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.