty of free-market folks may be okay with such subsidies, but then that makes the definition of “free-market folks” rather flexible.  If you look at what Romney said, he made the subsidies an essential part of his proposal:

But taking off all these burdens is only half the solution [bold mine-DL].  If we are going to be the world’s greatest economic power, we must invest in our future. It’s time to be bold.  First, I will make a five-fold increase – from $4 billion dollars to $20 billion dollars – in our national investment in energy research, fuel technology, materials science, and automotive technology. Research spins out new ideas for new products for both small and large businesses.  That is exactly what has happened in health care, in defense, and in space.  Look how industries in other states have thrived from the spin out of technologies from our investment in these areas.  So if we can invest in health care, in defense, and in space, why not also invest in energy and fuel technology here in Michigan?

In other words, state capitalism is already the way we do things in other sectors, so why not link yet another industry to massive government spending in unhealthy and distorting ways?  

Noting a double standard in the treatment of Romney on the one hand and Huckabee and McCain on the other on fiscal and economic policy, Ross says:

It’s “sustained and detailed,” all right, just as Frum says - a sustained and detailed infringement on free-market principle, and one that appeals to voters in places like Michigan precisely because it goes much further to the left than Mike Huckabee’s substance-free talk about how the current period of economic growth isn’t doing all that well by the working class, or John McCain’s straight talk about how Michiganders can’t expect the federal government to bring back the glory days of Chrysler and GM. But because conservatives spend way, way more time worrying about the spectre of “class warfare” than they do about than the nexus between big business and the Republican Party, Romney gets off with a mild slap on the wrist, while McCain and Huckabee get tarred as liberals.

This is what I was talking about when I said:

My larger point was that Huckabee actually presents much less of a threat to economic conservatives than they suppose.  It seems to me that, in their indignation that one of the non-anointed candidates has started succeeding where the chosen ones have failed, establishment Republicans have started applying a kind of rigour to litmus tests on fiscal records that they would not apply in other cases.  If Huckabee’s Cato grade was a D, Romney’s was a C, yet we are gamely told by those who endorse Romney that he is much better as an economic conservative than Huckabee, when the truth is that, by the high standards of Cato and CfG, both are woefully lacking.  The difference is that Romney is a corporate Republican and will be quite glad to work in the interests of corporations, while Huckabee manifestly is not.  That makes Romney more reliable [bold mine-DL], even if it does not make him any more conservative on economics and fiscal policy…

This point would also apply to McCain.  Beyond the substantive differences (i.e., Romney seems to be calling for massive state intervention to revive the auto industry and gets little criticism, while the same magazine that endorsed Romney would shriek about creeping socialism if Huckabee mocks candidates who went to boarding school), there is also a difference in the style of how Romney delivers his pandering nonsense: he is “optimistic” while the others are “pessimistic.”  If you dress up even worse policies in optimistic language, optimists will view whatever you say more favourably than if you cast it in “pessimistic” (i.e., realistic) terms. 

Those who don’t support Romney have certainly noticed the glaring problems with what Romney said.  Doesn’t it seem odd that the “full-spectrum conservative” is the first candidate to elicit multiple comparisons between his plans and Soviet economic policy?  Of course, you can’t believe a word he says, so there’s probably no danger that his actual policies would be quite so interventionist, and he is a team player, while McCain and Huckabee are idiosyncratic, temperamental politicians who enjoy bucking the establishment, if only a little.  In an odd way, Romney’s complete lack of credibility means that any promises he has made to Michigan are almost certainly empty and therefore non-threatening, while Huckabee’s mildest gestures in the direction of the middle class are proof of his unacceptable “populism.”  What also seems to worry people about McCain and Huckabee is that they have convictions and might act on them in a consistent manner.  Romney gives them nothing to fear on that count.

Update: Or, as David Brooks says:

His campaign was a reminder of how far corporate Republicans are from free market Republicans.

Of course, it helps to be reminded of this, since many free market conservatives often take criticisms of corporations as criticisms of the free market and some of them seem to conflate the two.

Instead, what we are seeing is yet more evidence that the Republican Party is not in the grip of the Religious Right. That has been a myth organized political evangelicals have been eager to promote and Democratic and Republican elites have, in gullibility, accepted. ~Daniel Casse

True enough, the GOP is not in the grip of the Religious Right, but the rest of this has things entirely backwards.  Yes, certain evangelical leaders have wanted to boast of their great influence (overcompensating for their lack of actual power) and some have enjoyed holding court and having presidential candidates seek their blessing, and some social conservatives took satisfaction in the apparently significant role of the famous “values voters” in swinging the election to Bush in 2004, but by and large the myth of the Religious Right’s stranglehold on the GOP has been promoted most of all by two groups of people in recent years: hysterical secularists on the left who would probably see ”floating crosses” in every Republican political advertisement and…secular conservatives on the right looking for scapegoats for the GOP’s recent electoral woes.  It couldn’t be Iraq, dithering on immigration for six years or massive incompetence in government that has hurt Republicans–no, it must have been that Terri Schiavo business!  Or so say the Ryan Sagers of the world.

Liberals have mistaken the importance of “values voters” to the GOP coalition for evidence of religious conservative clout in policymaking; some secular conservatives disturbed by the politics of the “values voters” and the GOP’s exploitation of wedge issues for GOTV efforts have developed elaborate theories about the religious radicalisation of the GOP, mistaking the deep cynicism of the GOP establishment for zealotry.  The one group that hasn’t been pushing the narrative of a Religious Right-dominated GOP in recent years has been…religious conservatives, who know full well that they don’t really dominate much of anything in the party.  Support for Huckabee’s candidacy is partly an outburst of frustration and dissatisfaction with this state of affairs, and he has lately started making that sense of frustration an explicit part of his campaign.  However, while a major part of the voting coalition, evangelicals specifically and religious conservatives generally wield much less clout at elite movement and party levels than you would expect given the outsized electoral importance of their issues to the coalition.  The current election has highlighted the lack of unity and organisation of religious conservatives.  It was significant that Giuliani’s campaign weakened on its own–it was not stopped by religious conservative leaders, some of whom even entertained or made accommodations with the mayor.  It was also significant that religious conservative leaders adopted an “every man for himself” approach to candidate endorsements, rather than uniting around any one consensus figure, and still more significant that many, though by no means all, evangelical and social conservative voters rushed to rally around the candidate many of the leaders distrusted or opposed outright.

Did you notice Romney’s lame rip-off of Clinton’s “comeback for America” New Hampshire victory speech?  Bruce Reed did and noticed a few other things as well:

Romney didn’t stop there. He focused like a laser beam on the economy. He welled up on the trail. He set out to beat McCain among women. In his victory speech, he claimed his comeback was part of a comeback for America. Don’t look now, Republicans, but after Romney spent all that time searching and searching, in Michigan the New Mitt tried to transform himself into Hillary Clinton. At this rate, he might even endorse his own Massachusetts health care plan.

Sullivan drew the same parallel:

Of course, it’s just the latest poll-tested cynical ploy. But it’s working for Clinton! And she and Romney have one thing in common: two focus-grouped cynical dynastic holograms.

This sums up well much of the reason why I am so powerfully opposed to Romney.  Think of how much many progressives distrust and dislike Hillary Clinton, and then apply the same view to the Republican side.

Reed’s phrase “Transformer Romney” also reminded me of an old favourite post of mine.

I would like to be able to say that Romney’s victory was something other than impressive, but he has simply cleaned up in virtually every demographic.  He won among Republicans by double digits, reinforcing the old conventional wisdom that McCain is simply not very popular with most Republicans, but he also did reasonably well with independents.  Whether you divide the electorate by region, religion, age, education, Romney wins (except apparently among less observant Catholics).  According to exit polls, he even defeated Huckabee among evangelicals.  That’s a significant part of his success, since evangelicals made up about 40% of the electorate.  But this isn’t just Romney making inroads with evangelicals–he expanded beyond his natural constituencies of the well-educated, upper-income and more secular-minded voters. 

Once again, as in New Hampshire, a plurality of antiwar voters has opted for McCain.  Basically, the angrier you are at Bush and the more disapproving you are of the war, the more likely you were to cast a vote for McCain.  On the superficial level of ”McCain was Bush’s rival eight years ago,” I suppose I understand why this is happening, but I can’t say that I really comprehend the thought process that leads to the decision to vote for the man.  At least Giuliani suffered an embarrassing showing of about 3%, staying just ahead of Uncommitted. 

Huckabee did all right with his core voters, and won among the quarter of the electorate that places great importance on religious beliefs (naturally), but for all the talk of his alleged populism his message didn’t register particularly well with those who see the national economy as either “not good” or “poor.”  Curiously, Paul overperforms among those who view the economy as “poor.”  All that talk about the inflation tax must be interesting to someone.

Update: Looking at the results county by county, Ron Paul has a very large level of support in Hillsdale County (17%)–Ron Paul must be a big hit with Hillsdale College students.

So Romney has won, and it appears as if his margin of victory is larger than expected (currently nine points with 23% reporting).  I need a drink.

“I take my inspiration from Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush.” ~Romney, during his acceptance speech

Notice how he is always inserting Bush the Elder’s middle names these days to make sure that no one will ever mistake this for an endorsement of the sitting President.  I can’t blame him for not wanting to mention Mr. Bush by name, but it’s pretty remarkable for someone who demands apologies from other candidates when they make accurate assessments of administration flaws. 

To that you might say, “Well, of course he still loses.  He’s polling around 3% up there!”  But that’s not entirely what I mean.  Obviously, yet another miserable election result, in this case one in which Giuliani may be bringing up the very back of the pack, will confirm the narrative that “Giuliani is finished” and scare off the donors he needs to keep going, but it is worse than that.  After tonight, Giuliani is no longer simply weakening, but he becomes basically irrelevant.  His numbers in Florida (and now California) began dropping after New Hampshire, and after tonight they will all start to migrate to McCain.  His campaign will likely stumble on for a few more weeks and then bid us farewell.  (It is likely that he will endorse McCain, if he endorses anyone, since those two have rarely come to blows during the campaign.) 

With McCain’s momentary success, we are seeing Giuliani being replaced completely as the ostensible national security/”leadership” candidate (with the added bonus that the replacement actually knows something about national security!).  Most people now seem to see Giuliani’s candidacy for the irrelevancy and absurdity that it was.  In all of American history, former mayors have never gone directly to being presidential nominees (even Grover Cleveland stopped over in Albany for a couple years before his election), and it was the ultimate arrogant display by an extremely arrogant man to make the attempt in the first place.  Meanwhile, if Romney manages to win, he becomes the default anti-McCain, leaving no room for Giuliani anywhere.  Even if Romney loses, he still has money to continue competing if he wants, while Giuliani cannot draw upon such a large personal reserve.  

Now Romney is disliked by enough people already, and he keeps alienating enough people once they do learn about him, that McCain assumes his Dole/Kerry role of the inevitable frontrunner who may yet prove, in the end, to be inevitable.  Huckabee will put up a decent fight through the Southern primaries, but he seems to have been successfully pigeonholed as the evangelical populist (despite his pretty thin populist credentials) and he has decided to embrace that role completely.  On paper, Huckabee ought to be the right GOP nominee for this cycle, but it doesn’t seem to be happening as I thought it could.      

Despite my absolutely atrocious record at predictions in the last couple of weeks, I shall offer up another batch, if only for your amusement.  In this presidential campaign, making predictions for any reason seems to be a guaranteed path to failure and ridicule, but that’s never stopped me before.  So, here it is: McCain wins tonight despite any poor weather that might be depressing turnout, but he wins only very narrowly.  Romney finishes respectably close, but still finishes second, and his campaign starts to unravel, despite the best efforts of Hugh Hewitt to portray another embarrassing repudiation as a moral victory.  Nevada and South Carolina then probably confirm the strange new world where McCain is winning more races than he is losing, and Florida then likewise goes to McCain.  Huckabee wins in a few Southern states besides Arkansas, but then bows out before too much longer.  The McCain-Huckabee ticket, which I foolishly regarded as improbable some weeks ago, now seems only too possible.  In the end, if he were to be the nominee, McCain would probably not poke his finger in the establishment’s eye yet again with his veep selection by choosing someone so deeply disliked by much of that establishment.  Then again, it might be just the kind of assertion of authority over the party that McCain would love to make.  

All of that is subject to change in a few hours, when the terrible curse of a positive Larison prediction causes McCain to lose badly.   

Ross says:

Meanwhile, even 24, ostensibly the most right-wing hour on television, features what Martha Bayles, writing in this season’s Claremont Review of Books, terms a “timid selection of villains,” including “vengeful Serbs, a bitchy German, red-handed Mexican drug lords, a turncoat British spy, a greedy oil executive, power-mad government officials (including one president), and—once in a blue moon, when the Council on American-Islamic Relations is looking the other way—violent jihadists.”

Once in a blue moon?  Really?  They happen to be among the main players in no less than three of the six seasons.  Even if you take the view that they were phoning it in during the sixth season and simply recycling old plotlines from earlier seasons (e.g., Arabs with nukes, the Vice President trying to force the President out via the 25th Amendment, terrorist youths in our suburbs!, etc.), 24 has assembled a small army of Middle Eastern actors and extras over the years.  Perhaps the only thing more annoying than general hysteria  about “Islamofascists” is the rather bizarre obsession with pretending that American pop culture has not endorsed this hysteria with gusto.

Even those who mentioned immigration — or “the illegal aliens,” as Wolfis put it — seemed unaware that McCain was an outspoken Republican advocate for providing illegal immigrants with a pathway to citizenship last spring. ~The Politico

Can’t man the do anything that isn’t fake?

Suppose that the Kossacks succeed in pushing a large number of Democrats to vote for Romney in the primary tomorrow.  Wouldn’t this taint any Romney victory and allow his opponents to turn his criticism of McCain’s New Hampshire victory back on him (i.e., that he won because of non-Republican votes)?  Wouldn’t it reinforce every criticism of Romney as insufficiently or unreliably conservative?  Given the necessarily Michigan-centric, dare I say populist, campaign he is running at the moment, won’t any victory in Michigan be a pyrrhic one, in which he discredits the claim that he is a “full-spectrum conservative”?  Doesn’t his policy record already discredit him?

Do these people actually want me to start rooting for Huckabee against all better judgement?  Because that’s what this ad makes me want to do.

Via Steve Clemons

Feel the enthusiasm!

Is nothing sacred to Romneyites?

As I was looking at Casting Stones, I came across this post that had some interesting information on an important Michigan endorsement for Romney.  Apparently, Marlene Elwell, an old Christian Coalition hand and one-time Pat Robertson backer, has been working hard to stop Huckabee, and here is one of her reasons:

Though she says the Huckabee camp repeatedly tried to sign her during 2007, Elwell calls the former Arkansas governor a liberal on non-hot button social issues like education.

What this means in the real world is that one of the few candidates actively supported by a large network of homeschooling families and one of the strongest defenders of homeschooling in the race is “liberal” on education because he doesn’t support school vouchers.  This takes crazy litmus-test politics to a new level, or a new low, depending on how you want to look at it.  The principled reason to support vouchers is that you support the right of parents to choose where their children can go to school, so it is preposterous to say that a leading defender of homeschooling is simply a “liberal” on education without any qualification.  If you don’t like his position on vouchers, fine, but let’s be honest about what the real objection is.  Vouchers are a debatable policy, and they are unusually unpopular with the actual suburban middle-class voters whose schools would be affected by these policies (or who fear that these policies might affect their schools).  How vouchers went from being a slightly oddball, Jack Kemp-esque initiative proposal in the ’90s to the end-all, be-all of education reform on the right is one of those mysteries that someone else will have to solve.

Not to beat the point to death, but I did a little digging and found this news item from last year:

During a speech delivered in the heart of the financial district, where compensation packages routinely reach into the tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars, Mr. Bush announced that he would ask corporations to curb excessive executive pay.

When it comes from Bush, Republicans may not be happy with it, but they aren’t exactly declaring him the second coming of Huey Long.  What shocking socialist rhetoric has been pouring forth from Huckabee’s mouth?  One news story reported late last year:

He calls himself the candidate who isn’t a “wholly owned subsidiary” of investment banks, decries large executive-pay packages and says the party needs to shift its focus from Wall Street to Main Street.

The logic of the backlash against Huckabee seems to be this: if you have a net worth of $20 million-plus, you can call for curbing executive pay packages, and if you don’t have that much your similar calls to do this are proof that you are a wild-eyed left-winger.  Or something like that.  It does make sense that an establishment embarrrassed by or tired of Bush would be unwilling to rally around Huckabee, but that would confirm the point that they see the two men as being markedly similar and it would likely mean that they are quite similar.

Let us all cast our minds back to those early days of the 2000 campaign when Bush unveiled the “compassion” agenda (in 1999) and see what he said:

The purpose of prosperity is to make sure the American dream touches every willing heart. The purpose of prosperity is to leave no one out–to leave no one behind.

In Michigan the other day, Huckabee said:

My goal is not to make rich people poor, it’s to give poor people a shot at the American dream.

