Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sometimes even Hugh Hewitt is right

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I can't believe I just wrote that. But, well, it's true.

And he's right about this: A vote for Huckabee is a vote for McCain. How so? Because a vote for Huckabee is a vote less for Romney. (He's right, but there's nothing new here. See what I wrote last night in light of the Florida primary. I've been saying the same thing for some time.)

What is interesting here is that Hewitt speaks for many in the conservative movement that still dominates the GOP. Right now, conservatives -- Hewitt's conservatives -- are splitting their vote between Romney and Huckabee. This has allowed McCain to emerge as the frontrunner in stunning fashion. Part of the problem is that Romney isn't a terribly desirable conservative. Try as he might to overcome it, he has a liberal past -- liberal in some key respects at least -- that conservatives simply cannot ignore. And the flip-flopping and general inconsistency, other than on business-oriented economic matters, hardly help endear him to an ideological movement that, more than ever, emphasizes purity. Simply put, he is not pure enough, and many conservatives just don't trust him. And the fact that he's a Mormon hurts him among the evangelical christianists of the right. They just don't much care for Mormons.

Still, to Hewitt, and to those for whom he speaks, Romney is far preferable to McCain. And what they want is for Huckabee to drop out, or for conservatives to stop voting for him, so that Romney can go up against McCain in a head-to-head fight. They predict -- rightly, I think -- that Romney can beat McCain in such a fight.

But Hewitt is not entirely right here. Let me address two points:

1) Hewitt seems to think that the future of "the Reagan Coalition" rests with Romney. If conservatives remain divided, it will be the end of that coalition, and hence of conservatism as a viable electoral movement controlling the Republican Party. If McCain wins, that is, it's over. If Romney wins, conservatism lives. Now, I understand that McCain is deeply unpopular in some corners of the conservative movement, and I understand why. He is no ideologue. He is not pure. He is a maverick who breaks from his party and reaches out across the aisle, who is comfortable sitting across from Jon Stewart, who is definitely not a theocrat. And yet, he is nonetheless deeply conservative, thoroughly in line with the Hewitts of the world on many of the issues that matter to them. He has his conservative supporters, of course, but much of the conservative movement has given up on him for good. No matter what he says on the campaign trail, he'll never get the benefit of the doubt, let alone secure the support of the ideologues of the right.

2) Hewitt worries that McCain will pick a Giuliani or a Lieberman as his running mate -- two horrible men, I hasten to add, but, to Hewitt, what matters is that, like McCain, they simply aren't conservative enough. He worries that McCain will pick one of those centrist types and play to "the muddled middle of the country". While it is true that McCain would reach out to Democrats and independents even as he stresses his conservative bona fides to the GOP base, I just can't see McCain picking a running mate who is similarly unpopular with the Hewitts of the world. Instead, I see him picking, say a (Fred) Thompson or a Huckabee -- or some other neo-Reaganite and/or christianist social conservative. (On this, I agree with Kevin Drum.)

However this turns out, we can at least take pleasure in watching conservatives like Hugh Hewitt squirm in disgust over what is happening in their party.

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  • Michael

    I had to do a double-take, refresh my browser, when I say the "Hugh Hewitt" headline ...

    McCain, assuming the script doesn't undergo rewrite, goes maverick on the VP choice, and pulls George Allen off the ash heap, dusts off the "macaca" thing, dresses him up to deal with the South and the Jesus Freaks ...

    McCain just won't be able to keep it together, if he actually wins the nomination ... He'll be like Charlie Brown at the convention, expecting them to pull it away from him at the last second

    He'll spurn the RNC, on whoever they try to push on him ... Huckabee's a possibility, but Allen will pull in more money ...


    By Blogger 13909 Antiques, at 12:37 AM  

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