I agree with Ross that Goldberg passed over the most important factor in the mainstream GOP’s hostility to Ron Paul, namely his views on Iraq and foreign policy more generally. This brings me back to something that has puzzled me about the mainstream’s response to Huckabee. Several people at NR, and now the editors of NR together, have made it clear that Huckabee is undesirable because of his domestic policy views, but I have seen on more than one occasion Republican observers making the charge that there is supposed to be something deficient about Huckabee’s foreign policy.
When I looked over his
CFR CSIS remarks, I found a few things that would make a dyed-in-the-wool interventionist blush (the maniac favours containing Iran–can you imagine?), but for the most part it was perfectly predictable boilerplate. His adoption of the absurd word “Islamofascism” of late may make it look as if he’s trying too hard, but no one can accuse him of going “off the reservation” on foreign policy, nor do I think they can legitimately claim that he has not given the matter serious thought. Yet his foreign policy views are, according to Krauthammer, “naive and unconvincing.” Considering the source, Huckabee might take that as a compliment, but this criticism represents the difficulty Huckabee is having in gaining acceptance as one who is sufficiently hawkish and interventionist.
Returning to domestic policy, it isn’t all that surprising that Paul is also considered an extremist for his small-government, constitutionalist views, while Huckabee’s statism is really much less surprising, even if it strongly displeases key interest groups. Huckabee’s domestic policy views are much, much closer to the way Republicans have actually governed over the last six years. His departures from the “small-government orthodoxy” that supposedly has the GOP in its crushing embrace are mostly the departures that the entire party has made. Where the national party leaders, including several of the leading candidates, mostly continue to pretend that the GOP still favours small government and just “lost sight of their principles,” Huckabee doesn’t wear that mask and bluntly proposes “compassionate” and big-government conservative schemes.
This fiction that the leaders are adhering to a “small-government orthodoxy” does a disservice to both Huckabee and Paul. (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.) If you want a real small-government conservative, your choices in the current field are limited (Paul, Tancredo and probably Thompson), and if you want someone who will reveal his big-government credentials up front either Huckabee or possibly Hunter is your man. With perhaps one exception among the “leading” or big-name candidates, I doubt very much that any of Huckabee’s main competitors strongly reject an activist, interventionist federal government on principle. Romney, of course, has his MassCare and its mandates (which would, at first glance, make him more of a “statist” than Obama in this area), and the idea that Giuliani somehow adheres to a small-government vision because he has cut taxes in the past seems bizarre.
Big-government conservatives enjoy cutting taxes, too, and they also like to spend enormous amounts of money and expand the size and scope of government, particularly if it can be justified in any way as part of national security. What I think really bothers the mainstream about Huckabee, to the extent that they are bothered (and if he wins Iowa, you can expect them to come after him with guns blazing), is his view on trade. Along with Hunter, he is really the only other protectionist in the GOP field. Like Hunter, he has not had much luck raising very much cash, because his position on trade alienates wealthy donors and establishment figures. The main orthodoxy Huckabee is running up against is not over the size of government, but rather the free trade orthodoxy that has almost completely captured the GOP (and which is, incidentally, killing them in the Midwest and elsewhere). In practice, this is a much more important “orthodoxy” and politicians who go against it have a much harder time getting support. What I think frightens the mainstream about Huckabee is that he may be able to smuggle in his protectionism under the cover of the big-government conservatism that the GOP has been practicing for years. What is also frightening to them about Huckabee is that his views on trade are much closer to a strong plurality view within the GOP (his views on immigration, not so much), which gives him a decent shot at appealing to the voters in the primaries and the general election. If he advances very far, Huckabee’s appeal will throw free traders into a bit of a panic, since it will mean that major candidates on both sides are openly talking skeptically about the benefits of free trade.