Saturday, 8 November 2008

Future of the American Right

"Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast..."

That description in Newsweek, by an 'angry McCain aide', of the infamous Palin shopping trip is incredibly revealing about the struggle going on for the future of the GOP. It shines a torch on the  struggle for control of the party between the shrinking socially conservative lower-middle and working class base who provide most of the Party's voting fodder, and the wealthy elite who fund it, control it and benefit most from its economic policies. The mass enthusiasm for Sarah Palin, both 'Wasilla hillbilly' and Vice-Presidential candidate, in the Republican heartlands surely poses a threat to that control. Karl Rove in particular hitched the religious right to the GOP: famously, evangelicals used to disdain participation in politics as ungodly. The strategy was a political triumph, but has it now created a monster that is beyond its control?

The point is also illustrated by who I think is the other key player in this fight, Mike Huckabee, the personable, funny, Creationist Baptist Minister and former Arkansas Governor who came second in the Republican primaries, much to most people's surprise. He is a staunch social conservative and Christian, who during the primaries issued an advert which didn't deal with politics at all; in it, he wished voters a merry Christmas instead, and said "what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ". Uh-huh. He is now lined up to present a show on Fox but his website certainly suggests that he still has significant political ambitions, and Marc Ambinder in the Atlantic is one of those who has identified him as a 2012 front-runner. Crucially, Huckabee's support of the Fair Tax proposal also puts him a long way away from the traditional tax-cutting Republican position; while what its practical effect would be is hotly debated, it is presented as a 'progressive' measure which effectively broadens the tax base and taxes wealth.

Ambinder, like several others, thinks that the other front-runner in 2012 will be Mitt Romney- smooth, uber-wealthy, and very much a Republican establishment figure (despite his Mormonism). If 2012 did come down on the GOP side to Romney against Huckabee, the rich Republican establishment could, if Huckabee won, lose control of the Party for a generation, and risk becoming a party entrenched in the South but unable to reach out beyond that. 

I think survival for the GOP lies in an opposite direction from both Huckabee/Palin and Romney, in embracing social liberalism, low taxation, and foreign policy hawkishness. Semi-libertarian at home (while accepting and addressing climate change) and strong on the 'war on terror' abroad would have a strong link back to Reagan and would, it seems to me, be the only way forward that would be attractive to new generations of right wing voters growing up under President Obama while not alienating - too much - its base. State out of your face and instead fighting the dual wars on climate change and terror, perhaps? (How to reconcile libertarianism and fighting climate change is for another day, but there must be clever market-based approaches to carbon capping that could be explored.) And let's face it: if the Republicans took a more liberal stance on gun control, abortion, and 'the culture wars' generally, their core Southern base would have nowhere else to go. The problem is that I know of no obvious contender to lead such a new Reaganite revolution.    


movie fan said...

If Palin runs for President in 2012, at least she has name recognition going for her... but that may not work in her favor

Jonny Mac said...

Yes. It's going to be interesting to see how Palin's career develops in the next few years, and whether she tries to keep herself in the public eye...Perhaps she'll go down the TV route like Huckabee?