April 25th, 2008 by Rightsideup

CNN has a piece today about Huckabee’s forthcoming book:

Two weeks after the next president is elected, Mike Huckabee will publish a book sharing details on his failed bid for the White House and offering his vision for remodeling the conservative movement.

It’s those last few words I take issue with. Huckabee does not represent the “conservative movement” – he represents one wing of it – Christian evangelicals (and to an extent, though not wholly, social conservative s generally).  The group he never brought on board and has virtually no appeal to is fiscal conservatives, who are famously the other half of the conservative coalition that has been winning elections for so many years. His “fair tax” plans and happy-go-lucky approach to public spending (“add an extra lane to I-95”) made fiscal conservatives hugely skeptical of both his seriousness as a candidate and his commitment to the issues that are dear to them.

As such, Huckabee can only really articulate a vision for the social conservative movement, or even more narrowly, Christian evangelical conservatives. He successfully acted as if he was the conservative candidate once Romney bowed out, but no-one but him and his campaign believes this nonsense. He carried a certain percentage of the base – arguably, a segment roughly equally as radical as the Ron Paul crowd – which refused to go for McCain even once it was obvious no-one else had a chance of winning. Do we really want this crowd dictating electoral strategy for the Republicans for the next four years. I’d much rather have Romney, who – for all his changes in position – at least now espouses solidly conservative positions across both the social and fiscal policy fields.

April 10th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Paul Weyrich, founder of the Heritage Foundation and conservative commentator, was a Mitt Romney backer when the latter was still in the primary running. However, he was recently cited as a member of a group which had started a petition to keep Romney out of McCain’s VP slot. To have gone from being a staunch Mitt supporter in the presidential race to finding him unworthy of even the VP slot was a turnaround the New York Times thought worth commenting on, suggesting a wider theme which isn’t borne out by the facts (that Romney’s “friends” more broadly have deserted him).

At any rate, two explanations – competing ones – have now emerged, both from Weyrich himself. The first is an account of a supposed conversion he experienced, which was reported by World Magazine, as follows:

Last month at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New Orleans, several dozen leaders of the “Christian right” met to strategize next steps—but the meeting inevitably included discussion of missteps in the GOP presidential campaign. Michael Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association, an early supporter of Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, chided the group for cold-shouldering his candidate until it was too late. Others, including Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, disagreed. The meeting quickly threatened to dissolve into accusations, rebuttals, and recriminations.

Then, venerable Paul Weyrich—a founder of the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and the Council for National Policy (CNP)—raised his hand to speak. Weyrich is a man whose mortality is plain to see. A freak accident several years ago left him with a spinal injury, which ultimately led to both his legs being amputated in 2005. He now gets around in a motorized wheelchair. He is visibly paler and grayer than he was just a few years ago, a fact not lost on many of his friends in the room, some of whom had fought in the political trenches with him since the 1960s.

The room—which had been taken over by argument and side-conversations—became suddenly quiet. Weyrich, a Romney supporter and one of those Farris had chastised for not supporting Huckabee, steered his wheelchair to the front of the room and slowly turned to face his compatriots. In a voice barely above a whisper, he said, “Friends, before all of you and before almighty God, I want to say I was wrong.”

In a quiet, brief, but passionate speech, Weyrich essentially confessed that he and the other leaders should have backed Huckabee, a candidate who shared their values more fully than any other candidate in a generation. He agreed with Farris that many conservative leaders had blown it. By chasing other candidates with greater visibility, they failed to see what many of their supporters in the trenches saw clearly: Huckabee was their guy.

Apart from both Weyrich’s statement and the telling of it being unnecessarily melodramatic, this would explain the change of tone from Weyrich – that he genuinely thought he had been wrong, and had therefore somehow abandoned the evangelical base in favor of political expediency. Fair enough – can’t agree on the merits but he’s entitled to change his mind (as Romney was…).

But the second explanation (which I can only find quoted here directly) appears to contradict it, or at least suggests that Weyrich hadn’t really changed his mind, or at least didn’t feel as strongly as that account above suggests:

Recently I received a phone call from someone asking if former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney should be Arizona Senator John McCain’s selection for Vice President of the United States.

