Perhaps this is a dog-bites-man story these days, but remarks by putative 2012 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee in Iowa yesterday really do illustrate the delusional belief of Republican conservatives that they are struggling against high odds to keep their party from completely endorsing Barack Obama’s agenda:
“I hear people who give advice that the Republicans need to moderate. They need to be a little more to the left,” Huckabee said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It sounds like advice that Democrats would give to us so that we’d never win another election ever.”
Some argue that Republicans have lost Congress and the White House because they’ve turned the party over to social and religious conservatives, driving away moderates and independents. Huckabee made precisely the opposite argument.
“It’s when they move to the mushy middle and get squishy that they get beat,” he said….
“Historically, the way we’ve found our way back to winning, having clear convictions that are conservative and then when elected, act like it,” he said. “In every election, when Republicans have had clarity of convictions and those convictions were conservative, they win.”
He warned that many Republicans have gone astray by buying into President Barack Obama’s big-spending effort to stimulate the economy, a move he called “a big, colossal, utterly disastrous mistake.”
It’s hard to know where to begin in mocking this nonsense. Let’s start with Huckabee’s understanding of what’s true “historically.” As I recall, Republicans had a “clarity of convictions and those convictions were conservative” in 1964, and they lost in a very big landslide. Four years later, Richard Nixon ran as a sort of center-right “unity” figure, and won in a narrow plurality. In 1972, Nixon got his landslide after instituting wage and price controls, recognizing China, pumping up the economy with his own version of “stimulus,” cutting a major arms deal with the Soviet Union that led conservatives to “suspend” their support for him, and supporting clean air and clean water legislation (he also lied about the war, demonized “liberal elites” and bugged and harrassed his “enemies,” but he was nothing if not inconsistent on every ideological issue). Yes, Reagan won a bare majority in 1980, and then won his own landslide after approving two taxes increases and “caving” to “liberals” on major cuts in Social Security and Medicare. Bush gained office in 2000 with the help of the Supreme Court after promising to be a “uniter, not a divider,” who would make conservatism “compassionate,” and then was narrowly re-elected after promoting all those things (No Child Left Behind, the Medicare Rx Drug Benefit, immigration reform) that are now being denounced by conservatives as a “betrayal” of principle.
Huckabee’s peddling revisionist history of the rankest kind.
But even more ridiculous is the claim that lots of Republicans are clamoring to move to the “mushy middle.” Since the last presidential campaign got underway, Republicans have abandoned their long-time support for the earned income tax credit (now called “redistribution” or “socialism”) and their reluctant acceptance of global climate change as real (now denounced once again as a hoax), and have thoroughly exterminated any GOP interest in comprehensive immigration reform. They have adopted a partisan rhetoric that makes Karl Rove look temperate, punctuated by an actual debate by their national committee of the idea of demanding that Democrats start calling themselves the “Democrat Socialist Party.” As for the stimulus package, no House Republicans voted for it; one of the three Senate Republicans who voted for it after securing major concessions has since left the GOP. Two GOP governors, routinely denounced as RINOs, endorsed it (Ah-nold and Charlie Crist). For Huckabee, these tiny signs of dissent are a terrible threat. To use an old southern expression, he and other conservatives are goosing a ghost.
I don’t know why conservatives persist in this delusion, and just acknowlege that they are totally calling the shots in the Republican Party today. But the fiction of a major ideological battle is getting pretty old.