Ross Douthat ends a discussion of Mike Huckabee with:
The most important thing, to my mind, is that a Huckabee-Giuliani-Romney race would be a lot healthier for the GOP than a Thompson-Giuliani-Romney race, which is reason enough to wish the Huckster well.
Now, assuming that these aren’t battles over personality, what are these candidates running as or, perhaps better, as?
Rudy Giuliani could be viewed as either a candidate of social moderates or as the national security candidate. I think that it is more fair to view him as the candidate who represents the resurgence of national security issues in the GOP. I have argued that his candidacy would have a transformative effect on the party. It also seems to me that the Fabrizio poll "Elephant in the Mirror" indicates that there is a "national security first" part of the party that could form the basis of a coalition, along with economic conservatives, that could be enough to win.
Mike Huckabee is certainly the most articulate and credible social conservative in the first or second tier. He is also the least conservative candidate on economic issues, as typically understood. Huckabee is the candidate who will make the most explicit attempt to maintain the party’s margins in the working class. The question is whether he will be able to get them to vote in a primary for him. Perhaps, more controversially, he is the candidate of a broader Christian agenda, including worrying about poverty, education, global warming, etc. Moderate and liberal evangelicals and Catholics have been swing votes in the recent national elections, and you can see him making a strong play for those. However, with his economic positions, one wonders how he will keep suburban voters. Hillary Clinton could become the candidate of share holders, when compared to Mike Huckabee. He would also be a transformative candidate for the party.
Fred Thompson, in his current form, seems to represent the status quo coalition, at least in the sense of the interest groups. This could shift with his "big ideas" talk and his seeming openness to raising taxes. Earlier, it seemed that conservative groups were on the verge of tying the knot with Thompson. It is not as clear that they are at that point now. One can only imagine that the next couple of weeks is going to see a large amount of oppo begin to fall. Some of that is going to be muted by the Iraq debate in Congress.
Then there is Mitt Romney. What is he? The best that I can see is the candidate of the corporatist wing of the party. His staff seem primarily drawn from there., and his volunteers seem to be the country club set. His experience, family, and geography places him at that wing of the party. And his proposals on things like health care smack of the compromises that the Chamber of Commerce is willing to make to get the government to take costs off their hand. Clearly he is playing up his social conservative credentials to find other votes, getting a lucky break with the new Iowa gay marriage debate, but that is a stretch in light of his flip-flopping.
So back to Ross’s point about what the healthiest fight for the party is. You can restate the point as the "national security (Giuliani) versus economic moderate (Huckabee) versus corporatist (Romney)" or the "status quo (Thompson) versus national security (Giuliani) versus corporatist (Romney)". It is clear that the Huckabee candidacy represents a new addition to the debate in the GOP, and in that way, it is clear that it could be more healthy. I think that Ross would make the further point that the Huckabee direction is the most likely to keep Reagan Democrats in the game.
But are any of these winning, long-term coalitions?