Now I don’t like Huckabee or Bush, but can someone explain to me what the substantive differences are between the two of them?

At Taki’s Top Drawer, I have a new post on the apparent demise of the Giuliani campaign (whose demise seems to be confirmed by the Rasmussen South Carolina and Florida polls and the latest California numbers).

Ross disagrees with my “Huckabee is another Bush” argument:

George W. Bush is a preppy blueblood whose candidacy had the blessing of both movement conservatives and the Republican Old Guard; Mike Huckabee is a working-class Arkansan whose primary-season insurgency has exactly zero institutional support. George W. Bush had Dick Cheney and Karl Rove whispering in his ear; Huckabee has, well … Ed Rollins and Jim Pinkerton. It’s next-to-impossible to imagine Bush saying the sort of things Huckabee has said about Wall Street Republicans and the Club for Growth; it’s next-to-impossible to imagine him delivering the speech that Huckabee delivered at the Values Voter Summit. And it’s absolutely impossible, to take a pair of issues near to Larison’s heart, to imagine Bush adopting the Krikorian Plan as his immigration policy, or delivering the following remarks on foreign policy…

I would grant the point about immigration more readily were I persuaded that Huckabee’s sudden 180-degree turn on immigration was anything other than the most cynical opportunism.  The people who are going to be disappointed are the restrictionists who buy into his rhetoric on border security (even Bush found himself forced to sign a border fence bill, albeit one he had no intention of implementing) and the foreign policy realists are probably going to be disappointed by someone who thinks we should send troops into Pakistan and who thinks all Palestinians should be sent to Egypt.  He eschews democracy promotion, which is all very well, but he is entirely supportive of the war in Iraq and, as I just mentioned, he is actually vastly more hard-line against the Palestinians than Bush (who once dubbed Ariel Sharon “a man of peace”) has been.  Giuliani is also skeptical of democracy promotion, probably thanks in part to the influence of Martin Kramer, but with respect to everything else Bush has done abroad he is entirely in agreement.  

When Bush was a candidate, you heard nary a word about democracy promotion, and foreign policy realists fell for it, because they concluded, reasonably enough, that realists were going to be in charge.  If Bush were running as a candidate for the first time in 2008, you would probably see someone taking a much firmer line on border security and enforcement.  Based on his record, Huckabee was every bit as liberal on immigration at the start of last year as Bush was in 1999.  His foreign policy remarks are actually eerily similar to Bush’s in some ways (his attacks on the “arrogant bunker mentality” are just the flip side of Bush’s call for a “humble” foreign policy, and remember when then-Gov. Bush derided Clinton for his presumptuous forcing of a peace deal on the Israelis?).  It is hard to conclude that he is not a much more glib version of the exact same kind of Republican.  The thing that worries me about Huckabee is that his restrictionist pose and his nods towards foreign policy realism will dupe anti-Bush conservatives into thinking that he is the antithesis of Bush and what Bush represents, when he is, in fact, just an updated version of the same and he is someone who is running campaign similar to the one Bush did in 2000.  Huckabee’s humbler origins are a much better fit for the role Bush was trying to play.  The “different kind of Republican” who comes from political aristocracy and the business world never really worked, which is why Bush had to turn up the folksiness to 11 and talk about his ”favourite philosopher,” who was, as you’ll recall, Jesus Christ.  In 2000 conservative pundits were praising Bush’s everyman appeal and they were mocking the complaints that he was unintellectual, and now many of the same people are complaining that…Huckabee is appealing to the everyman and isn’t very intellectual.  Huckabee is a higher-octane version of Bush, perhaps so much so that the people who indulged or suffered Bush despite his flaws will not stand for someone who has most of those flaws in greater abundance.  Plus, the lack of institutional support seems based as much on movement institutional support for the candidates whom Huckabee has displaced or defeated (i.e., Thompson, Giuliani and Romney) as it is on substantive disagreements with Huckabee.  I don’t deny that establishment elites are almost as uniformly against Huckabee as they were for Bush, but I would stress that this is evidence of the inconsistency of the former in their preferences rather than proof of great differences between Bush and Huckabee.  

Clark Stooksbury correctly objects to Jonah Goldberg’s recent (mis)characterisation of Crunchy Cons and Rod Dreher.  Goldberg had lumped Rod in together with Michael Gerson and saying that “both of these derive from the kind of thinking that led George W. Bush to insist in 2000 that he was a “different kind of Republican” because he was a “compassionate conservative” — a political program that apparently measures compassion by how much money the government spends on education, marriage counseling and the like.”  This is just badly wrong.  There’s no other way to say it.

Rod responds here.  I had noticed the same thing, but at first it was such a minor part of Goldberg’s column that I didn’t want to rehash the same old arguments over what was almost a throwaway line.  I really didn’t feel compelled at the time to point out (yet again) that Goldberg misunderstands what Rod has been talking about, but it occurs to me that this excerpt illustrates what seems to be a recurring pattern in Goldberg’s writing.  On more than one occasion, he has conflated very different ideas on the right and claimed that they are very closely related, when their only point of contact is that they both represent something other than current establishment conservatism.  Thus the proponents of Sam’s Club Republicanism can be bizarrely identified with the politics of Sam Francis, and now the ideas of Gerson and Dreher can be traced back to the same source.  This might not be terribly interesting to most people, except that this also appears to be what Goldberg has done in his book Liberal Fascism with the two non-conservative ideologies mentioned in the title.  There may be substantive similarities between liberalism and fascism in certain respects, and it is correct to identify fascism as a leftist ideology, but at a certain point specific differences matter and fine distinctions become important for understanding how two sets of ideas that may share a few assumptions lead people to significantly different conclusions and actions.  Those distinctions become important for understanding why Dollfuss and Schuschnigg or Metaxas, for example, may have been conservative authoritarians, but they were definitely not fascists despite some superficial similarities or a shared interest in corporatist economics, and they remain just as important for understanding what FDR and Wilson were and were not.  Conflating or identifying two significantly different things, as it seems Goldberg tends to do, ultimately makes for very unedifying intellectual analysis.  These conflations suggest either some misunderstanding of the matters at hand or a polemical goal of lumping together various political adversaries in order to associate all opponents with the errors of those assumed to be the worst. 

An agreement spanning hard-line Shia Muslims, secularists and Sunni representatives set the outlines for a broad-based alliance capable of mounting a parliamentary challenge to the ruling coalition led by the prime minister Nouri al-Malaki.

A shared platform welded together the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the moderate former prime minister Ayad Allawi and even a Sunni leader, Salah al-Mutlak.

A statement said the parties would resist proposals to grant regional governments control over oil resources and push for the abandonment of a referendum on the disputed city of Kirkuk. ~The Daily Telegraph

When the administration has pressed for Iraqi political reconciliation, I do not think this is what they had in mind.  Now, in addition to the fractiousness within the government and the reluctance of Maliki to press very hard on these measures, there is an organised bloc dedicated to thwarting the legislative agenda that the “surge” was supposed to make possible. 

Blogging should be light today, but I did want to comment on this Obama memo (via Sullivan).  Seriously, this is the best his campaign can do?  Of course, they have to cry foul about the “fairy tale” attack and pretend that it has something to do with race, because the criticism is accurate.

As I was looking over the CBS/NYT poll and I came upon the remarkable results from the “shares your values” questions (questions 44 and following), I began to wonder how the respondents are making their judgements.  On McCain, 62% say he ”shares their values,” 24% say no; 63% say the same of Huckabee, while just 13% say no (24% don’t know).  Meanwhile, Romney’s results are 48/24 (with 29% saying they didn’t know).  There almost has to be some kind of circular reasoning going on here.  I think it goes something like this: McCain and Huckabee have both won early state contests for the nomination, which apparently means that the voters must have recognised that these candidates “shared their values” and therefore supported them, while Romney kept losing to both, implying that he doesn’t “share your values” as much as the others.  Giuliani fares poorly as well, perhaps reflecting his lack of electoral success.  How else do you explain the sudden increase from 47 to 62% of Republicans who believe McCain “shares their values” in the last month?  Literally nothing has changed about McCain in the last month, except that he has perhaps become more obnoxious.  For that matter, how could more than a fifth of Republicans not know the answer to this question just a month ago? 

If this doesn’t explain it, the gap between Republican voters and conservative activists is even greater than I imagined–how else do we explain this phenomenon of strong voter affinity for the two candidates most loathed by party and movement activists?  However, we must be careful and not commit the Giuliani Fallacy.  That is, we should not conclude some radical transformation of a political coalition based on nothing more than transitory poll numbers.   

On MTP Clinton reasonably questioned Obama’s self-serving story about his allegedly bold and consistent opposition to the war, noting that he has built his reputation in foreign policy on opposition to the war when his opposition has been, at least since he entered the Senate, largely rhetorical and bereft of leadership before he started running for President.  This is true, even though Hillary Clinton has said it.  If you want a real antiwar Democratic leader, you might look to someone like Russ Feingold, who has actually consistently opposed the war by, well, voting against it and voting to end funding for it. 

It is all very well that Obama spoke against the war when he was at no political risk as a state senator in one of the most liberal districts in a Democratic state.  He then subsequently distanced himself from that opposition when the war was initially popular and it seemed that being antiwar was a political loser for an ambitious politician and embarrassing to someone chosen to give the keynote address at a convention that was nominating two war supporters, only to rediscover his previous ”superior judgement” once the country had turned against the war and he was gearing up to run for President.  Because Hillary Clinton is so deeply unpopular with so many political observers, many do not want to credit these criticisms, but they are pretty accurate.  On this specific point, it is, dare I say it, Obama and his campaign that have played the part of the Clintons and the Clintons who have (for entirely self-serving reasons, of course) opted to tell the truth.

Huckabee’s Catholic problem has just become much worse (via Ambinder):

Michigan Catholic Voter Alert:
What Michigan Catholics MUST Know About Mike Huckabee


FACT: Mike Huckabee has exhibited a willful blindness in associating with anti-Catholicism when it has benefited him politically.

FACT: Instead of supporting a healthy expression of religion in the public square, Mike Huckabee has used his evangelical protestant faith as a wedge to divide the Republican Party and gain support from fellow evangelicals.

FACT: While claiming to believe Catholics are fellow Christians, Mike Huckabee has kept close acquitance with evangelical leaders who have:

o Compared Catholicism to a disease requiring ‘recovery’ and rehabilitation;

o Said the Catholic Church collaborated with the Nazis to exterminate Jews;

o Accused the Catholic Church of pulling mankind into the ‘dark ages’.

FACT: Mike Huckabee has been endorsed by anti-Catholic author Tim Lahaye , who called Catholicism a “false religion” Lahaye’s Church also funded “Mission to Catholics”, a virulently anti-Catholic ministry.

And on it goes.  As near as I can tell, there is nothing in the email in question that is untrue.  The item also draws attention to Huckabee’s half-hearted response to an apparent anti-Catholic campaign aimed at undermining Brownback in Iowa, which soured relations between the two campaigns and marked the real kickoff of the religious dimension of the GOP nomination contest.  Frankly, besides Hagee’s anti-Catholicism, what worries me almost as much as about Hagee is the man’s role in founding CUFI and his insane cheerleading for the bombardment of Lebanon (which he called a “miracle from God”).  Unfortunately, that’s just the sort of association that should stand him in good stead with “national security” conservatives.

Query: why aren’t Catholic voters similarly put out by Romney’s acceptance of an endorsement from Bob Jones III?

Bearing in mind that head-to-head matchups ten months before Election Day are awfully unreliable guides to actual performance and also keeping in mind that electability arguments are fraught with danger, I nonetheless agree with this conclusion (via Sullivan):

With key primaries coming up in Michigan and South Carolina, support for Romney would seem to indicate a powerful and problematic Republican death wish.

This seems right to me, but not necessarily because Romney performs poorly in head-to-head general election scenarios.  Those sorts of polls have been coming out for months, and the lesser known candidates are always doing worse against the better-known celebrity candidates.  (Fred Thompson has the unfortunate distinction of being a celebrity candidate who is nonetheless surprisingly little known by name.)  It has been tempting to use them to bash Romney, but these polls actually show a lack of name recognition and familiarity with the weaker candidates.  Those of us who have been following this election for the past year may find it incredible that there is still someone who doesn’t know who Mitt Romney is (some of us envy those who have remained so blissfully ignorant), but we must remember that most people are not so foolish as to have wasted their time on election coverage throughout 2007.  If Mitt Romney is getting blown out by Barack Obama in a national poll, any number of factors might explain this that have nothing to do with how Romney would perform in a general election.  Media exposure, and positive media exposure at that, has to play a major role.  What the weak poll showing by Romney reflects is the bare minimum percentage of the population that can be counted to vote for the Republican candidate virtually no matter what.  Add a well-known quantity or a celebrity candidate, and you will get additional support on top of that–that does not necessarily reflect how well a candidate would do in the actual election.  The percentage of undecided voters in these match-ups is usually quite large, because most people haven’t the foggiest who Romney or Huckabee are.  Those who are choosing Romney or Huckabee in spite of knowing little or nothing about them are reliably Republican voters.  The undecided voters who still need more information represent the part of the electorate that is less committed to either party.   

Electability arguments are treacherous.  Let’s remember, if we can, those long-ago days when people were very proudly declaring that Giuliani was going to redraw the electoral map (New Jersey and Connecticut would be in play once more!) and be a very electable general election candidate.  He was supposed to be the Clinton-slayer, and you were supposed to bow before him because he was going to save you from Hillary.  He has been so electable that he currently has zero delegates, and is on pace to acquire none on Tuesday and perhaps a handful on Saturday.  Duncan Hunter has managed to acquire more delegates than Giuliani at this point.  One problem with electability arguments is that it assumes that the candidate can get to a point where such a trait matters. 

I would be wary of putting too much emphasis on general election polls that show McCain to be very competitive with named Democrats, since Giuliani performed well in similar polls, but I would also note that those who have pushed McCain’s electability have also assumed that he had a very difficult road to the nomination after the immigration fight last summer.  I am beginning to think that the latter assumption is the one that has been unexpectedly wrong, and it is instead McCain’s electability that we should question.  All things being equal, McCain ought to have a hard time getting the nomination.  Many conservative activists loathe the man almost as much as they loathe Huckabee.  Yet we seem to be seeing a divergence between what most activists have been saying and what at least a plurality of Republican voters actually prefer.  As of late last summer, the divided field was supposed to deliver the nomination to Giuliani.  In his place now stands McCain (his national polling and Giuliani’s have switched places almost exactly and, one assumes, exchanged  many supporters), who stands to benefit from the Romney-Huckabee war and the desultory sniping of Fred Thompson.  As for electability, these poll results reflect the very vague associations people have with well-known politicians, especially media darlings such as McCain, so it is hard to credit McCain’s apparent competitiveness to his own virtues as a candidate.  

P.S. The new CBS/NYT poll confirms that large numbers of Republicans (approximately one third) don’t know anything about Romney.  Romney has another problem: more of those who do know something about him view him unfavourably than favourably.  No big surprise there.

That same poll reveals how perilous and ultimately absurd claims about electability are.  Since electability really comes down to a question of perception, evidence of your electability disappears as soon as something better seems to come along.  Thus Giuliani was seen as the best candidate to win the general election by 43% last month (now at 12%, behind Huckabee), and this month 41% think this of McCain (while 7% thought so a month ago).  Should McCain lose in Michigan and South Carolina, these numbers will swing dramatically yet again.

Huckabee calls for a changing of the guard:

Many of us who have been Republicans out of conviction . . . the social conservatives were welcomed in the party as long as we sort of kept our place, but Lord help us if we ever stood forward and said we would actually like to lead the party.

While this is right as far as it goes, Huckabee really must want to go down in a blaze of glory if he insists on saying it out loud in front of everyone.

Via Hotline:

MI State Rep. Fulton Sheen (R) announced at a rally today that he’s officially withdrawing his endorsement of Mitt Romney in order to back Mike Huckabee. Sheen, who said he’d served as a MI state chair for Romney (trying to confirm), pointed to the FairTax and his support of the MI FairTax ballot proposal, which Huckabee backs, as the main motivator for his decision.

Detroit Free Press confirms the switch, adding another reason for Sheen’s change of heart: because Huckabee stands for “for the Biblical, Judeo-Christian values on which this country was founded.” 

Contrary to what you read here yesterday, Romney is apparently not in such bad shape in Michigan.  Rasmussen has him leading 26-25 over McCain with Huckabee in third at 17%.  The breakdown of evangelical and Catholic votes is exactly what you would expect.  Huckabee gets a healthy 32% of evangelicals, but just 4% of Catholics, which is low even for him.  Among Catholics, he is in sixth place behind Fred Thompson and Ron Paul.  Romney leads among every non-evangelical religious group.  The good news for Huckabee is that he was never expected to be able to win a state like Michigan, at least not at this stage, so a respectable third behind Romney, the “native son,” and McCain would not be such a bad outcome.  The only one who must win is Romney, and he seems to be in a good position to do it.  However, Romney’s position is once again deceptively strong: 58% of his supporters say they might change their mind or are unsure about supporting him, which is higher than for any other candidate.  McCain and Huckabee have pretty well locked down over half of their current supporters, which still leaves many impossible to pin down for certain.  Things could shift pretty quickly in the next couple of days. 

