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The Next Few Days: Ideas v. Identities

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The New York Times’ David Brooks is gleeful that Huckabee has monkeywrenched Romney. Huck can’t be president, Brooks assures us, but it was good to see the party establishment humbled and McCain’s way forward cleared. “Mitt Romney is now grievously wounded,” Brooks enthused. “My guess is Republicans will now swing behind McCain in order to stop Mike.”

Is the picture clearer this morning for all those Iowa evangelicals on why Mike Huckabee got the gentle treatment after his bizarre news conference Monday? Why his record was left largely unexamined? Why Russert played nice with Huck this past Sunday? Huckabee was the stalking horse of the anti-Romney, anti-Rudy folks who want the GOP to get blown out in November, running either behind a 72 year old “maverick,” or a guitar-playing Baptist preacher –neither of whom has much of a chance. Brooks is not among the gang that wants the Democrats to win the November election in the next three weeks, but he is in love with the story, and John McCain.

National Review’s editor emeritus John O’Sullivan has a different take. “It seems clear that we should do all we can to help revive the Romney campaign. If that fails, we face a choice between Huckabee and McCain,” wrote O’Sullivan. “Neither looks like a good bet against a surging Obama candidacy.”

Thanks for the clarity, Mr. O’Sullivan. But how to do it?

First, by rejecting the idea that caucus and primary voters in New Hampshire, Iowa, and Michigan can overthrow the party’s platform, widely shared and embraced by Republicans from coast to coast. Romney as a mainstream Republican could have used the slingshot from Iowa to ride the platform forward, but anti-platform candidates have to fight all the way to St. Paul. The hundreds-of-thousands of individual donors to Romney, Giuliani, and Thompson haven’t agree to the media’s rules for wresting the party away from them, and the voters of 1994, 2000 and 2004 certainly haven’t. If McCain holds on to his lead in New Hampshire it will be a long, long campaign.

Second, there has to be a recognition that if any candidate takes matching funds it is an admission of an inability to compete until September against the Obama phenomenon. Mitt Romney has given his campaign millions, but so have thousands of individual donors, and his willingness to spend on behalf of the campaign and thus the party is why I expect 527s from the left to pour resources into Huck and McCain in the hopes of driving Romney from the field. Rudy too has the ability to get a fresh infusion of funds from Romney donors should Romney not get a second wind. Huck will never get the dollars necessary to compete, nor will McCain –the prince of campaign finance reform– be able to both seek funds and avoid getting branded a McCain-Feingold hypocrite.

Third, the conservative activists have to realize that there is an attempted coup underway. Brooks attacks by name Wall Street and K Street, Rush Limbaugh, The Club for Growth and President Bush, asserting that they constitute the “leadership class,” and that Huckabee’s war on them all was fueled by a knowledge of “how middle-class anxiety is really lived.” Brooks adds that Huck is forging:

A conservatism that loves capitalism but distrusts capitalists is not hard to imagine either. Adam Smith felt this way. A conservatism that pays attention to people making less than $50,000 a year is the only conservatism worth defending.

What utter nonsense. Did the tax cuts help families making less than $50 K a year? Did the prescription drug benefit? Does not getting attacked since 9/11 benefit only the middle and upper classes?

Will such neopopulism work? Nah. Even Brooks disowns it in the space of a couple of lines. Here is one of the most cynical graphs ever written on the day after an election:

Will Huckabee move on and lead this new conservatism? Highly doubtful. The past few weeks have exposed his serious flaws as a presidential candidate. His foreign policy knowledge is minimal. His lapses into amateurishness simply won’t fly in a national campaign.

Let me translate the NewYorkTimes-speak: “Thanks, you bozos in the sticks. We played you like a fiddle. Now it is time to bleed your guy to get our guy.”

Brooks’ guy is McCain, but the MSM’s guy is whoever the Dem is.

So what to do? The markets may tell us a bit over the next couple of days or weeks, but the investor class has to be wondering about equities this time next year, even if Pakistan’s nukes stay stable, Iran doesn’t unveil its own NIE-confounding device, and further North Korean shipments to Syria are interdicted. President Obama and strengthened majorities in both Houses won’t wait long to bring the pain that precedes the “politics of hope,” however, and you can’t expect markets to wait to get clobbered.

The debates of Saturday and Sunday may be interesting as well. Expect a wounded Romney to go on the offensive against John McCain’s long record of sticking it to the GOP. Rudy may be tempted to do so as well, or may wait for the Florida long ball. Huck may get an encore in South Carolina, but he’s already over for the reasons Brooks noted.

My Townhall column today is about how Romney can pull this off, but even if he clarifies and amplifies the message of running on Reaganism, he’ll need the party regulars to get off the bench. Independent-powered victories for McCain in New Hampshire and Michigan won’t matter if they are understood as such, but Romney has to let the party of Reagan know that both Huckabee and McCain want it broken up and sold off in pieces. He or Rudy need to win in Florida, or achieve a three way tie with McCain to put the campaign back into the hands of the people who built the party over the past 28 years.

O’Sullivan is absolutely right on: “It seems clear that we should do all we can to help revive the Romney campaign.”

I’ll be listening to Rush, Sean, Laura and the rest (my friend Michael Medved has thrown in with McCain) and reading the blogs to see if surrender has set in, or whether the coalition that Reagan built is worth fighting for.


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