Dave Weigel has a good report on the growing enthusiasm for a future Sanford presidential bid. As Weigel explains, Sanford is managing to draw support from activists in early caucus and primary states, Ron Paul supporters, national donors, and his traditional backers in the Club for Growth. This is a much broader cross-section of the party than Paul was able to draw on, which at first seems bizarre. With respect to policy, it is difficult to find that many major differences between the two. The real difference hinges, of course, on the intensity of Paul’s foreign policy critique, much of which Sanford seems to share in principle, but which he does not discuss on a regular basis.
As Philip Klein correctly observes, Sanford would have to find some happy medium between Paul’s vocal non-interventionist stance and a much more activist foreign policy if he is to keep from being marginalized. Perhaps some consensus could be found in Bacevichian realism, which does not necessarily reject intervention entirely but insists on a much more limited definition of the national interest and a more humble view of American power. Could the “humble” foreign policy Candidate Bush promised in 2000 be the answer? Perhaps, but not if the main line of criticism of Obama’s foreign policy is that he is too conciliatory and too interested in diplomatic engagement. The trouble that the GOP has is that it cannot bring itself to endorse the radical critique of the empire, despite (because of?) the basically anti-conservative nature of the enterprise, and so its members consistently attack the actual practice of a more humble foreign policy as weakness and retreat. In 2000, there was space in the wake of Kosovo for the “humble” foreign policy promise to gain some traction and distinguish the two parties. Looking ahead, I still do not see the space opening up for this view on the right, much as I would like to see it happen. On issue after issue, mainstream conservatives are criticizing the administration for its lack of arrogance and bellicose rhetoric. That doesn’t necessarily preclude them from turning on a dime and “rediscovering” their skepticism of activist foreign policy, but it makes it much harder for their criticism to be taken seriously after a decade of cheerleading for empire.
What is likely to separate a quixotic Huckabee-style campaign from a winning one is very simply funding, and early indications are that Sanford is attracting the interest of the people who spurned Huckabee. This could have the curious effect of once again making economic conservatism, so called, a major factor in defining a future primary field despite the genuinely limited appeal of this part of the coalition. Were Huckabee to run again, Sanford would have to contend with the church networks and legions of evangelical voters who put him over the top in Iowa and who very nearly gave him South Carolina. Without a four-way split vote in S.C. including Thompson, Huckabee likely would have won there and been in a much better position to contest Florida. The most natural profile of a winning nominee is a candidate who emphasizes social conservative themes rather than taking a hard line on fiscal and economic policy. While I think Sanford has a lot to recommend him, I am not at all sure that the excitement he is generating among activists will translate into the kind of turnout he will need all across the South to compete with Huckabee (who also opposed TARP) or one of the more moderate governors.