Curiously, Romney wins among both conservatives and liberals, but loses big to McCain among “moderates.”  As you would also expect, Huckabee also does best among the <$20K earners.  He also does well among the $65-75K earners, but he is actually leading among the lowest income group.  In every other income group, he trails Romney and McCain, each of whom gets about a quarter to a third of each income group except for the lowest one.  To give you a sense of how strange a mix Ron Paul supporters are, his best support (12%) comes from $20-40K earners and the $100K earners.  McCain’s support generally increases as you go into the higher income groups, while Romney’s fluctuates back and forth.

Some marginally good news for Paul supporters: Paul shows some added strength in Michigan, now at 8%, ahead of Giuliani and almost tied with Thompson.  It is a dubious distinction to be ahead of someone who has abandoned the state and almost tied with the guy who isn’t trying very hard up north, but it is better than previous polls I have seen.  The problem is that most of his support comes from non-GOP voters (he is second only to McCain in non-GOP support), which obviously doesn’t help in later closed primaries. 

Those days are over. In about eight weeks Giuliani has gone from frontrunner to second-tier candidate. ~Matthew Continetti


Giuliani says he isn’t worried. Conceding New Hampshire, he said, “Maybe we’ve lulled our opponents into a false sense of confidence now.”

Yeah, and maybe I’m a Chinese jet pilot.

No, I don’t mean the amusingly cynical movie of the same name.  Coming back to that Florida poll, I should note the obvious: the vast majority of Floridians live in the center and south of the state, and these are the regions where McCain and Giuliani do best, where Romney is only moderately strong and where Huckabee is weakest.  Huckabee has to hope for high turnout in the less-populated northwest where he has overwhelming support, and obviously needs weak turnout in the big urban centers and the I-95 corridor where all three of his rivals have more support than he does.  The three or four-way split field is allowing Huckabee to live off the land and free media, relying on this regional backing from core supporters, but if he cannot start gaining ground among urban voters he may prove to be as limited a candidate as his critics originally claimed.  This would be somewhat surprising to me in some ways, but in another sense it isn’t at all surprising: Huckabee is doing best in that part of Florida that is still culturally most like the rest of the South, and he is weakest in the most multiethnic and polyglot part of the state.  Of course, a strong showing in Michigan and/or South Carolina could jumble the race in Florida yet again, so we’ll have to see. 

Noted by several others, the results in Iowa show that Huckabee does not do very well with Catholic voters.  Crosstabs from this old Rasmussen Florida poll from last month suggest that there may be something to this.  In a poll where Huckabee registered 27% support, 17% of Catholics backed him, while receiving a whopping 46% from evangelicals.  Meanwhile, Giuliani received the second-largest share of Catholic support (26%), while Romney was backed by the same percentage of Catholics and non-evangelical Protestants (29%).  This has been the pattern in other states as well.

Rod, who endorsed Huckabee yesterday, said something in an earlier post that came to mind as I was thinking about this question:

For me, the Huck-as-change-agent theme comes down to this: an America led by a President Huckabee, and a conservative movement whose leader he is, might be an America and a conservatism where more people will read Wendell Berry — and for that matter, Catholic social thought.

If this pattern of limited Catholic support for Huckabee keeps up, barring the unlikely elevation of Michael Gerson in a future Huckabee Administration (there’s a scary thought), there may not be many who are supporting Huckabee who will be promoting Catholic social thought in any form.  More to the point, if this pattern continues, Huckabee probably cannot win a general election.

On one level, it makes perfect sense that Catholic voters would not respond well to Huckabee.  As a conservative Southern Baptist, he might appear to be no different from the Baptists who insist that Catholics are not Christians.  Catholic voters might conclude that the people who are voting against Romney and for Huckabee on account of religion may very well also view their church as a “cult,”  so they are withholding their support from Huckabee for that reason?  To the extent that the media have explained his political success, for the most part correctly, in terms of evangelical support, and to the extent that the media have, less accurately, talked up the anti-Mormon factor in discussing his campaign, it would not be hard for voters who know relatively little  about Huckabee to assume that he is simply the evangelical candidate with all of the possible anti-Catholic baggage that might entail.  On the other hand, why Catholic voters should respond so much more strongly to Romney is a puzzle.  He cannot claim any nominal or cultural connection to Catholicism, as Giuliani can, and his pro-life views are such a recent development that I find it hard to believe that he is winning over Catholic voters on this alone.  Is there some boomerang pro-Romney sympathy vote that has emerged in reaction against anti-Mormonism?  Perhaps Catholic voters are drawn to support the candidate who appears to be facing a “religious issue,” who currently hails from Massachusetts and who has invoked JFK’s speech on religion ad nauseam?

P.S.  The latest SurveyUSA Florida poll, while not giving any figures according to religious affiliation, confirms the pattern from the earlier poll.  Just look at the geographic distribution of Huckabee’s support: 40% in the northwest (the heavily evangelical Panhandle, including Pensacola) and 8% in the southeast (Miami-Dade and its surroundings).  Huckabee receives decent, but hardly overwhelming, support in the other regions of Florida (17-18%). Conversely, Giuliani fares best in the southeast (25%) and does horribly in the northwest (2%).  Romney runs strongest in northeast Florida (23%), receives 15% in SE Florida and receives only 8% in the northwest. Since Florida has something like 2.25 million Catholics living there, this could be a major hurdle for Huckabee (assuming that he does well enough in the rest of January that Florida still matters to his chances).  Huckabee’s other, unrelated Florida problem?  The elderly.  Voters 65+ are the core of McCain’s strength down there, while Huckabee leads among the youngest cohort and runs competitively in every other group.  Among the 65+ he is getting slaughtered by McCain 38-11, and he runs fourth overall among the eldest voters.  Somebody doesn’t like all that talk about the greatest generation being the one yet to be born.

Jennifer Stec, a member of the Northside Family and Friends Baptist Church in Columbia, South Carolina, says she has stopped writing checks to national evangelical groups such as Pat Robertson’s 700 Club. Instead, her donations go to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee [bold mine-DL].

Stec said she is backing the ordained Baptist minister in her state’s Jan. 19 Republican presidential primary because television evangelist Robertson “sacrificed Christian principles'’ by endorsing the candidacy of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who supports abortion and gay rights. ~Bloomberg

So that Robertson endorsement is really doing wonders for Rudy, wouldn’t you say?

The CNN national poll showing McCain with a big lead has some other interesting numbers.  Either this poll is badly wrong, or the reason why McCain and Huckabee are doing so well is that…most Republicans approve of them and many are excited about them relative to their competitors.  To this you will say, “Yeah, obviously, Larison.  That’s redundant!”  Yet to listen to conservative pundits, talk show hosts and self-anointed pulse-takers of “the base,” you would think that McCain and Huckabee are radioactive.  They are coalition-killers!  I would have assumed the same thing myself given the virtual unanimity of activists on this point, but the effect of the nomination of either one is actually better than would be the case if Giuliani or Romney were nominated. 

When asked how they would feel after the nomination of each candidate, 31% said they would be enthusiastic about McCain, 46% would be satisfied, 18% would be dissatisfied and only 5% would be upset.  It seems as if that 5% is overwhelmingly concentrated in conservative media outlets and activists in their audiences.  For Huckabee, the numbers are revealing: 20/52/20/7.  Only 7% would be upset with the huckster, whom we have been assured would rend the coalition to bits.  For Giuliani the numbers are similar: 21/49/21/8.  Romney understandably generates the least enthusiasm and satisfaction put together (14/50) and the highest dissatisfied + upset number (27/6).  The choice of many movement conservatives, the champion of the three-legged stool, Romney apparently rallies the GOP less effectively than any of the others.  These numbers have obviously changed since November and could always change back (Romney and Giuliani have lost ground in generating an enthusiastic response), but if you were designing the GOP ticket with party unity and enthusiasm as your only criteria you would, bizarrely, be pushed towards selecting McCain or Huckabee.  The last one of the four you would select would be Romney.  This intuitively makes sense to me, since I think Romney is awful, but it really calls into question the judgement that he is the most “viable” in the field.  They did not poll for Thompson, of course, since he is drawing 6% in this national poll, so we don’t if Thompson would generate more or less enthusiasm than Romney as a would-be nominee.

P.S. The Iowa and New Hampshire outcomes seem to have decisively helped the winners in changing attitudes towards them.  Not only has McCain seen a big jump in enthusiasm, but far fewer would be dissatisfied/upset with his nomination today than was the case in November.  For Huckabee, as he has become better-known, enthusiasm and satisfaction have increased, and the negatives have decreased.  That suggests that the concerted anti-Huckabee campaign has failed to damage him and may have generated sympathy for him.

It’s not a good sign that Giuliani’s senior staff have decided to work without paychecks, and there is no way to spin it otherwise. The amount of money that’s involved is miniscule: about $50,000 per month.

So the campaign must really have a cash on hand problem. Breaking News: Giuliani’s national finance chair, Roy Bailey, no longer has that position with the campaign. Bailey was not only Giuliani’s finance chair, he was one of the founding partners of Giuliani’s consulting firm. ~Marc Ambinder

There is some hubbub about Huckabee fading in Michigan, according to one source, but yesterday Strategic Vision released a Michigan poll showing Huckabee effectively tied with Romney and both trailing McCain.  The race is still very fluid, since less than a third has definitely chosen a candidate.  Strategic Vision also showed strong Huckabee support in Georgia long before the latest AJC poll came out.  This new poll shows that Huckabee has expanded the lead he already had last month.  Presumably, his win in Iowa was responsible for the increase.

Other interesting numbers from that Michigan poll: 39% of Republicans want out of Iraq within the next six months.  More remarkably, two new polls from Florida and New York show Giuliani’s lead in Florida has vanished.  He is effectively tied with Huckabee for second there right now.  His position in New York has weakened considerably.  He and McCain are now statistically tied for the lead in his home state.

As long-time bloggingheads viewers and readers of his columns know, Jim Pinkerton has been pushing for Mike Huckabee for months, and now comes the claim that he is apparently formally joining the Huckabee team.  Given how strong Mr. Pinkerton’s views on immigration and border security are, I have always been a bit perplexed by his enthusiasm for Huckabee, but with Huckabee’s recent pivot on immigration it seems as if more restrictionist and enforcement-first conservatives are openly supporting him.  Elsewhere, Rod Dreher has declared for Huckabee. 

In case any of you were worried, let me assure my readers that this is something that I will never do.  As the natural “new fusionist” candidate, the second coming of Bush, the apostle of Gersonism, Huckabee represents everything wrong with the politics of the GOP in the last seven years.  I say this not because he is a social conservative, religious or Southern–those are the least of Republicans’ problems, if they could but see clearly.  If you were disaffected and alienated by Bush, you will be driven out of your mind by Huckabee.  This is all the more serious because Huckabee really does have the best chance of winning on the Republican side.  Perversely, one almost needs to hope for a Romney or McCain nomination, since that may be the only thing now that will save us from Huckabee.  Thompson has all but eliminated himself, and Giuliani is all but finished. 

Obviously, I have also taken an interest in trying to understand and, when possible, explain the rise of Huckabee, because I have found it startling and more than a little odd.  Unlike with the other three leading candidates, I do not feel the same kind of immediate revulsion and distaste with Huckabee.  Each time I am inclined to cheer him on as an anti-establishment candidate, I have to remind myself that he really isn’t any such thing.  Despite my willingness to give his statements the benefit of the doubt, I have tried to do this in the interests of accuracy and fairness to what he has actually said, but on no account do I want this man to be President.  No doubt, some of his supporters read Crunchy Cons and like what they find, some of them could be part of those Middle American Radicals Sam Francis described long ago, and many of them are probably the people Ross and Reihan are describing in their forthcoming book, but this is exactly what is wrong with Huckabee’s candidacy.  He draws in these people from these three very different parts of the population and relies on them for his political success, but I have no confidence that he would govern in their interests or according to their views.  It’s the same con that Bush used against evangelicals and social conservatives.  Because he could claim plausibly enough that he was “one of them,” he felt that he owed them nothing and could take them for granted, and by and large they allowed this to happen and happily re-elected him anyway.  Now there is the hope that Huckabee is really “one of them” and will really govern in their interests, because he once said some mean things about Wall Street, but he won’t.  In order for politicians to dupe you, you must be willing to be duped.  This is what Huckabee is doing, just as Bush did before, and I’m afraid people are falling for it all over again.   

By all rights, everyone who cannot bring himself, for whatever reason, to endorse Ron Paul ought to come to the same conclusion as Human Events’ editors did.  If you rule out Paul, Thompson is the only one that makes sense.  It doesn’t matter that his campaign is hopeless and his stump appearances cure insomnia.  It doesn’t matter that his face reminds you of Anakin Skywalker at the climax of Return of the Jedi.  Even then he is better than these other people.  Thompson can give you plenty of phony populism, but his policy views aren’t for the most part incoherent or crazy.  His foreign policy views trouble me, naturally, but given the futility of his campaign there are no risks that he will be in any position to do much damage.  Liz Cheney will certainly never be on the National Security Council, because Thompson isn’t going to get past Florida.  

Having said that, I remain, as always, a Ron Paul supporter.  Those who prefer the ethically challenged pardoner of murderers, the serially deceitful, the associate of mobbed-up indicted crooks, the Cheney crony or the warmonger are, of course, free to support whomever they like.  Let’s just not pretend that it’s because they are somehow morally superior to the lone constitutionalist and opponent of the war.

This is not directly relevant to Michael’s post (which you should go read anyway), but it does have to do with Mitt Romney.  Daniel Gross has an interesting article on why Romney may not do all that well in Michigan, reminding us that people who voted for his father must be at least in their early sixties.  This puts Romney in something of a double bind: the people who fondly remember George Romney make up a small part of the electorate, and Mitt Romney today represents the repudiation of much of what his father represented in his moderate-to-liberal business Republicanism and his later turn against Vietnam.  In a state ravaged by outsourcing, plant closures and layoffs (and, yes, a heavily taxed and regulated business climate), Romney comes actually boasting of his experience as a corporate “turnaround” man and friend of globalisation.  It’s even worse than it might at first seem:

But these days, private equity is a dirty word for many Michigan voters—even the Republican members of the managerial class. Private equity doesn’t signify profits and fortunes. It signifies Cerberus, the new owner of Chrysler, which is presiding over huge job cuts.

Gross points to the natural aversion the state’s Arab-American population will have to Mitt “It’s About Shia and Sunni” Romney.  Not only did Romney blow off the AAI conference last year, which may be relevant to some of these voters, but the man who wants to “double Guantanamo” is hardly going to win the sympathies of voters who believe the government is already too intrusive and abusive in its anti-terrorist activities.  That may provide an opening for Huckabee, though he has lamentably also gone in for talking idiotically about “Islamofascism,” and most of the Christian Arab-Americans in the state belong to churches (Catholic, Orthodox, etc.) that Huckabee backers are specifically not targeting for GOTV efforts

Maybe there will be a big, unexpected surge of Arab-American votes from both parties to support Ron Paul, considering that the Democratic primary is essentially meaningless and will make it possible for antiwar and civil libertarian voters from the other party to influence the outcome?  Polling doesn’t support any realistic hopes for a Paul resurgence, but he did best in New Hampshire among secular and rural voters, and he did well among those for whom the economy was the top issue, so if he can make himself known to those voters he could do better than the current 5% he has in polls.  If Ron Paul did exceed expectations in Michigan, it wouldn’t be entirely surprising.    

P.S.  I neglected to make this point explicitly, but the really damaging thing about Romney’s disconnect with Michigan voters is that pundits and journalists expect him to do well in his “home state” and have already discounted the value of any victory accordingly, and meanwhile he is reinforcing the must-win narrative every time he says “Michigan is personal for me.”  He has set himself up as the favourite in a state where he could very easily finish third; had Giuliani not effectively abandoned Michigan for lack of funds, it could have been worse than that.  There is a difference between projecting confidence and setting unreachable goals–I wonder if Romney knows what that difference is.

