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December 4, 2007

the Huckabee phenomenon

Disclaimer: I doubt very much that anything in this post is original. This is popular territory, and I haven't looked for other blog posts that make the same points better:

If Mike Huckabee plays a major role in the Republican nomination race, the impact will be quite profound. The conservative coalition, as many have observed, consists of Christian values-voters, pro-corporate tax-cutters, and professional politicos whose fates are tied to the Republican Party. (By the way, there are also people and groups whose narrow economic interests and career trajectories tie them to the Democrats.) The three components of the conservative coalition sit uneasily together. In particular, social conservatives like Rich Cizik and Randy Brinson do not view the Republican Party as an end in itself (or as a meal ticket). They do not like putting political expediency above principle; and they are not mainly interested in cutting taxes. In fact, their substantive goals can be advanced either by cutting bureaucracies or by expanding government programs, depending on the context. I strongly suspect that Cizik and Brinson have bigger grassroots followings than the Republican Party loyalists, because that's the nature of all political movements. Grassroots activists don't have narrow self-interests, so they care about principles. Meanwhile, professional party leaders are easily corrupted by strategic considerations because they are the ones who can get jobs, contracts, fame, and contacts if their party wins.

The traditional conservative coalition has been held together by anti-communism (and now Islamaphobia), by a sense that government bureaucracies are godless, and by fear of losing to liberals. Social conservatives get one obvious thing from their partnership with corporate types: cash for Republican campaigns, which helps them to win. But they want results in terms of policy, and they want to believe that principles are driving their movement, not expediency. They have very good reason to doubt that they've gotten a decent deal lately.

What's fascinating about Huckabee is that he's going straight to the conservative grassroots and saying that he won't do anything to get corporate money or GOP endorsements. He is declaring independence--much like a Democrat who refuses to court labor. If Huckabee wins, the conservative coalition blows up, although conceivably a pure social conservative movement might prevail under his leadership. Even if someone like Romney or Giuliani ultimately defeats Huckabee, his strength in the primaries could be an effective warning shot.

December 4, 2007 1:42 PM | category: none


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