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More On Coalitions

My American Scene colleague Peter Suderman responded to my post on Huckabee and the GOP coalition:

This doesn’t seem to me to be a particularly odd claim, and Huckabee’s rhetoric has essentially admitted it. He’s railed against the Club for Growth, talked up his Main Street/Wall Street dichotomy, and has campaign manager Ed Rollins going around feeding reporters string about the demise of the Reagan coalition.  He’s been openly pushing religious conservatives to view business-minded economic conservatives as antagonists.

I think Peter has misunderstood what I meant.  Huckabee’s campaign chairman has declared the Reagan coalition dead, but in this he is simply observing that the death has already occurred, and it does not mean that the existing GOP coalition must be destroyed for Huckabee to win the nomination.  That is, the current GOP coalition is no longer really the Reagan coalition.  It isn’t even entirely the coalition that voted for the GOP in 1994.  My point, which may have been lost in the mix, was that Armey conflates “the Reagan coalition” and the current Republican coalition, when they are not the same thing.  Were it not for the totemic significance attached to the name of Reagan, nothing would be very controversial about the observation that a voting coalition of two decades ago was no longer relevant to the debate.  Romney’s candidacy has been based on the nostalgic hope that the two are the same and that he can twist himself into the right shape to satisfy the old coalition, so it is perhaps natural that those who continue to perpetuate the idea that the modern GOP is the embodiment of Reaganism are among those least offended by his contortions.  While our friends in the Beltway have continued to ride the old horse of “fusionism,” fusionism has long since ceased to describe how most Republicans and self-styled conservatives see things (to the extent that it ever did earlier).  Much as I have derided it for its flaws, what Joseph Bottum called the “new fusionism” serves as the umbrella term that covers the current structure of the movement and the current makeup of the GOP coalition.  Bottum wrote:

The angry isolationist paleoconservatives are probably right–this isn’t conservatism, in several older senses of the word. But so what? Call it the new moralism, if you like. Call it a masked liberalism or a kind of radicalism that has bizarrely seized the American scene [bold mine-DL]. Mutter darkly, if you want, about the shotgun marriage of ex-socialists and modern puritans, the cynical political joining of imperial adventurers with reactionary Catholics and backwoods Evangelicals.  

Now Huckabee has emerged as the masked liberal (perhaps we can call him El Burro), and suddenly this has become a very bad thing for people who have supported the current administration.  As one of those “angry isolationist paleoconservatives,” I find it amusing that it is now the GOP establishment that “mutters darkly” against just these things when they attack Huckabee, who in most respects is the ideal new fusionist candidate.  That is also, of course, why he should give all serious conservatives a feeling of dread.  These kinds of fusionism always work out poorly for the religious conservatives who join in them.  Such fusionism is, as I have said before, “a corrupt bargain that entails that the traditionalist and Christian members of the alliance give up 95% of what they want to their secular, globalist and interventionist fellows in exchange for the latter suffering to grant them a place at the table and an occasional appointment or rhetorical tip of the hat to keep them quiescent.”  

Bottum said almost a year and a half ago:

In the new fusionism of the pro-life social conservatives and the foreign-policy neoconservatives, a number of traditional issues seem, if not to have disappeared, then at least to have gotten muted along the way. Where exactly is tax reform and social security and the balanced budget in all this? Where is much concern for economics, which once defined the root of American conservatism?

I questioned back then whether “concern for economics” ever defined the root of American conservatism (I still seriously doubt this), but clearly the problem economic conservatives have with Huckabee is that they perceive him as someone who does not pay much attention to their issues and, when he does, they don’t like what they hear.  One of my points about the FairTax is that Huckabee’s support for it should demonstrate that Huckabee is not actually hostile to economic conservatives.  And while not all economic conservatives are Club for Growth and WSJ types, I grant you, these are the ones who are making the loudest noises about Huckabee, and they certainly are very often (if not 100% of the time) “in sync with the short-term interests of big business.”  I think they would not consider it undesirable to be described in that way.  I might have added that the sheer incoherence of his ideas and lack of policy expertise make him the perfect candidate for economic conservatives to mould in directions they like, just as national security conservatives should be unfazed by his inclinations towards realism and sanity.  It is because his economic and foreign policy ideas are so incoherent and unformed that he is someone who can be brought over to your views.  Consider how readily he has become a supporter of restrictionist ideas out of utter opportunism. 

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, even if it does not make him any more conservative on economics and fiscal policy (and could conceivably make him less so if he pushes something akin to the Medicare Part D boondoggle on the country).  It is a strange world where the governor who signed off on universal government-mandated health care is considerd by some to be the best “full-spectrum conservative,” while Huckabee is supposedly so deeply flawed that he would split the coalition beyond repair.

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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