My Huckabee-supporting friends keep complaining about East Coast neoconservative elites who are against Huckabee. I think we should institute a rule: Any generalization about East Coast neoconservative elites that has to make exceptions for David Brooks and William Kristol is invalid. ~Ramesh Ponnuru

This is a fair point.  In fact, it is neoconservatives who have generally expressed the fewest objections with Huckabee’s domestic policy views (or rather gestures, since he doesn’t have many things well-formed enough to be called views), perhaps because they have been open to meliorist and big-government policies in the past.  They do not have quite the reflexive opposition to Huckabee’s fiscal record that others do, though some of them do seem to find the prominence of his religiosity irritating.  He has made protectionist-sounding noises, but lauds NAFTA, so he is not nearly so “heterodox” on trade as some have feared or hoped.  It is his foreign policy, or alleged lack of it, and the possibility that he could split the coalition that have caused the greatest concern for Krauthammer, Barnes, Continetti and others, but again his ideas are so unformed that he could go either towards more realism (as his essay’s Iran remarks suggest) or towards a more aggressive, activist policy (as some of his comments on Pakistan hint).  In the anti-Huckabee backlash you mainly see traditional, nationalist and economic conservatives making the most disparaging remarks about him.  Restrictionists in particular find him simply unacceptable–hence the otherwise very odd Tancredo-Romney embrace.  Then there are paleoconservatives such as myself who see Huckabee as a natural fit for a “new fusionist” alliance between social conservatives and neocons, and therefore potentially very dangerous.  Whether for substantive or tactical reasons, the preferred candidates of many neoconservatives, McCain and Giuliani, have laid off Huckabee for the most part.  To the extent that Huckabee would essentially be a modified George W. Bush, another iteration of the war-supporting “compassionate conservative,” as I think he would be, I think neoconservatives might see him as the most malleable and their best fallback candidate if both McCain and Giuliani fail to advance.  It is Thompson and Romney who have been going after him hammer and tong, because they see him as a more direct competitor and because they are seeking to position themselves as guardians of the old-time Reagan coalition, which Huckabee’s camaign chairman has famously declared dead.  There are many East Coast conservative elites attacking Huckabee (and many conservative elites in general, wherever they may live), but they are not neoconservative ones.

Human Events has endorsed Fred Thompson.  Unhindered by any standard that requires a candidate to be viable, Human Events has made the logical choice, given that they obviously weren’t going to associate themselves with Ron Paul and the rest clearly fall short of their standards.  It was interesting that they bothered to explain why they ruled out Paul.  That’s more than most would do, I suppose.  I do want to applaud Human Events for refusing to endorse any of the competitive candidates, and I don’t mean that sarcastically.  There is an idea when it comes to such endorsements that you trivialise your influence on the process if you endorse a candidate who cannot realistically win the nomination, and they clearly reject that kind of thinking.  (Having once predicted that Thompson would win the nod, mostly on the grounds that I could not see how the Republicans would nominate any of these others, I don’t think it is likely to happen now.)  By endorsing Thompson, Human Events has at least helped to remind conservative voters how flawed the leading four really are.

Indeed, many believe Republicans lost the 2006 congressional elections, not because of Iraq but because of Bush’s betrayal of domestic conservative principles — other than his tax policy. ~David Limbaugh

Then apparently “many” are a bunch of fools.  Compassionate conservatism is awful, but it isn’t primarily what cost the GOP the House and Senate.

Huckabee is, however, very good under fire - affable, not very flappable, and humane. His response to the Ephesians question was disingenuous, however. The Scripture does not tell husbands to submit to wives. It tells them to love their wives in return for their wives’ obedience. ~Andrew Sullivan

More than that, it calls on husbands to sacrifice for their wives as Christ sacrificed Himself for the Church.  If that isn’t a call to devotion, I don’t know what is.  From what little I heard, Huckabee’s answer to this truly irrelevant question was the most impressive one of the night.

I just heard Fred Thompson berate Huckabee for his complaint that the Pakistanis misappropriate our aid money to their military for purposes other than combating Al Qaeda.  Of course, what Huckabee was actually referring to, unless I am very much mistaken, was the problem that Pakistan has been using military aid funding to bolster their military strength on the border with India.  Contra Quin Hillyer, Thompson came off sounding like a buffoon.  Remind me again why we’re supposed to think Huckabee is weak on foreign policy and Thompson is not?  Because he’s advised by the Vice President’s daughter?  Not much of a recommendation.

P.S. I think I have been a bit too hard on Huckabee’s foreign policy views because of his NIE blunder.  He has been improving in this area over the last couple of months.  As I said before, his Foreign Affairs essay did show some decent understanding of Pakistan, and tonight’s performance confirms that.  As for Fred, anyone advised by Liz Cheney is going to make foolish statements.

Update: Thompson really is desperate to go after Huckabee tonight.  He knows that he has to tear the man down to survive in South Carolina, but it’s just not working.

Second Update: Via Ambinder, Joe Scarborough makes it clear that he doesn’t like Fred Thompson’s debate performance.  I think that invite to Chuck Norris’ ranch won him over to Huck’s side.

No, really.  It would serve the Democrats’ interest to have the GOP race be prolonged as much as possible.  Romney should show that he’s not going to play into their hands and drop out tomorrow.

No female — young, old, black or white — could ever play the knight-on-charger with meager experience. If she presented herself as the human embodiment of national unity and world peace, everyone would have fallen down laughing. ~Froma Harrop

This is quite right.  The question that keeps puzzling me is why there aren’t more people laughing at Obama.  His is an absurd and pretentious pose.  It seems unlikely that people will continue to indulge this fantasy for another ten months. 

Update: A Clinton adviser has an amusing, if self-serving, summary of the difference between Clinton and Obama voters: “If you have a social need, you’re with Hillary. If you want Obama to be your imaginary hip black friend and you’re young and you have no social needs, then he’s cool.”

In the wake of New Hampshire, I know we’re all supposed to ignore polls and pretend that they tell us little, but it seems useful to look at the most recent Iraq war polling again in response to this Jennifer Rubin piece.  Rubin wrote:

To look ahead to the general election, the surge may also have changed the landscape for the Republicans as a whole. If progress continues, the GOP will not face searing headlines and escalating body counts. The traditional image of the GOP as the more responsible and less skittish party in national security may be restored somewhat and the Democrats’ willingness to “cut and run” again becomes a viable campaign issue.

So the lessons of the surge are familiar ones, but ones repeatedly forgotten by politicians anxious to seek safer ground in any controversy. Short-term political gain does not always translate into long-term electoral success [bold mine-DL]. The public in the end will reward political courage — in part because it is so rare.

With all the usual caveats that the election is still ten months away and many things may change, I confess that I don’t see where Rubin is getting this impression that the “surge” stands to benefit the GOP.  Obviously, “surge” supporters hope that it does, and anything is possible, but there is little reason to think that it has had any meaningful impact on public opinion about the war.  On the surface, yes, McCain is doing better (because he won in a state he had won eight years ago, though with almost 30,000 fewer voters this time), while bizarrely losing to Romney among strong supporters of the war 44-23%.  Huckabee has probably temporarily benefited in the GOP primaries from being unequivocally for the “surge” while Romney was more skeptical about its success, but this may, in fact, prove to be a liability should he win the nomination.  It is worth noting that Romney’s very modest skepticism and caution actually put him closer to the majority of the country than does McCain’s mantra “we are winning.”  McCain’s best electoral asset seems to be that he wins the votes of Republican war opponents, as he did in New Hampshire, in spite of his close identification with the war–this is probably a function of the weakness of Republican war opponents’ opposition rather than McCain’s ability to appeal to those on the other side of the debate.  It seems implausible that non-Republican war opponents will be as willing to support him.

In the NBC/WSJ poll from Dec. 14-17, opposition to the war remained as strong as ever.  63% disapprove of Bush’s handling of the war.  That would have to include, as of last month, the “surge” as well as everything that came before.  56% believe victory is not still possible.  44% believe the “surge” has made no difference, and 14% believe that it has made things worse.  These numbers are virtually unchanged from earlier months.  57% want to remove most troops by 2009.  In a Dec. 16-19 ABC News poll, 62% say they believe was not worth fighting.  More recent polling by Rasmussen from Jan. 2-3 tells us that 51% believe the war will be judged a failure in the long-term, and only 34% believe that things will improve over the next six months (this group includes 61% of Republicans, but only a fifth of Democrats and a quarter of “other”).  Barring fairly major shifts in public opinion in coming months, the relative military gains of the “surge” seem to have had no effect whatever on opinions about the war.  Since several polls last month showed that the public had more confidence in the Democrats on the Iraq war, it is not at all clear where anyone would get the idea that the “surge” is helping the GOP electorally.

Ross writes:

At the moment, though, there’s a big difference between the two parties’ divisions: The Democrats’ fault lines are primarily demographic (upscale vs. downscale, professional vs. working class, women vs. men), whereas the GOP’s fault lines are demographic and ideological.

This is right, but it’s also important to note that the fault lines within the Democratic Party seem to be mostly persistent and enduring ones.  The same divide seems to keep replaying over and over in every cycle, and as we all know Democrats have usually ended up choosing the constituency-oriented incumbent or machine politician rather than the upscale candidate of “new ideas” or reform.  I would add that there was a combination of demographic and ideological fault lines in the 2004 Democratic race, to the extent that there was a relatively more progressive, netroots-backed antiwar candidate of a sort running against a relatively more hawkish liberal and the then-”centrist” Edwards.  The ideological divide was really more between the supporters of the candidates than between the candidates themselves, and the election exaggerated the extent of this divide, but it was there. 

The main contenders and the eventual nominees on the ticket in ‘04 arguably represented the last hurrah of neoliberalism on the Democratic side, and the last three years have seen the gradual strengthening of progressives within the party to the point where all three leading Democrats are running on a platform as progressive as any there has been in my lifetime and probably more so.  Ross is also right to point out that the prospect of victory and the desire to capture the White House are uniting the Demmocrats. Just as the hunger to win and eight years out of executive power pushed Republicans to unite around Bush in 2000, the Democrats are suppressing whatever real ideological arguments they might have over foreign policy, trade or anything else for the sake of winning.  In the ideological fragmentation on the GOP side, we are seeing something like the Republicans’ 1968 moment, but to the general convulsions within the party there is the added problem that there is also no incumbent to lead the party, which exaggerates the effect of the disagreements.  It makes the nomination fight a contest over the future direction of the party in a way that 2004 did not affect the Democrats.       

With the Kemp endorsement earlier this week, McCain is definitely becoming the second coming of Dole.

Via Jim Antle

When he’s not talking about Venezuela or Iran, Rick Santorum can be pretty sensible (via Sullivan):

And then on the issue of, on social conservative issues, you point to me one time John McCain every took the floor of the United States Senate to talk about a social conservative issue. It never happened. I mean, this is a guy who says he believes in these things, but I can tell you, inside the room, when we were in these meetings, there was nobody who fought harder not to have these votes before the United States Senate on some of the most important social conservative issues, whether it’s marriage or abortion or the like. He always fought against us to even bring them up, because he was uncomfortable voting for them. So I mean, this is just not a guy I think in the end that washes with the mainstream of the Republican Party. 

That sums it up pretty well.  Meanwhile, you supposedly three other leading candidates, one of whom has no real credibility on social issues, one of whom is effectively on the other side of the debate and the third who is evidently entirely reliable.  Social and cultural conservatives make up a much larger part of the party than do economic conservatives, and three of the four leading candidates are essentially unacceptable to large numbers of them for different reasons.  All other things being equal, if you wanted to choose the candidate who had the best chance of turning these voters out in November and keeping as much of the coalition together as possible, wouldn’t you choose the one who can most reliably motivate your largest voting bloc?  Are economic and “national security” conservatives really going to sit out a Huckabee-Clinton or Huckabee-Obama election?  It’s not as if they are likely to vote for the other party!  (Bush Hawks for Obama does have an amusing ring to it, but I don’t think we’re going to see it this year.)  As they have said to social conservatives so many times before: where are you going to go?   

Rod responds to John Savage’s critique of what Savage sees as Rod’s undue enthusiasm for Huckabee and excessive willingness to engage or reconcile with the Left.  Inasmuch as this second point repeats canards about crunchy conservatism generally and Rod personally, I don’t agree.  I agree with Mark of Protestant Pontifications that crunchy conservatism is the real version of Brooks’ “conservatism that pays attention to people making less than $50,000 a year,” and I also grant that Huckabee doesn’t have the right answers for these folks and usually isn’t even asking the right questions.  What he does seem to do, and this is where I think many of us find ourselves mildly sympathetic to Huckabee in spite of ourselves, is to gesture in the right direction.   

Savage wrote:

But the way that most crunchy cons look to him [Dreher] alone to define crunchy conservatism is unhealthy, especially when he’s the type who’s easily made to feel apologetic about taking conservative positions, and has an excessive need to just get along and ingratiate himself with the Left. 

As someone who has written a good deal about crunchy conservatism, I grant that crunchy cons and their sympathisers have acknowledged Rod’s role in drawing attention to this kind of conservatism and we have defended him against the more ridiculous and unfair attacks that have been leveled at him, but I question whether the “crunchy cons” have generally looked only to him.  To the extent that they are what he says they are, they were already looking to Kirk, Berry and others before Rod came along to document what they were doing, or they were practicing the kind of conservatism of place, virtue and proportion that Rod was describing in his book without articulating what they were doing.  Were they relying entirely on Rod, or on any single figure, I think that would be unhealthy, but I don’t think that this is what has been happening.  I doubt that Rod has an ”excessive need to just get along and ingratiate himself with the Left.”  If he had, he would not have made such a point of challenging Dallas-area Muslims over the dangers of Islamism, nor would he remain as staunchly pro-life as he has always been.  Those who wish to “get along and ingratiate” themseves with the Left do not typically rail against local Muslims and condemn the iniquity of abortion.     

Savage says:

Dreher is mostly a single-issue “conservative” whose single issue is traditional morality, narrowly construed as being pro-life, anti-promiscuous-sex, and anti-homosexual-unions. 

Rod can speak for himself on this point, and he has, but I would add that this is a strange argument to make against the author of Crunchy Cons, whose most controversial and contested claims involved matters of conservation, consumption and economics.  If he were simply the “single-issue” social conservative described here, Rod and crunchy conservatism would have created little resistance.

The least persuasive part of Savage’s post was this:

I resent that I can hardly defend crunchy conservatism in good conscience from people I meet on non-crunchy blogs, who assume on the basis of the name that crunchy conservatism is just another form of left-wing hippie-ism.

Most of us who have defended crunchy conservatism against its critics have lamented the name, which doesn’t really capture what it is.  Most of us prefer simply to apply the name traditionalist or even neo-traditionalist conservative to what Rod was talking about.  We should not allow such assumptions to be a cause of discouragement.  Who knows what people assume what the name paleoconservatism means?   It is up to paleos, if we insist on using the name, to explain what we are to those who do not yet know.  The same goes for those attracted to the best elements of crunchy conservatism. 

I have a new post on New Hampshire and Romney at Taki’s Top Drawer.  Also take a look at Richard Spencer’s posts on Ron Paul and the Kirchick attack piece.  Richard makes the right points.  I agree that this newsletter business reveals that Ron Paul showed poor judgement in allowing his name to be used, especially if he is being entirely forthright (and I have no reason to doubt his word on this) on his lack of involvement in the writing and oversight of the newsletters.  It is, of course, ludicrous to claim that Ron Paul holds the views that have been highlighted in this article, as anyone who knows the first thing about the man already understands.     

Ross commented on Noah Feldman’s article on Mormonism recently, which reminded me that I had also wanted to respond to one part of it and arguments like the following:

Still, even among those who respect Mormons personally, it is still common to hear Mormonism’s tenets dismissed as ridiculous. This attitude is logically indefensible insofar as Mormonism is being compared with other world religions. There is nothing inherently less plausible about God’s revealing himself to an upstate New York farmer in the early years of the Republic than to the pharaoh’s changeling grandson in ancient Egypt.

Put that way, Feldman might have a point, except that the claim of new revelation is actually the least “ridiculous” part of the story.  It is, and always has been, the content of that revelation that has drawn the most criticism, and so for the most part the majority dutifully ignores or downplays how the content of this or that religion is theologically untenable.  To do otherwise would begin us down the road to taking one set of theological claims more seriously than another, which might even (gasp!) lead us to assign different significance and measures of truth to different sets of claims.  The problem with this argument is that, for the sake of promoting toleration for minority religions, it essentially grants that every religion is just as inherently plausible as any other, which not only makes discussion of doctrine pointless, but actually impedes the possibility of religious dialogue and persuasion.  Granting this equality of religions paves the way for exactly the kind of arational sectarianism that skeptics believe is unavoidable with religion in public life.    

There is this very strange attitude about religion out there, and it is held by more than a few observant Christians as well as secular skeptics, that says that no revelation is more plausible than any other, which implies that revelation is entirely outside the realm of rational discouse and demonstration.  This is essentially fideism or a kind of neo-Barlaamism, which holds that believers should hold to their traditional faiths primarily because they are ancient–there is nothing that we can actually say rationally about a doctrine of God.  One of the reasons why this bizarre idea can gain such currency is the lack of respect people have for theology and dogma.  In our culture, if you want to dismiss someone’s position, you say that he is being dogmatic, and if you want to discredit an argument you refer to his worldview as a “theology,” preferably preceded by adjectives such as arcane. 

