Quin, I very much agree with you that Huckabee’s rise signifies long-term problems for the Reagan coalition (even if Republicans do ultimately end up uniting behind the eventual nominee). I agree even more strongly with this point of yours: “The roots of this bizarreness lie in Washington. Since 1998, the majority of congressional Republicans have shown they have no clue about what motivates most right-leaning voters and even less of a clue about what constitutes good public policy.”
But I’d quibble with this: “Oddly enough, it is the social conservatives who seem to feel most victimized, even though President Bush has stayed true to them on every issue under the sun while giving the back of his hand to the Goldwaterites.” First, I don’t think their anger is primarily with President Bush. It is with a party that, until the emergence of Huckabee as a top-tier contender, didn’t provide them a viable 2008 candidate who shared their values to the same extent as Bush.
Second, I think if you look at the social conservatives, despite being the largest single voting bloc in the GOP they have accomplished fewer of their goals than any conservative/Republican faction with the exception of the more libertarian conservatives. On prayer in school, church-state jurisprudence more broadly, gay rights, and, above all, abortion, everything social conservatives have accomplished — even under Bush — has been at the margins. That is not entirely the fault of the GOP, but it is a factor in their frustration.
Finally, I think Huck’s rise has to be understood in the context of Rudy Giuliani. For almost all of 2007, Giuliani was the Republican frontrunner despite his social liberalism. Yet you can count on one hand the number of conservative pundits who argued that his record on social issues or position on abortion should disqualify him from the nomination. Conservative pundits were far less forgiving of Huckabee. You can certainly make the case that Huckabee has deviated from traditional conservative orthodoxy on more issues than Giuliani, but it just so happens that the issues where Giuliani has deviated are the same issues that got many Huckabee supports involved in politics in the first place.
In a field where just about every candidate takes a heterodox position on this or that issue, a food fight within the conservative coalition was perhaps inevitable. But with Giuliani and Huckabee as leading candidates, the priorities of the largest single conservative constituency have been pitted against those of the rest of the right.
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