Is the GOP in the Grips of Hyperorthodoxy?


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Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee is stirring up some controversy with some recent comments in the New York Times Magazine:

The atmosphere was so toxic that it would not be an atmosphere in which I would breathe well. There is almost a hyperorthodoxy that is gripping the party that you have to go out and prove that you can be tougher, meaner, more hard-line than anybody else on the stage.

Huckabee’s comments are predictably stirring up angst from predictable sources, but does Huckabee have a point? I think so.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Tea Party Revolution has brought positive changes to the GOP. Thanks to the Tea Party, we said bye bye to Arlen Specter, we said farewell to Richard Lugar,  we knocked out Bob Bennett, and we saw some great conservatives elected such as Marco Rubio.  We’ve communicated to politicians that we’ll hold their feet to the fire when it comes to fiscal conservatism. This is great, particularly against the Republican establishment that support Specter, Lugar, and Charlie Crist.

However, all revolutions have their share of excesses and the Tea Party is no different. A couple examples.

Take, the massive effort of outsiders to oust Orrin Hatch.  There’s one good reason to oppose Orrin Hatch: He’s been in the Senate 36 years. If there were truly a popular move in Utah to stop Hatch from being renominated, the national multi-million dollar onslaught against Hatch by outside groups may have made sense. But, it didn’t. Truth was that unlike Bennett, Hatch had a pretty conservative voting record at around 90% ACU ratings with no major heresies. In terms of fiscal discipline, this is the guy who has been carrying the Balanced Budget Amendment for decades.

Seriously, expending all the money and credibility that was spent to oust Hatch was a poor move and while national conservative groups couldn’t seem to tell the difference between minor disagreements on policy and major flaws that demanded a replacement, Utah voters overwhelming renominated Hatch.

Another example is the vilification of Jon Bruning in Nebraska. The man is a solid conservative overall even if he was the pick of the state establishment.  Seriously, why on Earth does the Tea Party to spend millions of dollars going after people who bare no resemblance to Charlie Crist or Arlen Specter or Richard Lugar but will vote with them 90% of the time.

The big question is if the GOP is in the grips of hyperorthodoxy why the heck did Mitt Romney get the nomination? Two words: Newt Gingrich. Gingrich’s campaign was effectively defeated after the Nevada Caucuses, but his supporters soldiered and continued to back him despite the fact he had no prayer. Why? Because Rick Santorum wasn’t conservative enough.

Why not?

The most commonly cited reason was that Rick Santorum voted against Right-to-Work in the Senate.  This was perhaps the stupidest campaign meme for the following reasons:

  1. The bill came up fifteen years ago and had nothing to do with the current election.
  2. The bill failed miserably and would have failed with Santorum’s vote.
  3. Santorum represented a state without right to work laws. To support a bill imposing right to work laws on unwilling states would go against the interest of his state and would invariably have led to Santorum’s defeat.
  4. The bill was constitutionally dubious anyway. Can I here a witness from you advocates of the tenth Amendment out there? Senator Santorum’s vote was also absolutely in keeping with the Founders intent that Senators serve as representatives of their state. That’s why they were originally elected by the state legislature.
  5. Santorum pledged to sign the thing if it came to him as President.

Of course, none of this mattered to those who cited it. The only way Santorum could have been acceptable to these critics is if he would have ignored the views of his state and committed ritual political suicide on the floor of the Senate to support a bill that would go nowhere.

Then there was Senator Santorum’s endorsement of Arlen Specter’s re-election bid, a decision I disagreed with. At the time, the GOP had 51-49 Senate Majority. Santorum believed (rightly) that there would be Supreme Court vacancies in the next term and that Specter’s vote would be critical. Also, that Specter’s opponent Pat Toomey would struggle in the Fall.  This may have been accurate given that Toomey only won by 2 points in the biggest Republican year in recent memory in 2010.

As for Huckabee, if we go back to 2008, his opponents big issues are his use of executive clemency (which in many cases only allowed convicts to be considered for parole by the State parole board or restored the civil rights of people who have served their sentences.)  Another charge is that Huckabee was a big spender in Arkansas and concerns about some of the legislation that moved through the legislature.

The first charge stems from lack of understanding of how Arkansas’ system of paroles and clemencies work. The second fails to understand that in Arkansas the Democrats held at least a 3/4 majority in the legislator every year Huckabee was Governor and could override his veto with a simple majority vote. This often forced Huckabee to do things he would rather not to do.  For example, an onerous bill regulating home schooling was introduced. A Republican Home Schooled father worked to introduce a less Draconian and got it through the legislature. Had Huckabee vetoed the bill, the legislature would have either overridden his veto or passed a worst bill, and he had

The final big charge against Huckabee is that he’s a nanny stater. This comes from the fact that Huckabee sees obesity as a public health problem. Huckabee doesn’t support banning foods or regulating people’s behavior through government force. His actions to address the issue were non-coercive in Arkansas such as offering state employees walking breaks. But because Huckabee acknowledges the obvious, he’s a nanny stater.

What we have in the excesses of the modern conservative movement is an inability to distinguish vital issues from trivial ones, a selective demand for 100 percent agreement all the time, and a refusal to pardon any transgression of conservative rules. They can’t tell the difference between a friend who may have disappointed them a few times and a foe. To this group of purists, Lincoln Chafee and Rick Santorum are exactly alike.

The problem with this purism will not lead to the enactment conservative values.  It will only lead to us tossing perfectly good leaders under the  bus due to the fact that they aren’t perfect. Compare this current problem to the maturity of Reason Magazine in 1975 when writing about another flawed conservative by the name of Reagan:

Thus, Reagan’s record, while generally conservative, is not particularly libertarian. But one’s administrative decisions, constrained as they are by existing laws, institutions, and politics, do not necessarily mirror one’s underlying philosophy.

A reasonable position.  If conservatives in the 21st Century had been so open-minded, we may not have Romney as the nominee right now.

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