Such is the depth of our divorce from Christian intellectual tradition that many people do not recognise the substantive difference between an elaborately reasoned theological view and the ramblings of a science-fiction author.  Simply put, we lack discernment.  Militant atheists are at least consistent in the implications of holding such a disparaging view of revelation–for them, it is all made-up and undeserving of any respect.  Out of some misplaced sense of solidarity with other religious people against the Christopher Hitchenses and Dawkinses of the world, Christians seem to feel obliged to make general defenses of generic theism or the even more amorphous category of Religion, and woe betide the bishop who attempts, as Pope Benedict did, to illustrate the implications of radically different doctrines of God.  This then forces these Christians to argue that all these things are purely a matter of faith, where faith is defined not only as something inspired and the result of God’s grace (which it is), but also as something arational, rather than understanding that it is faith rightly understood that is the highest form of rationality.  Having conceded the high ground and having bought into a functionally extreme apophaticism, the Christian finds himself at a loss to make any argument from revelation, because he has already effectively granted that speaking kataphatically is impossible.  Trying to include everyone in a big tent of ecumenical anti-secularism eventually leads to being unable to say something about God and maintain that it is actually true, when there is nothing more fundamental to preaching and evangelising than speaking the truth about God in prayer and homilies. 

This brings me, oddly enough, to the question of evolution.  Fideistic understandings of religion and materialistic philosophies that seek to exploit evolutionary biology to their advantage enjoy a symbiotic relationship, since they both thrive on promoting mutual antagonism between reason and faith.  Tell the Christian that he must either endorse evolutionary theory or accept the Bible, and he will typically take the Bible, especially if he is not grounded in an authoritative teaching tradition that tells him that this choice is a false one.  Tell the average educated secular person that revealed religion is incompatible with scientific theory, and he may very well conclude that those who continue to adhere to revealed religion must be either ignorant, insane or up to no good.  Huckabee is someone who falls into the former category, of course, and declares himself agnostic on ”how” God works in creation, which is actually a far more honest view–and one that a majority of Americans would share–than affirming evolutionary theory because you know that it is socially unacceptable in certain circles to admit that you don’t understand or accept the theory.  As Rod has said before, evolution serves as a “cultural marker,” and it is deployed as a litmus test to see whether you belong to a certain kind of educated elite.  Ironically, the cultural bias against dogmatism and theology in religion has come around and struck science by making it permissible, even admirable, to doubt statements made with certainty.  Were it not for the tendency of many religious and secular Americans to oppose reason and faith, there would be no difficulty in affirming the truth of revelation and recognising the reasonable, albeit always provisional, nature of scientific inquiry.  Obviously, approaches to faith that prize doubt and uncertainty simply reinforce the tendency towards extreme apophaticism and fideism that make it impossible for believers and non-believers  to speak intelligibly to one another (to the extent that people working in two significantly different traditions can speak to one another). 

Some home truths: a tough, long primary battle will take the sting out of the powerful backlash that he [Obama] is the function of a fad of euphoria, marketing hype, or gas-baggery. It will take the edge off the criticism that he is untested. It will help him prove his mettle and endurance. ~Andrew Sullivan

Alternatively, the next five weeks will vindicate all of these assumptions and drive home just how media-driven and imaginary the entire phenomenon has been.

I also just think that Obama is a pragmatic liberal. His judgments in the past have been largely practical and reasonable. He is not an ideologue. Nor is he an excessive partisan. Those qualities are admirable from a conservative point of view. As for Burkeanism, I agree it can be an amorphous concept. Because it allows for a great deal of lee-way for prudence to determine particular judgments in history, it allows for minimal change and maximal change within its boundaries. I don’t think this makes it meaningless as a concept. It is the way a society changes that Burke was interested in. He backed the huge change of the American revolution, for example. And all we’re talking about with Obama is a prudent response to an ill-begotten war, some measures to tackle a failing healthcare system and an attempt to tackle the emergent problem of climate change. And all in a spirit of national reconciliation. This is no Robespierre, Ross. ~Andrew Sullivan

After a fashion, he is very pragmatic.  He found it pragmatic to vote present numerous times in the Illinois legislature.  For instance, he voted present several times because he would not vote for a measure requiring protection for children that survived abortion procedures.  For the purposes of passing legislation, a present vote has the same effect as a nay.  He said he opposed such measures because he feared it might undermine Roe v. Wade, but didn’t want to go on record clearly voting against it.  That’s pragmatic all right, and not very impressive.  As Nathan Gonzales explains:

In 2001, Obama voted “present” on two parental notification abortion bills (HB 1900 and SB 562), and he voted “present” on a series of bills (SB 1093, 1094, 1095) that sought to protect a child if it survived a failed abortion. In his book, the Audacity of Hope, on page 132, Obama explained his problems with the “born alive” bills, specifically arguing that they would overturn Roe v. Wade. But he failed to mention that he only felt strongly enough to vote “present” on the bills instead of “no.” 

That’s leadership right there.  But fortunately he’s no ideologue.  He’s just so committed to maintaining legal abortion that he will adopt the ne plus ultra position on the issue.

Mitt Romney’s not the only one excited about his Wyoming results.

Via Dave Weigel

Since some seem inexplicably ready to anoint McCain the frontrunner, a dubious honour at this point that I’m sure Huckabee is pleased to let someone else have, it occurred to me that these same people are usually working on the assumption that McCain would be a competitive general election candidate.  Think about that for a moment.  As soon as you do, I think you will find yourself imagining an election campaign like Bob Dole’s, except that the candidate will not just seem ancient, out of touch and at odds with significant numbers of Republicans, but he will also be associated with reflexive militarism and a war that remains deeply unpopular.  He has the liability of being seen as too independent and unreliable by many conservatives while appearing as an angry warmonger to independents.  He’s not the sort of President conservatives would want to keep at arm’s length, as Jim recommends we do with anyone from this field, but rather someone from whom conservatives will want to flee.  In the event that he somehow became the nominee, he would not fare well in ten months’ time.  Almost as soon as he would give his acceptance speech, conservatives would start to feel buyer’s remorse, realising that even if he wins they will have to contend with some version of his awful immigration bill year after year. 

Jim Antle has a very good article on “The Paleocon Dilemma” in the current TAC, and he outlines three tactical approaches that dissident conservatives have been pursuing:

Some paleoconservatives prefer to work within the mainstream movement, hoping to take it back from those they view as squatters.  Others believe that movement is either too far gone, or was fatally flawed from the beginning, and instead seek to forge a “real Right” that will supplant mainstream conservatism.  A third group believes that changing American foreign policy should take precedence over all other ideological concerns and therefore favors the creation of a Left-Right anti-neoconservative coalition.

Ron Paul is the obvious candidate for paleos, and, as Jim notes, in Paul’s campaign ”there are elements of all three approaches—each of which has obvious flaws.”  It remains an open question whether Paul’s campaign is the beginning of a new effort to “recapture” the movement from within, or marks the last attempt to work within the party and the movement before paleos completely reject this first approach.  I have some thoughts on this question, but I am saving them for my next column.  I am personally most inclined to the second approach, even as I am acutely aware of the limitations and problems of that route.  I can see some ad hoc value in the third, but the third approach has a number of even more serious problems. 

Depending on the degree of one’s disaffection, the Bush Era has either transformed the movement into something awful or it has simply revealed internal flaws that have been there for a long time.  Certainly, I think the administration has done grave, probably irreparable, damage to the movement and to the reputation of conservatism in this country.  As I think Sullivan said recently, Bush has managed to betray and discredit conservatism at the same time, which is far worse than his father’s indifference to the movement’s priorities and his moderate Republican proclivity to make deals with the left.  Unlike his father, Bush effectively redefined conservatism in the eyes of most Americans as center-left meliorism at home and Wilsonian interventionism abroad.  Depressingly, it has mostly been the first part of this redefinition that has generated the most movement opposition, while it is the latter that has probably done more damage to our country and more harm to the credibility of conservatives on vital policy questions.  However, I also think that Bush could never have done what he did had the movement and party not been so acquiescent and willing to yield.

If foreign policy is the area in which the most damaging changes have occurred, it would seem reasonable that an alliance to counteract neoconservative influence on foreign policy would be most urgent and desirable, at least in the short term.  That is the rationale for the third approach mentioned above, and it is initially an attractive one.  But the third approach has two problems beyond the one that Jim mentioned (”all organizations that are not explicitly right-wing become left-wing over time”).  The first is that it has very little chance of succeeding.  Divorced from some significant power base and/or voting bloc, a coalition organised around a foreign policy agenda would be extremely unstable and would would not be able to draw much support beyond the relatively small numbers of progressives and conservatives who have found some way to cooperate in opposition to this particular war.  If it grew it numbers, it would become increasingly fissiparous because of the limited number of goals holding the coalition together.  As a generically anti-neoconservative coalition, it would have a broader appeal and could conceivably include realists and internationalists of various stripes, but within that coalition you would continually have friction between those internationalists and the non-interventionists.  The latter would not see many sharp distinctions between the “multilateralists” who supported Kosovo but opposed Iraq and the neocons (perhaps because there are not many real distinctions), while the former would continually be frustrated by right non-interventionists’ opposition to the U.N. and any international treaty that was seen as a threat to national sovereignty.  The candidacy of Obama is a good case in point illustrating this divide: many progressives who are against the Iraq war are nonetheless not terribly concerned about the insane, overreaching, hubristic nature of Obama’s overall foreign policy or his support for Israel’s war in Lebanon, while the antiwar Right sees very little about Obama to admire.  Where some starry-eyed antiwar progressives (and perhaps even a few conservatives) see Obama representing a dramatic change in how the world will see America, we see someone who believes the U.S. has the right and indeed obligation, justified by our limitless security interests that are “inextricably” linked to everyone else’s security interests, to intervene anywhere and everywhere, guaranteeing more of the same disastrously arrogant treatment of other states. 

The second and perhaps more significant problem is that it subordinates all domestic policy priorities and disputes to the goal of agreeing on changing U.S. foreign policy, which most of the constituent parts of this coalition would find deeply dissatisfying in many ways.  It seems improbable that people who aready dislike the compromises required by the current Democratic and Republican coalitions would be likely to ally with others even farther from them in domestic politics.  Personally, I see some substantial common ground between paleos and greens, but the number of paleos and greens who see this same common ground is even smaller than the already rather small numbers of both groups.   While most right non-interventionists see their foreign policy views as the logical extension of their general anti-statism and constitutionalism, which puts them at odds with the welfare state, many of the progressives in this coalition would want to pursue expansions of the state in the name of social justice.  Those on the right who chafed at the conservative movement’s acquiescence to a massive federal bureaucracy during the Cold War and in the decades since 1991 are unlikely to want to tolerate a similar bargain with progressives in the name of thwarting hegemonism.  One of the reasons that most of us will ultimately not be able to go along with such an alliance is that we assume that there is something fundamentally progressive and left-wing about the neoconservative project (and further that this is one of the reasons why it so pernicious), and that it is because of its progressive, leftist origins that neoconservatism misunderstands human nature, society and politics so badly.  We also assume, I think correctly, that as soon as the Iraq war is over neoconservatives will regain, or perhaps will never have lost, their reputation on the left as the “reasonable” and “respectable” Right, the sorts of people that “decent liberals” can work with and not feel guilty.  Once the Iraq war is over, progressives will resume (not that they have ever really stopped) their denunciations of the “nativists” and “isolationists” on the right whom they will always make a point of loathing more than the mainstream Republicans whose policies we all oppose (albeit obviously for different reasons in most cases).        

Via Jim Antle, I see that Georg Neumayr has let fly against the Huckabashers, making many of the arguments I have advanced over the last couple of months.  Neumayr concludes:

But won’t Huckabee shatter the conservative coalition? That would be a little more persuasive if those saying this hadn’t shattered it themselves. The relative success of Ron Paul and Huckabee is not a cause of the coalition’s collapse but a reflection of it. An excessively Wilsonian foreign policy has divided defense conservatives; years of big spending has divided economic conservatives; and a tepid, stalling social conservatism has alienated moral ones.

Perhaps Huckabee can’t rebuild this coalition. But he isn’t likely to weaken it any more than have his critics, and he may even bring some long-disenchanted middle Americans into it.

The double standards for Huckabee and the other leading contenders are noticeable, especially when they are being applied by people who made excuses or at least looked the other way during one of the most liberal administrations of the last thirty years.  As I said earlier this week:

The new story about Huckabee is that he is so un-conservative that he isn’t even as conservative as Bush, whom they now reject as non-conservative.  What seems to be troubling these establishment critics of Huckabee is that he is no less conservative than Bush, and may be more so in some respects, but all of a sudden they have discovered a deep wellspring of uncompromising principle that does not allow them to tolerate Huckabee, even as they have cheered on Bush for seven years.  This is an almost Romneyesque discovery of first principles in its novelty, and it is a bit hard to take seriously if you have been opposed to Bush from the beginning.  

With a little under a third of the vote counted and reported, McCain has won New Hampshire by a large margin, and Romney has already conceded.  Clinton currently leads, but her lead has been shrinking over the last half an hour.  Paul is close to catching Giuliani, but frankly Giuliani should have been doing worse than he is.  A fourth place finish for Giuliani is not very good, but losing to Ron Paul again would have a certain symbolic significance.  For Paul, picking up fourth place is important.   

Here’s a perfect example of what I was talking about earlier today (via Yglesias):

When asked about a Palestinian state, Gov. Huckabee stated that he supports creating a Palestinian state, but believes that it should be formed outside of Israel. He named Egypt and Saudi Arabia as possible alternatives, noting that the Arabs have far more land than the Israelis and that it would only be fair for other Arab nations to give the Palestinians land for a state, rather than carving it out of the tiny Israeli state.

Huckabee’s frequent references to “Islamofascism” and now his adoption of an ultra position on the Palestinians are meant to placate the critics who believe that his foreign policy agenda is either too thin, too naive, too weak or too liberal (or some combination of these).  “Transferring” (a.k.a. forcibly expelling) Palestinians to various Arab countries is a curious way to have U.S. foreign policy ”change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out.”  Who would have guessed that this meant adopting a harsher tone and attitude towards Arabs?  Perhaps that will be Huckabee’s new mantra: Reach out and strike someone.  Huckabee has taken this rather dreadful position of his own accord–just imagine what he would be willing to embrace once “national security” conservatives started supporting and advising him.  Not only would a position like this make him a natural fit for the “new fusionist” alliance of social conservatives and neocons, but in its injustice and hubris it is actually even worse than the current administration. 

And yet, Romney, the candidate with the most executive experience, is fated to wake up one morning and realize that he just ran the worst campaign since Phil Gramm’s.  Romney will have spent $100 million or more wrecking his reputation! That takes work. It is all worthy of a Harvard Business Review analysis someday. ~Rich Karlgaard

Karlgaard also makes the right point about Huckabee and the Fair Tax, and the same one I was making earlier:

His Fair Tax would devastate lots of small businesses, such as retail stores, restaurants and realties.

This is frankly why I don’t understand how Karlgaard can also say that Huckabee has “boxed himself in with his populism.”  If anything, he has boxed himself in with his advocacy for a crazy tax plan that hurts small business and middle-class households, but he seems to be persuading middle and lower-middle class voters that he is “one of them,” even when his policies do not benefit them.  It is Thompsonesque phony populism at its best, and it seems to be working.  Granted, he makes a lot of noise about being against Wall Street, but where is the evidence is that he is?  It seems to me that if corporate Republicans could get someone who promised to get rid of corporate and capital gains taxes in exchange for calling them names once in a while, they would take him.  The crucial flaw in Karlgaard’s analysis is the assumption that most voters will understand that his tax plan harms small businesses.   

My American Scene colleague Peter Suderman responded to my post on Huckabee and the GOP coalition:

This doesn’t seem to me to be a particularly odd claim, and Huckabee’s rhetoric has essentially admitted it. He’s railed against the Club for Growth, talked up his Main Street/Wall Street dichotomy, and has campaign manager Ed Rollins going around feeding reporters string about the demise of the Reagan coalition.  He’s been openly pushing religious conservatives to view business-minded economic conservatives as antagonists.

I think Peter has misunderstood what I meant.  Huckabee’s campaign chairman has declared the Reagan coalition dead, but in this he is simply observing that the death has already occurred, and it does not mean that the existing GOP coalition must be destroyed for Huckabee to win the nomination.  That is, the current GOP coalition is no longer really the Reagan coalition.  It isn’t even entirely the coalition that voted for the GOP in 1994.  My point, which may have been lost in the mix, was that Armey conflates “the Reagan coalition” and the current Republican coalition, when they are not the same thing.  Were it not for the totemic significance attached to the name of Reagan, nothing would be very controversial about the observation that a voting coalition of two decades ago was no longer relevant to the debate.  Romney’s candidacy has been based on the nostalgic hope that the two are the same and that he can twist himself into the right shape to satisfy the old coalition, so it is perhaps natural that those who continue to perpetuate the idea that the modern GOP is the embodiment of Reaganism are among those least offended by his contortions.  While our friends in the Beltway have continued to ride the old horse of “fusionism,” fusionism has long since ceased to describe how most Republicans and self-styled conservatives see things (to the extent that it ever did earlier).  Much as I have derided it for its flaws, what Joseph Bottum called the “new fusionism” serves as the umbrella term that covers the current structure of the movement and the current makeup of the GOP coalition.  Bottum wrote:

The angry isolationist paleoconservatives are probably right–this isn’t conservatism, in several older senses of the word. But so what? Call it the new moralism, if you like. Call it a masked liberalism or a kind of radicalism that has bizarrely seized the American scene [bold mine-DL]. Mutter darkly, if you want, about the shotgun marriage of ex-socialists and modern puritans, the cynical political joining of imperial adventurers with reactionary Catholics and backwoods Evangelicals.  

