Their Worst Nightmare

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The recent endorsement of Rudy by televangelist Pat Robertson has turned the former mayor’s supporters at National Review (NR), the New York Post, and other obliging outposts of the neoconservative empire from a state of hope to one of outright jubilation. If Lawrence Kudlow, NR economics editor, is correct, the nomination “has been wrapped up.”

Perhaps political observers such as George Will, Rich Lowry, and Bill Kristol can now get on with anointing the Republican vice-presidential candidate. One might guess from their comments that they have already given the nod to Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas who is being played up as a “social conservative.” This move is advertised as an attempt to bestow some kind of balance on the Republican ticket; however, as commentator Phyllis Schlafly has noted, his effect on conservatism in the state has been profoundly negative. Moreover, the erstwhile governor leans decidedly leftward on immigration; unlike Rudy, he may feel genuine shame about hiding his real views on a controversial subject. Huckabee also has the tiresome habit of bewailing American racism every time the word “black” comes up. One is led to wonder whether he can look at anything covered with that color without trying to reach out.

It is hard to see how Huckabee can contribute ideological balance to Rudy’s blustering presence, except possibly for his opposition to abortion. But like Michael Gerson, another sensitized Evangelical, Huckabee seems unable to express his opinion on any hot social issue without going on about slavery and the supposed racist intention of some pro-choice liberals. This guy may be a Baptist from Arkansas, but he shows some of the same rhetorical tics as those displayed by generic liberals whom I meet in the Big Apple. Having him on the Republican ticket in any case should cause no queasiness for the Wall Street Journal-NR crowd.

The problem for the neocons trying to come up big in the presidential sweepstakes, however, may be the curmudgeonly war protester Ron Paul. Despite their success with a fading televangelist who now shills for the GOP (in 2004, God supposedly spoke to Pat and predicted that W would be reelected), the neocons and those Republican leaders they have convinced to back Rudy for “being good on terror” cannot remove Paul from the race. A septuagenarian Texas obstetrician and congressman who is now running for the presidency, Paul is very much his own man. The neocons’ approach to Paul’s candidacy follows closely their tactics in dealing with the Old Right — generally to ignore him while hinting broadly that he may be (surprise!) an “anti-Semite.” After all, he has used the word “neoconservative” without intending to convey a compliment and is against giving foreign aid (a policy that may or may not negatively affect Israel).

This week the left-liberal website Salon noticed the prevalence of this effort to ignore or run down Paul in the mainstream media. The neocons and their liberal talking partners, obviously hoping that Paul and his followers will drop off the earth, have ignored him in the expectation that this would happen. To their chagrin, it has not.

In less than a month, according to the most recent Marist survey, his poll numbers have risen from 2 percent to more than 7 percent. Right now Paul is running neck and neck with the Baptist preacher from Arkansas and only 6 points behind the plummeting John McCain. In one day recently, Dr. Paul’s staff raised more than $4 million dollars on the Internet, a medium that the neocons and their talking partners do not effectively control. Given the fervor of Paul’s following, the present ascent of the Texas congressman may continue for some time.

Although he is identified as a libertarian, anti-war candidate, Paul’s appeal is to the Old Right as well. He is a devout Lutheran who opposes abortion and is critical of the sloppy immigration policies of the Bush administration and its Democratic opposition. He also calls himself a Taft Republican, while raging against the neocons’ foreign policy, as I heard him do at a rally in Philadelphia. His staff is honeycombed with paleolibertarians and paleoconservatives — in short with people itching to settle scores with the neocon usurpers of the American Right. The older members of this group have fought and lost wars against the neocons that were professionally costly; what they now want more than anything else is what the French nationalists called for against the Germans after losing the Franco-Prussian War: revenge.

Nobody but a true believer would imagine that Paul could win the Republican nomination, which apparently a neocon candidate has sown up. What he could do, and is likely to achieve if he runs as a third-party candidate, is to make sure the neocons lose by pulling in his direction a large number of voters who usually support the Republicans. That would have the effect of putting Hillary into the White House, an outcome that many of Paul’s followers would accept as the lesser of two evils. Such an outcome would not displease those of Paul’s backers who are above all concerned about not seeing Giuliani and his neocon-packed retinue take over the government. For neocons at least, what used to be bright skies are clouding over.

November 24, 2007

Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College and author of Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt, The Strange Death of Marxism, and Conservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right.

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