Reihan Salam responds to one of my recent posts about Mike Huckabee. I had said:

On a deeper level, I hear in Huckabee an instinct towards the isolationism that Eisenhower fought against.  …

Reihan responds:

I say "somewhat strangely" because Eisenhower was the peace candidate (i.e., the one who pledged to end a foreign war), and he is widely remembered as a staunch critic of the military-industrial complex. I find it very difficult to believe that Eisenhower would find much to criticize in Huckabee’s remarks, particularly since they are very much in the historical mainstream of conservative foreign policy discourse.

Reihan is referring to a different part of the Eisenhower legacy than I am.  Paul Gigot summarized the part that I am referring to:

[The GOP] was an isolationist party for a long time coming up to the 20’s and 30’s and into the 40’s and cost them at the presidential level. Ike changed that in the 50’s and then Goldwater, the conservative from the West became the anti-Communist candidate and the right moved to an internationalist position.

From that point on, the GOP was the party of internationalism on everything from intervention to trade, and the Democrats took the old isolationist GOP position.  Indeed, a friend of mine, Lorelei Kelly, who writes for Democracy Arsenal and informally advises the House Progressive Caucus, once noted that today the GOP "is the real internationalist party," much to the shock of her liberal friends.

There is another quote that I can’t find right now (and I have an early flight so I won’t be able to track it down until next week) in which Eisenhower says that his highest priority was to not let the GOP be the isolationist party. In fact, Eisenhower’s internationalism was precisely his most party-internal divisive characteristic, later being accused of being a communist, among other things, by radical Birch and other elements of the GOP.

So what does this have to do with anything? Gigot continued:

There’s a faction on the right that has moved back to the old isolationist wing – these are the Buchanan Republicans, the McGovern Republicans, if you will. And they wouldn’t appreciate that reference but I think it is apt.

There are several inter-related components to whatever a Buchanan/McGovern Republican would be, among them isolationism, protectionism, and "culture war," a phrase that Buchanan actually used with pride. It is clear that, right now, international intervention will continue to be part of the GOP platform. It is less clear that globalization will, especially in light of the revolt against the Bush administration’s attempt to liberalize the movement of labor, that is, immigration reform. Note that I also accept the moral argument for the imperative of immigration reform; in fact, I think it is primary.

In the end, this is my fear. Would Huckabee care about the international trade agenda and continued globalization? Would Huckabee invest political capital in a renewed Doha round and some level of regulatory coordination with, for example, the European Union? On a deeper level, is he a populist? This would be bad. Or is he merely attuned to the need to address some of the dislocation caused by economic liberalization? (and pay for it by increasing the rate of liberalization) After all, in my issues for a new movement, I wrote:

Massively increase skills-based educational opportunities at the state level. Stronger community colleges. Probably increase tax breaks for this kind of stuff. …

[W]e have to recognize that protectionism and healthcare concerns are grounded in concerns about economic insecurity. This is important because we need to have a credible economic story to offer the working class. …

My suggestions were, basically, that we need to offer real plans for managing human capital through healthcare, education, and retirement and pension reform, among others. In this way, I feel like I share a lot with David Brooks, who said:

But today, many of those old problems [the problems Reagan faced] have receded or been addressed. Today the big threats to people’s future prospects come from complex, decentralized phenomena: Islamic extremism, failed states, global competition, global warming, nuclear proliferation, a skills-based economy, economic and social segmentation.

In fact, I suspect that I share a lot with Reihan and Brooks, his mentor. Perhaps on a deeper level, my policy inclinations derive from two sources: my (Old?) Whig-ish economic instincts and my moderate-to-liberal religious instincts. These don’t so much come in conflict (in a reason versus faith way) as they mutually inform how these would be implemented. Call me a libertarian-moderate evangelical, if you will. Huckabee’s economic statements sound, sometimes, in opposition to my economic preferences. And his roots in the conservative movement of the Southern Baptist Convention raise alarm bells for my religious and theological preferences.

Finally, there’s a political analysis. As Reihan noted, I quoted Jim Antle saying:

I’d also point out that the fusion of economic populism and social conservatism has generally been a losing strategy in Republican politics, …

I don’t mean to put words in Jim’s mouth, but I think that he’s saying that there’s a political logic to fusionism. Economic conservatives and social conservatives are (or least have been) different constituencies, at least within Republican politics. The person who can put both together gets more votes. In the broader coalition of the party, emphasizing social conservatism brought significant people and energy into the party. And, as both Joe Carter and Pat Hynes have noted, often people will enter the party as social conservatives and acquire (some or more) economic conservatism over time. (there is also a pattern that moves in the other direction as people assimilate to their peers)

In conclusion, I see a lot of unanswered questions in Mike Huckabee. Here are a couple:

  • Is Huckabee an economic populist? (I consider this a bad, backward, and immoral thing) Perhaps stated more precisely, does he embrace the new globalized and liberalized economy but believe that some of its problems must be alleviated? Or must the underlying process be reversed? I rarely hear the man from Hope talk about hope. His main economic policy, the Fair Tax, seems like a gimmick.
  • While I am sympathetic to his "life doesn’t begin at conception and end at birth" line that incorporates education, health care, etc., without an economic analysis to incorporate it, this too looks like a gimmick.

Perhaps fundamentally, I fear that Huckabee is just a Baptist pastor. He thinks deeply about morality and conscience, but is he shallow about economics?