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Will on Huckabee

George Will on Huckabee (the rest of the column is also worth reading):

"Huckabee’s campaign actually is what Rudy Giuliani’s candidacy is misdescribed as being -- a comprehensive apostasy against core Republican beliefs. Giuliani departs from recent Republican stances regarding two issues -- abortion and the recognition by law of same-sex couples. Huckabee’s radical candidacy broadly repudiates core Republican policies such as free trade, low taxes, the essential legitimacy of America’s corporate entities and the market system allocating wealth and opportunity. And consider New Hampshire’s chapter of the National Education Association, the teachers union that is a crucial component of the Democratic Party’s base.

In 2004, New Hampshire’s chapter endorsed Howard Dean in the Democratic primary and no one in the Republican primary. Last week it endorsed Clinton in the Democratic primary -- and Huckabee in the Republican primary. It likes, as public employees generally do, his record of tax increases, and it applauds his opposition to school choice.

Huckabee’s role in this year’s ’70s Show is not merely to attempt to revise a few Republican beliefs. He represents wholesale repudiation of what came after the 1970s -- Reaganism."

Discussions - 15 Comments

There's something to Will's article, but I have to say it's one of the overreactions I've been complaining about. First off, it downplays the importance of Giuliani's acceptance of ROE. The issue is not just being "pro-choice" on abortion and okay with same-sex marriage, but the imposition of "new rights" on the country by the judiciary. Deviation from Reaganism on "judicial activism" is the rejection of a "core value." And the portrayal of the "radical" Huckabee depends on the radicalization of certain TENDENCIES in his rhetoric, which are countered by others that George ignores. A fair reading of the evidence is that both Giuliani and Huckabee are, in different ways, too extreme to hold the Reagan coalition together, and that it's very unlikely that Huck and somewhat unlikely that Rudy will be nominated. They're both fading right now. At the same time, it's hardly prudent or even fair to try to use Reagan to run either of them out of the party at a time when Republicans can use all the help they can get. There's something (if maybe not most things) about Huckabee Republicans have to embrace (as the never-nostalgic Reagan would) if they're to have any chance at all.

If RG can't and won't champion socially conservative issues then he has to at least present himself as a thorough-going Federalist, something he has not done convincingly (and maybe can't at this stage). Huckabee has to present market based solutions to all the populist issues he's increasingly identified with and to be successful would have to go a long way in repackaging the damaged brand that is compassionate conservatism. Much of the confusion in the GOP primary seems to be generated by a confusion regarding what conservatism means; various compartments of conservativism warring for a claim to dominance is, at least in part, responsible for the internecine conflict within the party primary now.Huckabee has to convince voters the best steward of conservatism simpliciter vs merely evangelicism (which is a step towards demonstrating he can broaden his appeal for a general election). I agree with Peter that he hasn't entirely gotten a fair shake in the media in this regard (nor from the general punditry, including conservatives).Part of the problem for Huckabee now might be that he has to scale back what has been so essential to his surge---not his religiousness but his public presentation of it. Or maybe it's better to put it this way--he needs to offer persuasive secular arguments for his faith based convictions.

A question for Peter: You've argued that generally evangelicals need to cultivate more skill at presenting their socially conservative positions in the language of reason versus revelation. Would nominating Huckabee be a step in the right direction in this regard? Or does he too suffer from a similiar incapacity?

Peter and Ivan both say very sensible things. But Ivan, don't you think it's even less likely that Huck can offer secular (might we say, "politically ecumenical"?) arguments for his faith based convictions than it is that Rudy can offer himself as a thorough-going Federalist? You're right to suggest that if either of them was ever going to walk away with this thing, your advice was exactly what they had to follow. Unfortunately it doesn't look to me like either of them is looking for good advice.

Julie, I agree with you that neither one one of them is likely to pull it off. But Huckabee hasn't been under intense scrutiny as long as Guiliani and might have more space to fashion public opinion. However, the question is whether Huckabee has it in him to capitalize on whatever opportunities that might arise--on this score I'm skeptical.

Yes Peter. G. Will was the sane voice of conservatism back when I was semi-socialist whippersnapper, but with all due respect, I read this w/ incredulity. Yeah, let's drive the Rod Drehers of the world out of the party! Let's label their various "the market, but" positions/rhetoric as tantamont to attacking the "legitimacy" of corporations and capitalism. I much prefer Jonah Goldberg's approach to opposing Huck, which is to say, "look, this is just compasionate conservatism again...right after it failed." But with Will, Huck morphs into a (non-Rubinesque) Democrat on the economy. Anyone really believe that? Morevoer, to act as if Roe v. Wade is ONE issue among many on the Republican plank is silly, and the refusal of Giuliani to even compromise by pronouncing against the judicial logic of Roe (while still remaining legislatively pro-choice) is HUGE. And, BTW it is scandalous that so many in the business-friendly Republican wing are okay with that, that they do not know the ABCs of originalist logic. Someone needs to tell these people, "look, you can be legislatively pro-choice till the cows come home, but please READ Griswold, Casey, and Lawrence, or Brennan and Dworkin, and start to realize that decisions like Kelo are NOTHING compared to what else will come down the pike from these autonomy/equality-freak judges, in EVERY sphere of American life, if you make peace with their way of law-making."