Now Huckabee has emerged as the masked liberal (perhaps we can call him El Burro), and suddenly this has become a very bad thing for people who have supported the current administration.  As one of those “angry isolationist paleoconservatives,” I find it amusing that it is now the GOP establishment that “mutters darkly” against just these things when they attack Huckabee, who in most respects is the ideal new fusionist candidate.  That is also, of course, why he should give all serious conservatives a feeling of dread.  These kinds of fusionism always work out poorly for the religious conservatives who join in them.  Such fusionism is, as I have said before, ”a corrupt bargain that entails that the traditionalist and Christian members of the alliance give up 95% of what they want to their secular, globalist and interventionist fellows in exchange for the latter suffering to grant them a place at the table and an occasional appointment or rhetorical tip of the hat to keep them quiescent.”  

Bottum said almost a year and a half ago:

In the new fusionism of the pro-life social conservatives and the foreign-policy neoconservatives, a number of traditional issues seem, if not to have disappeared, then at least to have gotten muted along the way. Where exactly is tax reform and social security and the balanced budget in all this? Where is much concern for economics, which once defined the root of American conservatism?

I questioned back then whether “concern for economics” ever defined the root of American conservatism (I still seriously doubt this), but clearly the problem economic conservatives have with Huckabee is that they perceive him as someone who does not pay much attention to their issues and, when he does, they don’t like what they hear.  One of my points about the FairTax is that Huckabee’s support for it should demonstrate that Huckabee is not actually hostile to economic conservatives.  And while not all economic conservatives are Club for Growth and WSJ types, I grant you, these are the ones who are making the loudest noises about Huckabee, and they certainly are very often (if not 100% of the time) “in sync with the short-term interests of big business.”  I think they would not consider it undesirable to be described in that way.  I might have added that the sheer incoherence of his ideas and lack of policy expertise make him the perfect candidate for economic conservatives to mould in directions they like, just as national security conservatives should be unfazed by his inclinations towards realism and sanity.  It is because his economic and foreign policy ideas are so incoherent and unformed that he is someone who can be brought over to your views.  Consider how readily he has become a supporter of restrictionist ideas out of utter opportunism. 

My larger point was that Huckabee actually presents much less of a threat to economic conservatives than they suppose.  It seems to me that, in their indignation that one of the non-anointed candidates has started succeeding where the chosen ones have failed, establishment Republicans have started applying a kind of rigour to litmus tests on fiscal records that they would not apply in other cases.  If Huckabee’s Cato grade was a D, Romney’s was a C, yet we are gamely told by those who endorse Romney that he is much better as an economic conservative than Huckabee, when the truth is that, by the high standards of Cato and CfG, both are woefully lacking.  The difference is that Romney is a corporate Republican and will be quite glad to work in the interests of corporations, while Huckabee manifestly is not.  That makes Romney more reliable, even if it does not make him any more conservative on economics and fiscal policy (and could conceivably make him less so if he pushes something akin to the Medicare Part D boondoggle on the country).  It is a strange world where the governor who signed off on universal government-mandated health care is considerd by some to be the best “full-spectrum conservative,” while Huckabee is supposedly so deeply flawed that he would split the coalition beyond repair.      

As usual, Hewitt is annoyed that people are not giving enough respect to his dear Mitt:

I heard one bit of punditry passed from microphone to microphone yesterday: If Romney doesn’t win in New Hampshire, he’s finished.

This assessment isn’t asserted about Hillary, who also planned to win early.  It isn’t asserted about Mike Huckabee, Thompson or Rudy.  It wasn’t asserted about Hillary, McCain, Rudy or Thompson after Iowa.

If no one is saying anything about Fred Thompson’s chances after New Hampshire (where he stands to get somewhere between 2 and 3%), that’s because everyone has already stopped paying much attention to the poor man.  After all, why keep kicking a man when he’s down?  Giuliani and Clinton, who could well be finished after tonight, don’t receive the same treatment because they still have significant leads in February 5 states and until recently had decent leads in national polling (the latter have since evaporated).  Romney’s strategy was explicitly a traditional early-state strategy that required him to do well in the initial contests.  Only after Iowa did his minions begin talking about his “national strategy.”  The media narrative that Huckabee won because “it was the evangelicals wot did it” also frees him of any obligation to perform very well in a much more secular, left-leaning and culturally libertarian state.  Every time someone has pointed out that Romney performs better in non-evangelical electorates than Huckabee, they were setting up the fraud for a fall–the implication then becomes that Romney really needs to win in a state with relatively few evangelicals while he can and his failure to do so is very bad news for him.  

This claim is made about Romney because he was the presumptive frontrunner in both Iowa and New Hampshire just two months ago, and retained his New Hampshire lead until last month.  People make this assessment because Massachusetts politicians almost always win the New Hampshire primary, and because Romney has spent an embarrassingly large amount of money building up his campaign in the state.  If he is upended by McCain, he will have been defeated by a candidate written off by everyone just a couple months ago as doomed–losing to the guy that appears doomed doesn’t help one’s reputation for electability.  People make this claim because Romney and his people have been making Muskie-esque guarantees of performance in New Hampshire in particular, essentially guaranteeing victory.  (They have been running away from these predictions, but just today Romney expressed confidence in winning.)  The same logic would have applied to Huckabee had he lost Iowa: people would have said that if he can’t win there, he can’t win anywhere.  If Romney can’t win in New Hampshire, it is hard to see how he prevails elsewhere.  This is what he has said about McCain, but it applies just as well to him. 

Jim Antle and I are on the same page here:

Now I’m going to end up with the Thomas Boswell problem if Mitt Romney pulls out a win tonight, but he’s starting to look like the Mo Udall of this election cycle.

Tim Lee agrees that Huckabee is a competitive general election candidate, and he makes an excellent point about Huckabee’s religiosity:

I think a lot of members of the liberal (and libertarian) secular elite have a weird blind spot when it comes to religion and religious rhetoric in politics. They tend to find sincere religious sentiments so alien that anyone who is conversant with the language of faith sounds nutty to them. But like it or not, this is still a predominantly religious country, and lots of voters respond well to religious rhetoric of the non-angry variety. I personally find it every bit as off-putting as Matt does, but we’re in the minority.

It’s not such a weird blind spot when you think about it.  When religion seems to you to have little or no relevant or meaningful application to public life, you almost have to assume that anyone employing such rhetoric or actually pursuing policies on account of religious teachings is either totally cynical or a crazed theocrat (or perhaps, in the view of some secular observers, both at the same time).  The idea that religious politics need not be either utterly vacuous or profoundly threatening to society contradicts a raft of assumptions that secular people have about the intersection of religion and politics.  These people have also become so accustomed to the anodyne generic theism of our Presidents that it is jarring to them to hear someone cite Scripture with fluency and some modicum of understanding.

Ross says of the possible Romney combeack:

If he seems viable, he’ll have Rush Limbaugh, Hugh Hewitt, and the rest of talk radio in his corner.

This is mostly right, with one notable exception.  For some reason, Michael Medved has been going out of his way to take Huckabee’s side over the past few months, and he was an early proponent of the idea that Huckabee could unify the party better than others.  In the wake of Ames, many people saw Huckabee’s second place finish as a kind of amusing curiosity, but Medved managed to see something early on that the rest of us ignored. 

Five months ago, Medved saw something different about Huckabee:

First, his distinctly blue-collar, proudly working class background will help to destroy the notion that Republicans are the party of Wall Street and the country club.

But the Republicans, at least at the level of leadership and policymaking, really are that party, and what they seem to fear is that Huckabee will not just destroy this perception but also threaten to change the priorities of the party in ways disadvantageous to “Wall Street and the country club” (i.e., corporate interests).  The more I think about it, the more wrong I think they are about Huckabee, which makes his “populism” just so much sympathising with American workers while doing nothing at all for them.  Call it Potemkin Sam’s Club Republicanism. 

Medved saw Huckabee’s background as an electoral asset:

The old Democratic class warfare tactics simply won’t work against Huckabee—his personal style and background make it impossible to associate him with some privileged elite. 

Yet to listen to The Wall Street Journal, you’d think that Huckabee was using class warfare tactics.  The problem that the GOP higher-ups seem to be having with the man is that he isn’t associated with their privileged elite, at least not directly.  What makes Huckabee a valuable general election candidate are the very things that make him hateful to large parts of the GOP and movement leadership, but these general election assets are the things that ought to recommend him to them.

More remarkably, Medved saw Huckabee as the perfect candidate to shore up the right against a disaffected protest candidate:

With a Huckabee candidacy, on the other hand, a self-righteous anti-abortion, anti-immigration, anti-globalism fringe campaign becomes less powerful (and less necessary, for that matter). Those who worry that international conspirators are subverting American sovereignty as part of some CFR or Neo-Con conspiracy will feel far less fearful of Huckabee than of any other major candidate.

So the candidate who has praised NAFTA, called opponents of his pro-immigration bills racists and un-Christian, and claims to take foreign policy cues from Richard Haass and Frank Gaffney (when he isn’t declaring his love for Charles Krauthammer) is the one who will tamp down an anti-immigration and anti-globalist third party candidate who dislikes the influence of the CFR and neocons?  If I had read this before the anti-Huckabee reaction, I would have laughed (it’s still pretty bizarre), but when I see Huckabee embracing Gilchrist and a hard anti-amnesty line and when I see him being painted as some protectionist proponent of national autarchy this statement is no longer quite so bizarre. 

One thing that Medved didn’t foresee was the tremendous backlash against the candidate that was coming:

And it’s tough for anyone, from any faction in the party, to feel mad at Mike Huckabee. 

David Brooks made a similar claim later, at which I duly scoffed, but there had to be some reason why both of them saw Huckabee as a unifying figure in the GOP where everyone else saw a radioactive, coalition-destroying candidate.  As it turns out, both of them were simply wrong about the Republican reaction to Huckabee, but what is more difficult is trying to understand why the reaction is as ferocious as it has been.  I’ve floated the “Huckabee is the social conservatives’ revenge” idea, as well as the “economic populist” angle and the “he embarrassingly reminds the GOP of the Bush administration that they have propped up” view, and more recently suggested that Huckabee is just too Southern and low-class for the GOP establishment to accept, and there is something to all of these explanations.  But any one by itself or all of them together still fail to explain fully the hostility. 

Medved also had this amusing prediction:

The big negatives the press will no doubt begin to attach to the surging Huckabee campaign involve the notion that he’s just too religious (and doesn’t believe in undirected, random Darwinism) and that he’s got no experience in foreign policy. 

Yet the main parts of ”the press” making these sorts of arguments are conservative outlets and pundits.  It is Republican leaders who are extremely worried about his alleged excessive religiosity, his creationism and his lack of foreign policy experience.  For their own reasons, mainstream media outlets continue mostly to lavish praise on Huckabee.  Yes, they have begun digging into his ethics record and decisions as governor, but by and large it is not the mainstream media that want to annihilate him (at least not yet)–that is one of the conservative media’s obsessions at present. 

As I’ve said before, I know the reasons why I, as a paleo, don’t like Huckabee and wouldn’t want him as President, but these are all the reasons why Bush voters should like him.  If you liked NCLB, you’ll love a candidate who receives the endorsement of the New Hampshire NEA.  The common complaint against Huckabee is that he isn’t really conservative, or not conservative enough, and I would agree that he isn’t by my standards, but by this standard now being applied to Huckabee Bush should never have passed muster, either.  The self-exculpatory explanation from conservatives who supported Bush in both elections was that they either “always” knew that Bush wasn’t really conservative but were being pragmatic (lesser of two evils, yadda yadda yadda) or they realised too late that Bush wasn’t really governing as a conservative.  The new story about Huckabee is that he is so un-conservative that he isn’t even as conservative as Bush, whom they now reject as non-conservative.  What seems to be troubling these establishment critics of Huckabee is that he is no less conservative than Bush, and may be more so in some respects, but all of a sudden they have discovered a deep wellspring of uncompromising principle that does not allow them to tolerate Huckabee, even as they have cheered on Bush for seven years.  This is an almost Romneyesque discovery of first principles in its novelty, and it is a bit hard to take seriously if you have been opposed to Bush from the beginning.  

Rod said that the WSJ was being disingenuous when it editorialised on Huckabee with these lines:

His innocence (or ignorance) on foreign policy, penchant for borrowing liberal economic attack lines, and even his rejection of Darwin’s theory of evolution deserve to be understood by voters before they make him their standard bearer.

Rod points out that much the same could have been said, and was said, about Bush in 1999-2000, but this didn’t stop the WSJ from backing him.  The perceived difference on economics is supposed to be what drives the hostility to Huckabee, and originally I was persuaded that Huckabee was sincere in espousing a kind of economic populism and protectionism until I paid more attention to what he actually believed.  It still seems correct to assume that his identity as a primarily socially conservative candidate, and one who does not hide his religion in the closet, has deeply troubled secular and ”libertarian” Republicans, and that the reaction against him is a reaction of so-called “money-cons” (the sort that Rod described as “mainstream conservatives” in Crunchy Cons) against conservatives who think that social issues remain central and who are tired of being taken for granted.  

Having been an early adopter of this economic policy explanation for the anti-Huckabee campaign, I now think this emphasis on Huckabee’s economics is to exaggerate the differences between Candidate Bush and Huckabee considerably.  President Bush has indeed been tied closely to corporate Republicans and has been one all along, but if we can think back to the original Bush campaign in 2000 we will remember a candidate who stressed many of the same themes and tried to identify Republicans with a ”reform” agenda in policy areas not traditionally assoociated with the GOP.  If Bush launched his campaign with an attack on the Congressional GOP for “balancing the budget on the backs of the poor” (even then, Gerson’s rhetoric was annoying), Huckabee has engaged in much the same “I feel your pain” hand-waving that Bush did.  If Huckabee is not so daft as to say things like, “Family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande,” he has plenty of statements on the record that make him sound every bit as sentimental and sappy on immigration, while also having said plenty of things that insult conservative restrictionists in the worst ways.  The charge that Huckabee is “borrowing liberal economic attack lines” is mostly baseless, unless it is a “liberal economic attack line” to acknowledge that there is economic anxiety and uncertainty abroad in the land, which the new jobless numbers and purchasing reports are beginning to drive home.  If he is borrowing them, perhaps it is because they have been succeeding electorally.  In any case, we don’t know whether a “compassionate conservative” would have sounded more like a populist in 2000, because economic conditions were relatively better and there was much less anxiety.  Huckabee is showing us what “compassionate conservatism” looks like in an election year where economic conditions are relatively worse. 

The key differences between Bush and Huckabee and perhaps a better explanation for why so many Bush voters are balking at supporting Huckabee are that Huckabee is a real Southerner, in that he was born and raised there, while Bush was a transplanted Texan, and Huckabee came from a lower-middle class family and Bush came from wealthy American political aristocracy.  To the extent that Huckabee represents anything threatening or different, it is in his biography and geography, if you will.  Republicans have never given the reins to a real, born-and-bred Southerner.  If Northeasterners are already freaking out about the risk of the GOP becoming a regional, Southern party, you can just imagine the terrible thoughts that run through their head when they consider the consequences of a Huckabee nomination.  Bush was a transplant to west Texas, but had strong family and political ties back East, while Huckabee could represent a real shift of the political center of gravity of the GOP towards the region where a huge number of the party’s voters live.  In this sense, it may not be so much what Huckabee is saying or not saying as where he comes from that worries the party elites who are from quite different places.  

However, I think Rod has missed the larger point, as we all have, myself included, in thinking about anti-Huckabee sentiment.  In WSJ ideology, as with so many other organs of putatively conservative opinion, national security and foreign policy are now supposed to be absolutely paramount, and the establishment’s preferred candidates on this score are McCain and Giuliani–always have been and always will be so long as they are in the race.  Neoconservative publications were major McCain boosters eight years ago, in no small part because they were concerned that Bush’s promise of a “humble” foreign policy and his consorting with all manner of realists and people who initially seemed reasonable.  The attacks on Huckabee’s foreign policy statements have usually derived from this same fear of creeping realism and an abandonment of the more militant and aggressive policies of the last seven years–he has therefore dutifully starting chattering about Islamofascism whenever he can to show that he is not some weak, diplomacy-loving friend of the State Department.  Only grudgingly did neoconservatives initially accept Bush’s victory over McCain, and some of them were among his most ferocious critics in the early months of his first term, especially during the April incident with the Chinese.  It seems to me that there are two kinds of responses to Huckabee emerging among leading Republicans: McCain supporters who could live with Huckabee if they had to (e.g., Brooks and possibly Kristol) and McCain and Giuliani supporters who have continued to see Huckabee as the blunt instrument with which their preferred candidate demolishes Mitt Romney and clears the path to the nomination.  The establishment types who have already declared for Romney now find themselves fighting against a two or three-front assault, as everyone believes his candidate has the most to gain from Romney’s complete defeat.  Honestly, I think the Giuliani and McCain supporters who think they will be able to banish Huckabee once he has become strong enough to knock Romney out are delusional, and they will find themselves confronted with a candidate they cannot easily stop and will also find a lot of bitter Romney supporters who will be in no mood to work very hard for candidates who helped beat their man.