I said, “No” because I did not think this was the best path for Romney right now; nor was it, in my view, the right fit for McCain. My understanding was that this was to be a personal letter to the Senator; it was not clear to me that this was to be an advertisement.

Thus, I now request that my involvement in this effort be disregarded as this effort to influence the Senator moves on.

So, basically, he thought it was the wrong move for both Romney and McCain but didn’t feel strongly enough it to state this publicly. Rather a different story from the dramatic conversion experience. But then things get even weirder:

I did support Romney in the early primaries and then supported former Arkansas Governor Huckabee when he and McCain were the last two candidates in the field.

That Senator McCain most likely will be in a position to select a Vice Presidential nominee is a failure of our movement, including myself, to unite behind a single candidate. In the unlikely development that the Senator would ask for my view on this matter, I would convey it to him in private as I have traditionally done.

He seems to resent the fact that McCain will be able to choose his VP candidate rather than having someone foisted upon him by the evangelical movement (at least that’s the implication – it’s poorly worded, and so perhaps he merely means that it’s unfortunate McCain is the nominee at all). I find this a little distasteful.

Yes, it would be great if evangelicals and conservatives more broadly had been able to coalesce around a single candidate for president, but we are where we are – going on about past failures isn’t really helpful to anyone at this point. There was no single candidate conservatives could coalesce around because we had a range of proto-conservatives (Huckabee the social but not fiscal conservative, Giuliani the fiscal and foreign policy but not social conservative, Thompson the lazy conservative and Romney the alleged conservative) and that’s why we ended up with McCain – the electable but slightly soft conservative, but ultimately the man everyone else’s supporters had the weakest objections to.

At any rate, none of these speaks well for Weyrich or the stability of his views.

February 15th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Lots of speculation at the moment about what Romney has planned next, with the most obvious option being running again in 2012. Some have suggested that 2008 was the equivalent for Romney of Reagan’s 1976 campaign, when he lost but then came back four years later to win the first of his two terms. Others have rightly pointed out that there are a lot of differences between 2008 and 1976, and the biggest is surely that Romney hasn’t proven himself as a conservative champion. Although he belatedly became the conservative standard bearer as it became clear McCain would likely win, this was mostly a victory with the conservative radio hosts, not the public (or Republican primary voters) in general.

As such, Romney now has to spend a good chunk of the next four years burnishing his conservative credentials so that he is well positioned in 2012. There are several risks with this strategy:

  • If his Mormonism was a major obstacle this time around, it will be again in 2012, especially if there is an evangelical Christian running with otherwise similar (or better) conservative credentials
  • Other well-regarded conservatives who weren’t quite ready this time around will have four more years of experience under their belts as Senators or Governors in 2012 and could make a strong showing. Some of them at least would have more consistent conservative records in both campaigning and governing / voting
  • There will be two elections between now and then – this November’s presidential and Congressional elections and the 2010 Congressional elections. It is possible (though not necessarily likely) that there will be a backlash against conservatism during that period and that the Republican party will go through a period of low self-esteem similar to what the British Conservative Party has been going through since the early to mid 1990s.

None of these is a foregone conclusion. Polling will answer the first question one way or the other and ought to be taken very seriously. No more “would you vote for” questions but lots of “why did/didn’t you vote for” questions. Get to the nub of what it was that people liked or didn’t like about Mitt Romney in 2008.

Secondly, he has to really put in a lot of work over the next four years, and the best suggestion is funding and leading a MoveOn.org for the right wing crowd. An organisation that ordinary conservatives can really rally behind, that will campaign for their causes, and that will provide him with a natural base which can rally around him in 2012 as it didn’t in 2008 (at least until the last week of the campaign). Hold regular events, champion conservative causes, build a consistent conservative platform and hold politicians accountable by rating them against it, and so on.

Doing that is still no guarantee that someone else won’t show up by 2012 who seems a more natural fit, or that McCain himself will win in 2008 and decide to go for a second term in 2012. Romney doesn’t need the age question on top of the other questions but it would undoubtedly be asked if he had to wait until 2016.

Lots to play for, and lots of money to do it with – that’s the good news. The bad news is that, as Harold Wilson once said, a week is a long time in politics. If that’s the case, four years is an eternity, and anything can happen.