Without the two of them [Huckabee and Paul], you’d have a field whose ideological spectrum runs from Steven Moore to Grover Norquist on domestic policy, and from Michael Ledeen to Norman Podhoretz on foreign affairs. There would be greater party unity, sure, but sometimes unity’s just another word for self-marginalization. I don’t think Huckabee and Paul are the ideal candidates to jolt the GOP out of its ideological rut, but they’re better than nothing.
I agree entirely with the sentiment here, and I have made a similar point before:
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.
But I think Ross is being a little hard on the Republicans. They are a “big tent” party, after all. Their ideological spectrum on foreign affairs easily runs all the way from Victor Davis Hanson to Michael Rubin. The breadth is truly remarkable.
Will Huckabee and Paul actually jolt the party out of its rut? Certainly, you can say that it’s far too early to know for sure. Even so, aside from their sowing of some electoral chaos in the early states and giving mainstream pundits conniption fits, which is all fine by me, what are the odds that the establishment will take the growing success of these candidacies as evidence that the establishment needs to change and adjust to address the constituencies these candidates represent? What will stop the party establishment from giving both the third degree in the conservative media (treatment that has only just begun for Huckabee), squash their perceived ‘heresies’ on economics, trade and foreign policy and carry on as if nothing had happened? One major repudiation at the polls hasn’t managed to snap them out of it, so what does the GOP actually learn from Huckabee and Paul? They learn to exclude candidates like them from the debates early on. The party will not try to co-opt Huckabee’s protectionism or Paul’s non-interventionism, because as far as the party leadership is concerned these positions are completely unacceptable. However, all of this may credit Huckabee with more envelope-pushing than he deserves. Instead of jolting the party out of a rut, most of his campaign seems to be aimed at easing the GOP back into the sinkhole of Bushism from which some are desperately trying to escape.
In many respects, Huckabee’s policy ideas–to the extent that they are actually ideas and not just sentimental gestures–are “compassionate conservatism”/Gersonism risen from the dead (try as we might, we seem unable to kill this flesh-eating zombie of an ideology). Did I mention that I don’t like Huckabee? The extent to which Huckabee succeeds will measure how captivated the GOP rank and file are by the strange lure of Bush Era “conservatism” that Ross described here. Ross’ thesis back at the start of the year was this:
Since the Republicans’ stinging defeat in the 2006 midterm elections, Bush’s distinctive ideological cocktail—social conservatism and an accommodation with big government at home, and a moralistic interventionism abroad—has similarly been derided by many as political poison. The various ingredients of “Bushism,” it’s been argued, have alienated fiscal hawks and foreign-policy realists, Catholics and libertarians—in short, everyone but the party’s evangelical base.
But someone must have forgotten to tell the GOP presidential field. If you consider how the nation’s most ambitious Republicans are positioning themselves for 2008, Bushism looks like it could have surprising staying power.
The rise of Huckabee to date is strong evidence that Ross was right that the poisonous cocktail of Bushism(-Gersonism) may well be here to stay, at least in the near term. Paul’s insurgent campaign offers the small hope that there is some resistance to this tendency within the GOP.