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Coalitions and Incentives

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.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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