The Journal Swings Into Anti-huckabee Mode

by TNR Staff, TNR Staff | October 26, 2007

John Fund has an interesting column about Mike Huckabee in today's Wall Street Journal. It's interesting in that it reveals more about conservative elites than about Huckabee. Fund writes:

Rudy Giuliani, for example, isn't running away from his socially liberal views, although he has modified them. But he is campaigning as a staunch, even acerbic economic conservative. Should he win the nomination, conventional wisdom has it he may balance the ticket by picking former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee as a running mate.

Mr. Huckabee, on the other hand, is running hard right on social issues but liberal-populist on some economic issues. This may help explain why the affable, golden-tongued Baptist minister was the clear favorite at the pro-life Family Research Council's national forum last Saturday. And why Mr. Huckabee's praises have been sung by liberal columnists such as Gail Collins of the New York Times and Jonathan Alter of Newsweek.

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.

Update: So, obviously, Mike flagged the Fund piece earlier. That's actually how I got to the piece in the first place, so I'm not sure how it slipped my mind.

--Noam Scheiber

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