Via Sullivan comes yet another in the series of weirdly insulting statements from people who are trying to say complimentary things about Obama:

Yet if Clinton’s answers come off as well-intended lectures, Obama is offering soaring sermons and generational opportunity. In 1960, the articulate Adlai Stevenson compared his own oratory unfavorably with John F. Kennedy’s. ”Do you remember,” Stevenson said, “that in classical times when Cicero had finished speaking, the people said, ‘How well he spoke,’ but when Demosthenes had finished speaking, the people said, ‘Let us march.’ ” At this hour, Obama is the Democrats’ Demosthenes.

Demosthenes was certainly a persuasive speaker and has been remembered as one of the greatest orators, so on this level the comparison does Obama great honour (one might say far too great).  Demosthenes was demagogos in an age where that label did not necessarily carry quite the same pejorative meaning that it does for us, whereas Obama is simply a demagogue in the conventional sense who has never actually led much of anything.  Demosthenes was also the late classical equivalent of a jingoist and his avowed policy of confrontation with the Macedonians brought disaster to his city.  In short, to be a group’s Demosthenes is to be an extremely eloquent and unwise man who brings ruin to his country, as well as meeting an unhappy end personally.  Perhaps in a future column praising Hillary Clinton Dionne could liken her to Helen of Troy.  With praise like this, Obama doesn’t need criticism. 

The new Marist poll confirms the movement that we have been seeing elsewhere: McCain gaining considerably, Giuliani imploding and Romney faltering.  It also confirms the order of the New Hampshire Republican field that I assume will hold true later today: McCain, Romney, Huckabee, Paul and only then Giuliani.  Giuliani has effectively given up on New Hampshire in every respect, pulling his television ads last month, but he now runs the real risk of coming in even with Fred Thompson, whose non-campaigning in New Hampshire has made him one of the least-liked candidates in the Granite State.  In any case, two single-digit results in a row hardly bodes well for the alleged “national frontrunner” of yesterday.

Meanwhile, the traditional first New Hampshire voters in the small hamlet of Dixville Notch have cast their votes, and they seem to be a mirror of the general mood of the state, except that they are much less enthusiastic about Clinton than the larger electorate.  However, as you might expect from an extremely small sample of voters who are unrepresentative of much of New Hampshire, Dixville Notch has a terrible record when it comes to voting for the eventual winners.  This year may prove to be the exception to that rule, since Obama and McCain prevailed handily with seven and four votes respectively and have been expanding their leads in polls over the last week. 

Huckabee has every incentive to distance himself from the GOP coalition; his nomination rests on its demise. ~Dick Armey

If that doesn’t seem to make any sense, that’s because it doesn’t.  Arguably, Huckabee’s election as President would lead to the splintering and demise of “the GOP coalition,” but for Huckabee to win the nomination he does have to alleviate the doubts of other members of the coalition who are not yet convinced that he is tolerable.  Now Armey is a primarily economic conservative with some libertarian inclinations, and he has long been engaged in a running battle with prominent religious conservatives over domestic policy priorities, so we understand why Armey is hardly thrilled to see Huckabee succeeding.  Even so, what Rollins said about the disappearing Reagan coalition is not all that remarkable.  It is a statement of recognition that the current GOP coalition is not what it was fifteen years ago, much less almost thirty years ago.  The makeup of the GOP has changed over just the past ten years, as many noted last year with the release of the latest Fabrizio polling.  Trying to organise an electoral strategy that rallies a coalition that no longer exists would seem misguided and a classic example of fighting the political equivalent of the last war.  Listening to Romney rail against the welfare state, as if it were 1980 all over again, you get the impression that he is trying to run for Reagan’s fourth term.  There are significant elements of the GOP opposed to Huckabee, even though they may be relatively few in numbers, but the same might fairly be said of every major contender.  When it comes to talking about all of the others, even Giuliani, most establishment Republicans do not make overblown claims that this or that nomination would entail the “demise” of the GOP coalition. 

With respect to Huckabee, this accusation has become a bit of conventional wisdom so commonplace that people assert it without even going through the motions of demonstrating whether it is true or not.  Whatever else you can say about Huckabee’s fiscal record, it is extremely odd for economic conservatives to attack him when he proposes to do more tax-cutting than every other Republican candidate save Ron Paul.  Never mind for a moment that his plan is poorly conceived, would probably be impossible to pass and induces laughter in most conservative economists–he claims that he wants to wipe out corporate, capital gains, income and payroll taxes and yet the corporate wing of the party is actually angry at him?  What more does the man have to promise these people?  A consumption tax would actually function as a burden on small businesses, making every small firm and store around the nation into the middlemen for revenue collection–a task that would still be handled by some part of the federal bureaucracy.  Forget for the moment that it would hit middle and lower-middle households more directly, since they spend a larger percentage of their income on consumption, and consider how unfriendly the program is to small business and how actually very pro-corporate it is.  While a consumption tax would have a certain kind of benefit, in that it would, like all taxes, discourage the activity being taxed, the impact this would have on consumer spending would be fairly severe.  Americans might become less consumerist, at least temporarily, and might be less inclined to go into ever-greater debt to buy trifles that will have become simply too expensive, but that probably means the service economy would suffer.  Once again, this would hit small firms hardest and would have deleterious effects on the general economy.  The biggest joke of the Huckabacklash is that he claims to represent Main Street Republican interests and somehow corporate Republicans believe it, even though his main domestic proposal is far more to their advantage than it is to Main Street.  There is nothing especially desirable about reorganising how Leviathan is fed if we continue to insist on feeding it ever-increasing amounts. 

Bill Kristol and I agree that Huckabee is electable and would be competitive in a general election.  Very worrisome.  That pits both of us against Stuart Rothenburg, who has a reputation for knowing what he’s talking about.  Yet it seems obvious to me that Huckabee counteracts everything Obama has to offer, such as it is, while outmatching him in a number of ways.  While Obama is the professorial “arugula” candidate, Huckabee is the candidate of the average American.  While Obama is inexperienced liberal, Huckabee is the two-term governor who relates to Middle Americans.  Whereas Obama wants to invade Pakistan…Huckabee wants to invade Pakistan.  Okay, call that one a draw.  Rothenburg reads this matchup exactly backwards.  It isn’t Obama who cancels out Huckabee’s advantages, but Huckabee who cancels out Obama’s.   

Update: In case the title caused any confusion, what I found terrifying was agreeing with Bill Kristol.  A Huckabee nomination would be merely disturbing.

Apparently the cover of the latest TAC has annoyed some Giuliani supporters.  That is distressing.  How will we get on without the approval of David Frum and Martin Kramer?  We’ll probably manage somehow. 

There has been an excessive deployment of the term fascist in our political discourse over the last ten years or so, almost all of it coming from neoconservatives and their allies, especially in the context of foreign policy arguments.  I argued late last year against the nonsensical nature of the term Islamofascism, which neoconservative writers use on a regular basis, which belongs to the subtitle of Podhoretz’s latest volume and which forms a central part of neoconservative “analysis” of the threat to this country.  Podhoretz, as you will recall, is an advisor to the Giuliani campaign, so there is something more than a little rich about other Giuliani advisors complaining about the reckless and inappropriate use of references to fascism.  Their entire foreign policy view is little more than an elaborate version of shouting, “The new Hitler is coming!”  Yet they have the temerity to complain when we portray an aggressive, authoritarian, jingoistic nationalist as somehow akin to aggressive jingoistic nationalists?  Remarkable.

In America and Europe in the last fifty years or so, the term fascist has normally been used against traditional conservatives and rightists who value national sovereignty and who want to avoid foreign wars whenever possible.  Apparently unaware of the irony, Republican admirers of FDR, architect of American state capitalism, have been glad to fling the f-word at the heirs to his Old Right enemies, because we respect the non-interventionist principles of America Firsters.  The depiction of Giuliani in brownshirt seems more apt than not in that he has publicly stated his willingness to leave open the first-strike use of tactical nukes against another country, he has made a joke out of torturing detainees and he is on record (along with most conservative pundits) endorsing the aggressive invasion of another country.  Giuliani is nothing if he is not a nationalist who believes in exerting strength through war and using the power of the state.  According to a proper, specific definition of fascism, Giuliani is not a fascist, because fascism died in 1945 and as a phenomenon it has ceased to exist, but then Giuliani and his supporters long ago abandoned any such proper definitions of the term. 

Meanwhile, on a related note, Michael has been a blogging up a storm during my absence from the old tubes. 

Barack Obama has won the Iowa caucuses. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel moved by this. An African-American man wins a closely fought campaign in a pivotal state. He beats two strong opponents, including the mighty Clinton machine. He does it in a system that favors rural voters. He does it by getting young voters to come out to the caucuses. ~David Brooks  

On this first point that Brooks makes about Obama, I have to disagree.  It is not moving, though it is perhaps unsettling, that a politician of no particular accomplishment and vacuous, sunny rhetoric can win an important election through that same vacuity and the enthusiasm of those who wish to show that they can support a black candidate’s meaningless banter just as well as they can support anyone’s.  As Pat Buchanan put it a bit bluntly, but astutely, on caucus night, Obama would not be where he is today were it not for his race.  Simply put, a Midwestern Senator of limited experience and a conventionally liberal voting record would not be considered remotely viable as a presidential nominee and would have received little or no support–consider whether Russ Feingold or even the much more centrist Evan Bayh would have stood a chance, and you have your answer.  It is somewhat ironic that many analysts have focused on the “overwhelmingly” white makeup of Iowa’s population, all the while failing to mention that it was mostly the activists of the Democratic left who participate in the Democratic caucuses, since it is these activists who would be most receptive to Obama’s appeal and indifferent to or even excited by his background.  This is not surprising or scandalous or all that newsworthy.  What is strange is the idea that a very personable, charismatic candidate from Illinois with tens of millions of dollars in fundraising and considerable support from the main political machine in the Midwest, that of the Chicago Daleys, should have achieved any less in neighbouring Iowa over a Southern has-been and Hillary Clinton.  With no incumbent President or Vice President to challenge in the general, the Democratic caucus-goers no doubt felt free to take a chance on Obama, reassured by the utterly lackluster and chaotic nature of the GOP field.  I raised a glass to Obama for defeating Hillary in Iowa, but it is time for everyone to sober up and stop pretending that drippy and meaningless optimism constitutes the path to good government.   

Brooks asks:

When an African-American man is leading a juggernaut to the White House, do you want to be the one to stand up and say No?

When that man has terrible ideas, yes, I do.  Elizabeth Edwards had an interesting, though completely self-serving, remark on Friday when she remarked that the civil rights and women’s rights activists on the left had fought to make race and gender irrelevant–this was her response to a loaded Matthews question about her husband running against a woman and a black man.  I don’t pretend that either is entirely irrelevant, but both are certainly far down the list of my considerations.  Call it the result of my liberal upbringing at a very P.C. private school, if you want.  One question to ask yourself about Obama is this: if he were white, would I ever support him?  Presumably many of his current supporters would, since they are also on board with his very progressive politics, but how broad a base of support do you suppose he would have?  Would it actually be good for the country and for black candidates in the future if the first black candidate to contest for national office were so far removed from Middle America as Obama certainly is?    

Reihan loves the Brooks column, and Hewitt hates it (as he hates all things that demean his beloved Romney), which is generally a pretty good recommendation, but there is more to say.  Matt Welch delves into the archives and finds that Brooks was saying much the same thing about McCain and the establishment eight years ago that he is saying about Huckabee and the establishment today.  It was a media-driven myth that McCain was a great anti-establishment figure in 1999-2000, and I am beginning to think that the same is true of Huckabee.  He may have different priorities, as McCain does, but he does not represent the break with the current establishment that some Republicans fear and some conservatives hope to find.  On the contrary, he represents continuity with the present administration in many respects.  All of us who have problems with Mr. Bush and what he has done, to put it mildly, would like to see the current GOP leadership and the conservative elites who have supported them get their comeuppance.  To the extent that Huckabee throws a wrench in their plans and generally aggravates them, we are very pleased, but this is not because he actually represents anything different from the very administration we oppose.  For others, such as Brooks, I think Huckabee’s candidacy serves as a cipher for frustrations with the current direction of the GOP, just as Obama’s has served as an outlet for progressive frustrations with the Democratic Party.  The candidates have been almost secondary for supporters and opponents alike–they see the candidates representing what supporters and opponents want the candidates to represent, and it doesn’t matter whether the descriptions they give are complete caricatures.  They are serving as empty vessels for others’ hopes, so it is appropriate that they are framing their campaigns around empty promises of hope.  

All of us have been buying into the idea that Huckabee is actually an anti-establishment candidate, and I am particularly guilty of advancing this argument.  Huckabee has been milking this for all it’s worth, but he really isn’t any such thing.  In any oligarchic arrangement, you will have some who portray themselves as friends of “the people” and who will use the crowd as leverage against their rival oligarchs, but at no point do any of the rivals intend to change the fundamental mechanisms of power or overthrow or dismantle the establishment.  They will use and take advantage of citizens who may very well want to do just that, and their support for this or that oligarch is then used by the oligarch’s enemies as proof of the threat he poses to them, but the oligarch is simply using those people as a springboard for his ambition.  The oligarch’s enemies have mistaken the use of their own methods of manipulation for an actual revolt, or more accurately they are trying to protect their own fiefdoms within the establishment against a rival claimant and so portray the interloper as a radical departure from everything that has come before.  Huckabee wants to throw out certain members of the GOP establishment, but does not actually propose to do much of anything very differently on key policies.  Huckabee represents, in fact, a continuation and endorsement of the Bushian status quo.  Fleeing from the sinking ship of the current administration, conservative elites are not thrilled at the prospect of boarding another of similar design.

Indeed, it’s almost funny to listen to some conservatives on the topic of Huckabee. Sitting in with Greta and Shep on their caucus night coverage, no one was more negative about the former Arkansas governor than Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham. Tom Tancredo was a close third. Republicans are distancing themselves from their Iowa winner, Huckabee, and their very likely New Hampshire winner, John McCain, more than even the most loyal Hillary-ites are doing with their other choices, Obama and Edwards. ~Susan Estrich

It is funny, since most of these people were the ones who rallied about the inevitability of Bush and, when confronted with the alternnative of McCain, embraced Bush and pretended that he was one of them.  Now that they have a chance to back another Bush, they are balking and find the idea so obnoxious that it drives them into fits.  I never supported Bush and saw through him from the beginning, so it’s hardly surprising that I find Huckabee equally undesirable, but what excuse do two-time Bush voters have?  Oh, wait, let me guess–now they care about the size of government!

I’ve got Ioway in my hair!
I’ve got Ioway in my ears and eyes and nose!
Oh, I know all I owe I owe Ioway,
I owe Ioway all I owe and I know why. ~Mike Huckabee Marty, State Fair

In defense of Iowa, I would note that the record of the Iowa caucuses in selecting a Democratic nominee who goes on to become President is hard to judge.  It’s true that Iowa winners who have become the Democratic nominee (which would include every Democratic nominee since Carter) have won the Presidency only once, but then the period when there have been Iowa caucuses has been almost completely coterminous with the Reagan-Bush era.  During this era, every Democratic nominee except Clinton lost, and he’s the only nominee since 1976 who didn’t participate in the caucuses, which rigs the entire analysis against the Iowans pretty thoroughly.  (Given the overall record of Democratic nominees over the last thirty years, one might as well say that Democratic winners of the California primary are doomed to failure.)  It may be telling that the two occasions when an Iowa winner did become President have come at opposite ends of the era, as Carter unwittingly paved the way for its inauguration and Bush cluelessly presided over its end.  A Huckabee victory would provide a fitting epitaph for the era and anything good that it might have represented.  I think this must be why Huckabee gives so many establishment conservatives hives–he is the living reminder and embodiment of what Republicanism became on their watch and with their consent, and they don’t want to be reminded that they cheered on the people who brought this era to a thudding halt through misrule, ideology and corruption.  They would prefer to wish it away in a fit of Reagan nostalgia and jingoism, which are just about all the GOP has left at this point.  

Besides, there can hardly be an “Iowa curse” if an Iowa winner was elected President in two of the five open election years (1976, 2000).  A 40% success rate isn’t overwhelming, but it’s hardly proof of anything meaningful one way or the other.  Had Gary Hart gone on to become the nominee in 1984, does anyone really believe that the final outcome would have been any different?  If Obama and Huckabee do become the nominees, one of them will end up winning.  Frightening as that may be, it would probably put an end to these regular complaints about the irrelevance of Iowa.   

As for Tancredo and his supporters shellacking Huckabee, I suppose I would look a bit more kindly on all of it had they not gone over to Romney and transformed themselves overnight into some of his biggest fans.  Watching Tancredo’s former campaign manager praising Mitt Romney was such a surreal experience the other day that I thought that I must have been hallucinating.  Speaking of conversions on the road to Des Moines, Tancredo and his staffers seem to have experienced one.  Having once persecuted him, they have become Romneyites. 

