Reihan Salam has a characteristically thoughtful post about Mike Huckabee and conservative populism. Among other things, he asks if I might not have a “rather narrow reading of ‘economic populism'” when I point to Pat Buchanan and Gary Bauer as past Republican candidates who mixed economic populism and social conservatism. I’ll have more to say about this topic this weekend, but a few thoughts.
While Buchanan, Bauer, and Huckabee differed on policy specifics — I’d argue that Buchanan favors a smaller government than George W. Bush — their approaches to running for the Republican nomination were similar. All three candidates tried to make a bread-and-butter appeal to the kind of voters who agree with conservatives on values but don’t see themselves benefiting from conservative economics. All three were openly critical of Wall Street, viewed the blue-collar social conservative as the salt of the earth in the same way that some conservatives view businessmen, and were willing to criticize corporations.
That may not be all there is to populism — and on issues like immigration Huckabee is barely more populist than the frontrunners — but it is a distinctive strategy. It has yet to win anyone the nomination. Bauer didn’t do as well in appealing to social conservatives as Steve Forbes or Alan Keyes, much less Bush. But maybe he was just a bad candidate. Buchanan came closer to blowing open the 1996 Republican contest than people tend to remember, but stopped winning primaries/caucuses after the field narrowed to a two-man race.
Huckabee’s approach seems especially audacious (and, in my view, unlikely to work) because he is specifically attacking tax-cutters. That’s something neither Buchanan nor Bauer did. Bauer didn’t deviate that far from supply-side economics. Buchanan wanted the revenue raised by tariffs on foreign goods to pay for tax cuts for American businesses and individuals.
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