Monday, February 25, 2008

McCain And The Hard Right

A blog with the enticing title "Breaking News: Mitt Romney to Rejoin GOP race?" comes to us from the Los Angeles Times. Andrew Malcolm writes (or types) "Josh Romney, one of former Gov. Mitt Romney's five sons, says it's "possible" his father may rejoin the race for the White House, as a vice presidential candidate or as the Republican Party's standard-bearer if the campaign of Sen. John McCain falters."

Of course, Mitt Romney a) would accept a Vice-Presidential nod, which he won't get; and b) will not rejoin the race as a Presidential candidate.

The irony is that with the recent report that Senator (and then-Commerce Committee chairman) McCain "had an improper relationship with a female lobbyist and did favors for her corporate clients," the GOP nominee-to-be probably would have faltered- if Romney hadn't already dropped out of the race. When The New York Times, under pressure from an impending New Republic story that the Times had sat on the story, reported the McCain-Iseman relationship, the Repub right, especially the talk show hosts who had been attacking McCain and suggesting a preference for Huckabee, faced a dilemma. Would they use the scandal as an opportunity to try to bring down a candidate they bitterly resent, or would they 'rally around the flag?'

We soon had our answer. Numerous Repubs, including the anti-McCain contingent, used the story as an excuse to attack The New York Times, a favorite GOP bogeyman, and a newspaper which had endorsed the Arizona Senator for the nomination. And the mainstream media reflexively put two and two together- and came up with "five."

These guys and gals may hate The New York Times (or pretend they do) but that's not the full story. As for "the rest of the story," (as famous conservative, partisan Republican Paul Harvey would put it), I refer to "The Stump" blog posted by Noam Scheiber of The New Republic on October 26, 2007 in describing the threat posed to the GOP by Mike Huckabee:

The typical Republican candidate argues something like the following: Democrats are out-of-touch cultural elites who want gay-marriage, abortion-on-demand, and Godless schools. They want to weaken the military and retreat from the war on terror. And, oh yeah, they also oppose tax cuts for rich people. When these candidates win, they (and Grover Norquist and their friends at the Wall Street Journal editorial page) turn around and say, "See, tax cuts for rich people are really, really popular." But, of course, tax cuts for the rich aren't very popular. Certainly less so than culture-war pronouncements and real-war demagoguery. (See my colleague Jon Chait on this subject.)

The Funds and Norquists of the world like to claim that there's something natural about the social-conservative/supply-sider worldview, and something unnatural about a socially-conservative economic populist. In fact, it's the opposite. According to the survey data on the matter (see, for example, here), there are many more of the latter in the Republican base (and, for that matter, the country) than the former.

That's why Huckabee is so threatening: His combination of economic populism, such as it is (and, believe me, Huckabee is no Bernie Sanders), and social conservatism threatens to decouple economic policies that favor the rich from the political message that makes them possible. From the perspective of Fund and Norquist, Huckabee must be stopped so as to maintain the fiction of intense grassroots support for both supply-side economics and social conservatism, rather than just the latter.

So activist, conservative Republicans faced an intriguing dilemma: rally around the despised John McCain, or attack him when he's vulnerable- and, if successful, face the possibility of the nomination of Mike Huckabee. Given their fear of a cultural conservative who questions the raison d'etre of the Repub Party (further concentration of wealth in the hands of a few), they probably made the wise choice.

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