Republicans need to be Republicans. The greatest threat to classic Republicanism is not liberalism; it’s this new brand of libertarianism, which is social liberalism and economic conservatism, but it’s a heartless, callous, soulless type of economic conservatism because it says “look, we want to cut taxes and eliminate government. If it means that elderly people don’t get their Medicare drugs, so be it. If it means little kids go without education and healthcare, so be it.” Well, that might be a quote pure economic conservative message, but it’s not an American message. It doesn’t fly. People aren’t going to buy that, because that’s not the way we are as a people. That’s not historic Republicanism. Historic Republicanism does not hate government; it’s just there to be as little of it as there can be. But they also recognize that government has to be paid for. ~Mike Huckabee

The sound you just heard was Mike Huckabee’s hypothetical 2012 campaign imploding.  It was one thing to justify tax hikes to balance budgets or pay for necessary road maintenance, but to adopt the treacly, preachy Gerson-style whining about mean ol’ right-wingers who want everyone to suffer and die will guarantee that Huckabee’s future political endeavours will be as cash-strapped as they were this time and the resistance to any future candidacy will be doubly intense.  Before this, economic conservatives merely hated him.  Now they will become obsessed with thwarting him at every turn.  Frankly, a lot of us who enjoyed the angst he was causing mainstream conservatives and were rooting for him secretly or openly against Romney will not be sorry to see him lose in the future.  No one wants to be lectured to by someone spouting Gersonism, especially the particularly disingenuous kind that calls for “as little” government as there can be without ever being able to find a single thing that government does that it shouldn’t do. 

There are obviously many, many problems with Huckabee’s assessment.  First, it vastly overstates the power and influence of what he calls “social liberalism and economic conservatism” within the GOP.  As his own candidacy demonstrated, social conservatism and something less than strict economic conservatism pack a lot more punch electorally, and meaningful Hayekian libertarianism in the GOP is generally so scarce and strongly opposed that Huckabee warning against it is a bit like warning about a Zoroastrian takeover of Iran.  He is not alone in this, since some people at Cato have made a cottage industry out of inflating the political strength of libertarians by conflating libertarianism with “social liberalism and economic conservatism,” but this is wrong.  If Huckabee thinks that this force represents the gravest threat to the GOP and “Republicanism” it suggests that Huckabee has not been fully conscious for the last eight years, since the chief things that brought the GOP into discredit have been 1) Iraq; 2) New entitlement spending; 3) The mishandling of Katrina; 4) Abuse and torture of detainees; 5) The administration’s effort to force-feed the country “immigration reform” of a kind it didn’t want; 6) Corruption.  These discredited the GOP with different constituencies, but all combined to create the generally miserable conditions for the party.  Whether or not they were consistent with one kind of “historic Republicanism” or another, they were all serious errors that cast doubt on the capacity of anyone who embraces Republicanism to be a competent governor.

Here Huckabee seems to be making Medicare Part D some sort of litmus test for what it means to be a good Republican, when pushing this entitlement through Congress was one of the worst blunders of the current administration.  He mistakenly imagines that the economic conservatives who waged a scorched earth campaign against him in the primaries are particularly influential or powerful, when they could not even derail his candidacy.  Meanwhile, Huckabee has consistently shown himself to be on the side of the “compassionate” conservative boondoggles and errors of this decade, and here he has effectively aligned himself with the government-expanding forces within the GOP, which is to say that he has aligned himself with a lot of “historic Republicanism” of the Nixon variety and against a significant part of conservatism.

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