Carl . . . good thoughts. But consider this . . . business friendly conservatives--even ones who tend to lean "pro-life" are by and large not so sophisticated as to be able to make and defend the position you outline above. They don't read Supreme Court cases and they don't know many folks who do. Part of the problem is that conservatives have--for at least all of my conscious political life--allowed the abortion issue to be drawn in the media as "the abortion issue." There's much more to it, as you understand so well. But very few people talk about it that way. The ordinary understanding of the thing is that this is a battle between religious people who hold that life begins at conception and everyone else who is more "moderate" (translation in the MSM's parlance: "reasonable") on the question. This is meant less as an excuse for Rudy (who should be sophisticated enough to handle this) than as one possible interpretation of what's keeping him from doing it. In a sense, I'm criticizing him more because I'm saying he's backed away out of a kind of cowardice . . . not a lack of understanding. But part of his calculation (though I still think it is wrong) must come from a fear of getting embroiled in what he perceives will turn into a moralistic duel. He doesn't think he can be left standing in such a contest because he is vulnerable with moralists . . . but that's precisely why he should have turned the issue away from moralism and toward questions of political right (federalism). At one time I thought he actually had more of a shot at advancing the debate than anyone else in the GOP . . . his might have been the most fresh approach in 30+ years and I thought it was actually useful to see it coming from someone who has declared himself "pro-choice" . . . but it is very late in the game now. He should give a Romney-esque "love letter" speech on Separation of Powers, the role of government, and the problem of the courts. But I don't guess he's looking for my advice.

Huckabee’s role in this year’s ’70s Show is not merely to attempt to revise a few Republican beliefs. He represents wholesale repudiation of what came after the 1970s -- Reaganism.

That's pretty silly. Huckabee is a repudiation of Reaganism, and conservatism. But so are most of the other front runners. If you want serious Reaganism you need to look at Hunter and Tancredo.

McCain, Romney, and Giuliani are all apostates against core Republican beliefs.

All three are internationalists, where the GOP has been explicitly nationalist until recently, and still likes to pretend it is.

None of the three can make a claim to being a fiscal conservative, in the sense that this term has been understood by Republicans.


core Republican policies such as .. the essential legitimacy of America’s corporate entities

The GOP has no future in being the political arm of the Chamber of Commerce, an entity which is explicitly hostile to conservatism and to core Republican beliefs. The CoC pushed through tax increases in Virginia, for example.

There is precious little overlap between the interests of traditional small government conservatism and Americas corporations. The first sees smaller government as a good in itself. The latter regard government as, if anything, not large enough.

He (Giuliani) should give a Romney-esque "love letter" speech on Separation of Powers, the role of government, and the problem of the courts.

You seem to be discounting the very real probability that Rudy's position on abortion, which he has stated repeatedly for decades, is grounded in his convictions. And that he does not have a problem with what the courts have done, whether in Roe or elsewhere. Which is why I say that he is not a judicial conservative.

Either that or you think he should just lie.

Please stop smearing Huckabee, you're just putting egg on your own faces.

No one is smearing Huckabee. They are merely sifting him. There are lumps in his mix that are hard to swallow, as is true of every pol. in the race. If you can take your candidate lumps and all, then welcome to him and I am happy for your certitude. He may end up being our candidate, but until the primary process sorts that out he will have to put up with considerable scrutiny like everyone else.

Yes, John. I am discounting the possibility that Giuliani's position here is rooted in his convictions. I remain unpersuaded that I should take it seriously. I don't think that he should lie about this . . . but I won't be shocked if he does or did.

Clint writes: Please stop smearing Huckabee, you're just putting egg on your own faces.


Smearing Huckabee and quoting him is often a distinction without a difference.

Yes, John. I am discounting the possibility that Giuliani's position here is rooted in his convictions.

Can you put into words why you are doing so?

Julie, you're certainly right about how the debate is framed. Why conservative pundits bow to it so reliably is a mystery. And while I would not have gotten as excited about it as you, the brief and now realy dead prospect of Giuliani taking a centrist stand of "political right" against Roe-type activism past/present/future,(as opposed to anti-abortion LAWS) really would have been good for him and for the party. Alas.

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