Not surprisingly, Bill Bradley and Gary Hart have endorsed Obama.  The “priests” of former cycles have now publicly embraced another to carry the torch.  By “priests,” I am referring to this:

Democratic professionals often describe this sorting as a competition between upscale “wine track” candidates and blue-collar “beer track” contenders. Another way to express the difference is to borrow from historian John Milton Cooper Jr.’s telling comparison of the pugnacious Theodore Roosevelt and the idealistic Woodrow Wilson. Cooper described the long rivalry between Republican Roosevelt and Democrat Wilson as a contest between a warrior and a priest. In modern times, the Democratic presidential race has usually pitted a warrior against a priest.

Some may object that 2000 does not really fit this mould, but if Gore is not really a warrior the demographics of Bradley voters support characterising him as part of the Hart-Tsongas-Dean tradition. Those who have been following the ‘08 campaign for longer than any of us care to remember will recall that all this came to us by way of a Ron Brownstein piece referring to the divide between the bases of support for Obama and Clinton:

Obama’s early support is following a pattern familiar from the campaigns of other brainy liberals with cool, detached personas and messages of political reform, from Eugene McCarthy in 1968 to Gary Hart in 1984 to Bill Bradley in 2000. Like those predecessors, Obama is running strong with well-educated voters but demonstrating much less support among those without college degrees.

That trend may be exaggerated at the moment by the fact that Obama, a relative newcomer, is better known among better-educated voters, and it could be mitigated in the future by his potential appeal to African Americans. But it is not a pattern Obama can allow to harden. All of the candidates whose support fit that profile ultimately lost the nomination to rivals whose support was rooted in the blue-collar and minority communities where Clinton is strongest in early surveys.

Obama may be expanding his support, but he has a more fundamental problem: Democratic constituency groups expect their nominee to propose policies that do things in their interest, or at least their perceived interest, and they expect a certain degree of partisanship and brass-knuckles politicking on their behalf, while Obama’s public persona seems to reject all of that and the man seems to regard it with some distaste.      

Listening to the descriptions of supporters for Huckabee and Romney, I noted on Thursday that this same dividing line appeared on the Republican side, as Romney tended to do best with higher-income and more educated voters.  This is probably the first time since ‘96 we have seen this kind of divide between Republican candidates.   

Via Ross, I see that Quin Hillyer was worried about Huckabee on caucus night:

That’s why all year long I have warned people to watch Huckabee — because I knew he was a threat to win the nomination. But if he does, Susan Estrich is right: The Democrats will be dancing on inauguration night, because they will make mincemeat of this unethical, insubstantial, unconservative rube from Hope, Arkansas.

I share Mr. Hillyer’s distaste for Huckabee (though perhaps for some different reasons), but one of the reasons why Huckabee has surprised so many is that I think many of us who are observing the presidential campaign keep expecting substance, policy and reason to enter into the process.  This seems more and more to be a terrible mistake, and it seems clear now that it was always foolish to expect that.  Also, it is far from clear that an “unethical, insubstantial, unconservative rube from Hope, Arkansas” is such an obvious general election loser.  The Republicans may lose this year if they nominate Huckabee, but they are likely to lose in any case.  It is the very ephemeral and superficial quality of Huckabee’s campaign on the one hand, combined with the strong attachment different groups of activists have with him, that makes it more competitive and threatening to Democrats, who otherwise will have a monopoly on this kind of rhetoric in a year when voters are responding to it.  Criticisms of his economics have tended to take his rhetoric about class and Wall Street seriously, when closer observation reveals that, yet again, there is nothing to what he is saying.  His great “populist” appeal is, in the end, as real as Fred Thompson’s populism of driving around in a pickup truck–it is a series of symbolic cues whereby the candidate claims that he is “one of us” who intuitively “gets” what “we are going through.”  His latest along these lines is to keep saying that he thinks Americans want a President who reminds them of the guy they work with, rather than the guy who laid them off.  That’s a good line, especially if you’re running against a corporate CEO who was in the business of turning around failing companies partly by laying off employees, but it is also utterly ridiculous.  If Americans do want that, Americans are fools, but then hardly anyone was ever defeated in an election underestimating the wisdom of the Amercan public. 

Where George Bush employed his religion to create a feeling of solidarity with evangelical and conservative voters, Huckabee throws in tales of his hardscrabble youth to show that he comes “from the people” and people seem to believe it.  (The more I think about this, the more the entire Huckabee campaign reminds me of Gaius Baltar’s little manifesto against the “new aristocracy” in the third season of Battlestar Galactica, except that Huckabee’s rhetoric is far more vague.)  Huckabee refers to “fair trade” in one breath and then praises NAFTA in the next, and laments the woes of the working man as he prepares to make said working man pay a 30% consumption tax on everything he buys.  The man’s sheer lack of scruples and his ability to disarm Democratic critics by paying lip service to things they care about are, in fact, electoral gold.  Everything that makes him so undesirable and objectionable to principled conservatives is the sort of thing that probably strengthens his standing with the general public. 

Lack of substance has determined the leaders of the Republican field for the last twelve months.  Fred Thompson may be a serious, thoughtful, well-informed, albeit languid, man, but herein lies his problem: when he was little more than a celebrity candidate who made amusing YouTube videos about Michael Moore, he was king of the world among conservatives who were desperate, in their utter sentimentalism, to find “a new Reagan,” and as soon as he became a proper candidate with policy proposals he ceased to inspire much enthusiasm.  (Part of this was a result of his awful campaign style, but the pro-Thompson hysteria ended as all emotionally-driven fads must–in deep disappointment and the discovery of a new, more intriguing fad.)  Rudy Giuliani is a deadly serious maniac whose foreign policy ideas would spell disaster for our country, but his preeminence in the field stemmed entirely from vague good feelings about him as a “strong leader” derived from memories of him on 9/11.  Romney probably is the best qualified executive and manger in the field, but whatever substance the man has is so Protean in nature that no one knows what form he will take next.  He lacks substance, but in a very different way from the rest–he pretends to have deeply held principles and ideas, yet has only had these profound convictions for the duration of his presidential campaign.  The GOP field has been dominated by celebrity candidates all along, while the real candidates of substance, such as Duncan Hunter and, yes, Tommy Thompson (who was probably the best qualified of them all and therefore, naturally, among the first to drop out), have languished in total obscurity.  The truly odd phenomenon of this election is the creation of a kind of celebrity out of Ron Paul, who has achieved star status primarily on account of his policy views.  The same thing has prevailed on the Democratic side, where novelty (Obama) and familiarity/fame have determined the shape of their field since the beginning.  The vastly more qualified and prepared candidates on their side (e.g., Biden, Dodd and, I suppose, even Richardson) have gone down to humiliating and ignominious defeat.  We may very well complain about the current faddish leaders, but we need to understand that the election campaign has been driven by the media, both liberal and conservative, and focused on irrelevancies and absurdities since the beginning over a year ago. 

A good rule of thumb: if you are an informed, educated and serious person, whatever is most hateful to you is probably what the general public will prefer.  This is especially true in electoral politics, where being informed, educated and serious often blinds you to what drives and motivates 90% of the electorate.  To the extent that these folks become aware of these things at all, it is usually to dismissively declare them evidence of the irrational in politics.  But irrationality has always existed and will always exist in any human political order, and expecting anything else, as I often have done, is a great error.  Limiting the role of irrationality in politics, while desirable, is hardly possible in a mass democratic regime with an historically illiterate and media-saturated majority.  The main flaw in most of the critiques aimed specifically at Huckabee, populists, restrictionists, etc. in recent months and years is the assumption by those making these critiques that they represent the more rational position, rather than one that is equally or more irrational.     

I didn’t do any post-Iowa blogging on Thursday night, since I didn’t think there was much to say at the time, but all the people going on about Obama’s speech reminded me that I wanted to say a few things about it.  It was not one of the great speeches of all time or even of the last thirty years.  Ross makes some of the necessary points.  It was a decent, even a good, speech, but it was ultimately just so much of a rehash of his Jefferson-Jackson dinner speech that still explained very little about what Obama would do.  These speeches do not, as Klein says, “elevate,” unless this is a polite way of saying that they are so hot and gaseous that they have the same effect as helium in a balloon.  Like certain gases, his words also seem to inspire feelings of giddiness in some listeners.  Klein went on:

He is not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair.

This seems to be a very grand way of saying that he is all talk and no action.  What is remarkable about this statement, apart from the contrast that (grudgingly) concedes that Obama is not, in fact, the Logos incarnate, is that Klein thinks that this disembodied verbiage is a desirable trait in someone’s speeches.  According to this, Obama practices a sort of rhetorical docetism, epitomising the very professorial, condescending air that leaves most people cold, and this is why he inspires?  Very odd.

Catching up with the weekend commentary, I noticed that Romney recently denied that he called McCain a supporter of amnesty and then pretended not to know that one of his ads (via Ross) described McCain in just these terms.  Besides demonstrating Romney’s sheer incapacity to maintain a single view without hedging and qualifying it into oblivion, this exchange typified the dishonesty of Romney, last seen when he was lecturing people on the dictionary definition of the word “saw” rather than simply acknowledging that he had simply misspoken.  If Romney were charming and witty, he could pull off this kind of duplicity, but he isn’t and he can’t.

Finally, I’m back in Chicago after another cross-country drive, just in time for Nativity tomorrow.  Time for some accountability for my predictions.  My Iowa predictions were partly right, but I didn’t take seriously the polling showing Obama’s support increasing and I didn’t believe that so many people would actually show up for Thompson.  I put too much confidence in reports of Edwards’ organisational strength, even as I was sure that Romney’s organisation would not save him.  The second-tier Democratic candidates’ support for Obama as the preferred second-choice was also probably important in expanding Obama’s lead.  I remain convinced that Thompson is finished and McCain will not go very far beyond Michigan, but should Thompson (who has always been a kind of McCain Lite anyway) drop out and endorse McCain that might keep the latter in the running a bit longer.  Should Romney collapse entirely, McCain will become the candidate who serves as the fallback for movement institutional conservatives, while Huckabee will probably continue to surprise these same institutional conservatives with the levels of support he receives in larger states.   

I watched the debates last night in short bursts, since the Jaguars-Steelers game was far more interesting and hearing Mike Huckabee spouting off about “Islamofascism” made me want to scream.  Having seen the debates in brief, interrupted bits, I cannot gauge who performed the best overall.  My impression from what little I did see was that Romney is getting desperate, McCain is acting like the snide bully he usually is when he’s in a position of strength (which will ultimately backfire on him), Huckabee will probably do better than most of the chatterers and bloggers believe he will and Giuliani will do worse than expected (assuming that you expect Giuliani to finish third and ahead of Huckabee).  Ron Paul did well enough in Iowa that he should manage to get at least 10-12% in New Hampshire, which will be a decent showing but far less than many supporters wanted to see.  Rasmussen’s latest N.H. poll seems to confirm this and matches what I was saying last week pretty closely. 

The crosstabs in the N.H. poll do suggest that the anti-Huckabee campaign has had a damaging effect on the candidate’s chances at the nomination, as 33% of respondents (and 27% of Republicans) said they are ”not very likely” or “not at all likely” to vote for Huckabee if he were the nominee, which is three times as many as said the same about Giuliani or Romney.  Among just Republicans, Giuliani and Romney fare a little worse (18 and 19% respectively are unlikely to vote for the candidate if nominated), but Huckabee remains the least attractive potential nominee for N.H. Republicans of what I suppose must be considered the top four.  (Thompson and Paul would receive even less support as the nominee from New Hampshire Republicans–among Republicans, 32% said they would be unlikely to vote for Thompson, and 44% said the same about Paul.)  For his sake, Huckabee has to hope that New Hampshire really is unrepresentative of Republican attitudes (the relative popularity of McCain seems to prove that it is).  Even so, these numbers can and probably will be used to build up an electability argument against Huckabee and in favour of McCain.  Romney’s support remains soft, as does McCain’s, with at least a third of both candidates’ supporters saying they might change their mind, but there is so little time remaining to peel away voters from either one that this may not matter.     

Rasmussen has a very different Democratic race from the polling I have been seeing this weekend and hearing on the radio, showing Obama with a commanding lead over Clinton (39-27) and a boost for Edwards (now at 18%).  If that’s right, I can see Edwards finishing very close in third place, almost validating his conceit that the race has become an Obama v. Edwards grudge match.  In reality, he will remain a nuisance until February 5 and will persist after that on the basis of decent showings in some Southern primaries, but will not be able to keep going indefinitely.  Conceivably, Clinton need not give up until after the early and mid-March primaries.  It still seems impossible to me that the Democrats will nominate Obama and proceed to march off a cliff, which is what they would be doing.  It’s true that the numbers on electability in the Rasmussen poll support the idea that Clinton is the least electable potential nominee among non-Democrats (with 30% saying they’d be unlikely to vote for her), but it is preposterous to think that the most left-wing of the three leading Democrats will, in fact, win a general election while the most “centrist” of the three is going to be a liability to her party.  The people who are so adamantly opposed to Clinton are not going to vote for the Democratic nominee in any case.  Whether or not she alienates these people is almost beside the point, and it is a strange thing for Democrats to worry about in any case.  It is as if Republicans fretted over which of their candidates most upset the Kossacks and then voted for the one that offended them the least. 

What we are seeing in intra-Democratic debates about whether Clinton is “too polarising” for the general election is really an argument about something else, and I think it mimics the fight between Goldwaterites and Rockefeller Republicans in 1964.  Inasmuch as Rockefeller represented the epitome of Me-Tooism and Goldwater represented an uncompromising, principled conservatism, Obama is playing the progressive version of Goldwater and Clinton that of Rockefeller.  Obama is a somewhat better campaigner than Goldwater, but he’s not so much better than he will overcome the resistance to his candidacy that will come from concerns about his experience, voting record, policies and, yes, his identity and race. 

Obama’s campaign represents a rebellion against the Clintons’ and the New Democrats’ power in the party establishment, and he might just succeed in taking the nomination.  It isn’t a perfect comparison, of course, but an Obama nomination would bring about a progressive electoral self-immolation somewhat like the landslide loss of 1964 (the margin of defeat would be narrower than ‘64, because of the overall pro-Democratic trends in the country, but it would still be a defeat).  That might lead to a takeover of the party by Obama-ites, much as the McGovernites captured much of their party during the ’70s, or it might have a similar galvanising effect on progressives that Goldwater’s campaign had for conservatives.  More likely, ‘08 will end as every previous cycle has ended for the progressive, “new ideas” candidate running against the more established pol–in defeat during the primaries.        

While some late polls suggest that my Iowa predictions may be wrong, I will repeat that Edwards and Huckabee are going to win in Iowa.  Obama takes second in Iowa, while Romney, McCain and Paul trail Huckabee in that order.  McCain will win New Hampshire, and Giuliani will finish fifth behind Paul, who will be in fourth with 10-12%.  Michigan becomes a three-way contest that Romney ultimately loses.  Beyond that, I am not yet ready to make any predictions for the rest of the month. 

Several things happened during my break that still merit some comment.  I was reminded of one of them by Brooks’ latest column when he wrote:

For immigration skeptics, he [Romney] swung so far right he earned the endorsement of Tom Tancredo.

Viewed as a purely tactical anti-Huckabee and anti-McCain move, I can understand why Tancredo did this, but when I first heard about it I was amazed.  Even though I understand why he endorsed Romney, it still strikes me as a bizarre move.  Tancredo is obviously identified with opposition to mass immigration, and more than any of the “second tier” candidates made a point of criticising leading candidates for their opportunism on immigration and their conversions ”on the road to Des Moines.”  No one better embodies the “conversion on the road to Des Moines” than Romney, and no one is less credible in his criticisms of other candidates for their weaknesses on immigration policy.  The most ardent opponent of amnesty has now shown his approval of a candidate who represents everything about the marriage of Republicanism and corporate interests that Tancredo rejects.  It is a strange and inexplicable endorsement, perhaps even more so than Gilchrist’s endorsement of Huckabee, and could conceivably mean the difference between victory for the huckster or triumph for the fraud on Thursday.  Endorsing either Thompson or Paul would have made sense, and could have given Paul a needed boost in early contests.  Instead, Romney the venture capitalist gets the backing of the foremost elected restrictionist in the country in yet another bad bargain with the candidate of the GOP establishment.  Short of endorsing McCain or Giuliani, nothing could have put Tancredo more out of step with restrictionist voters. 

P.S.  Incidentally, I also agree with Brooks that Romney’s by-the-book approach to the nomination will, if successful, lead to general election defeat for the Republicans.  Weighed down by the war and deeply unpopular across the board, the GOP also has to be able to compete with the Democrats in states where voters view globalisation and free trade with skepticism at best, and Romney adopting the role of a cardboard-cutout “full-spectrum conservative,” when he has no real credibility on at least two of the three “legs” of the “stool” he frequently mentions, is not going to do the trick.  The GOP might very well lose no matter which candidate they select, but they will definitely lose with Romney.  

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.   

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.

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


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.

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.

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. 

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.     

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.

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 a