Two Republican senators have lost because, in large part, of their votes for TARP. It’s time to be skeptical that Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) could ever mount a real presidential bid, because he voted for the measure, too, and activists are simply not forgiving of that. And if Palin runs in 2012, how will she get past her own support for TARP? ~Dave Weigel
It would be reassuring if activists were consistent in their hostility to pro-TARP Republicans. One of the things that baffled me more than a little about Bennett’s defeat was why he received the ire of activists more than any of the other incumbent Republicans who voted for the measure. Bennett’s problem may have been that he has not furiously backtracked and become an anti-bailout zealot as Thune and Romney have tried to do. Then again, Murkowski tried having it both ways and lost anyway.
The trouble that activists on the right are going to have is that very few Republican politicians came out against the TARP at the time. If most of them are tainted and unacceptable because of backing the TARP, activists are going to have very few candidates they can support, which means rallying behind one of the few early bailout opponents or settling for one of the many supporters. If I understand Republican primary voters at all, they will end up backing one of the latter. Except for Mike Huckabee, I can’t recall that any remotely plausible presidential contenders in the GOP openly opposing the legislation creating the program. As far as I know, Mitch Daniels never made his views known one way or the other. In Palin’s case, there is apparently no real obstacle for her to overcome, because her enthusiasts are not at all interested in the policy positions she staked out in the past.
Thune and Palin may not be going anywhere as presidential candidates, but I doubt it will be because they were insufficiently zealous in opposing bailouts. It would be an encouraging and healthy development if that was the reason, but I don’t think that’s how primary voters would respond to the two of them if they ran. The voters most firmly opposed to the financial sector bailout are the ones most sympathetic to Palin, and they would probably be sympathetic to Thune, too, because he seems to be “one of them” even when he doesn’t vote the way they would want. After all, this is the man who kicked Tom Daschle out of the Senate. That sort of tribal point-scoring will matter a lot more than Thune’s vote for an admittedly horrible bill. It is the less ideological and less partisan voters that will be participating in the primaries that dislike Palin, but they dislike her mainly because of her style and the public persona she has crafted.
Bennett was seen as being too close to the Democrats on health care, and Murkowski had all the baggage of being installed in her position by her father, so there were aggravating factors that made them more vulnerable than other pro-TARP Republicans.