Thursday, December 06, 2007

Conservative coalition straining at the seams

The conservative Republican coalition is often talked about by the opposition as if it is a monolithic entity, but in reality it is made up of some very different parts. When conservatism is clicking, the economic conservatives, the social conservatives, the national security conservatives, and the right leaning libertarians are all pretty much on the same page. That is certainly not the case as we hurdle towards 2008. The economic conservatives and the national security conservatives seem to be on the same page still, but the social conservatives and the right leaning libertarians are veering off in different directions. Right leaning libertarians have been drooling over the odd and unusual Ron Paul for some time now, and in recent weeks the social conservatives have been breaking out their "I Heart Huckabee" bumper stickers for the decidedly not-conservative Mike Huckabee.

Part of this is just typical nomination politics. The candidates find their base amongst conservatives within the Republican party, and then they go out and try to win the most of the rest. That naturally highlights the seams in the party. This might be different this year, though. The mainstream conservative candidates-Giuliani, Romney, Thompson, and, if you can call him a conservative, McCain-are all flawed conservatives. They've generated a minimum of enthusiastic support. Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul have developed very passionate support amongst large portions of the social conservatives and libertarians (and a few economic conservatives). Neither has a snowball's chance in hell of winning the nomination, though, and therein lies the rub. Their passionate supporters are almost certain to be disaffected when their candidate ultimately has to throw in the towel. That is going to leave the eventual nominee running down a cylinder or two, giving the Democratic nominee an important head start.

But that's not the worst of it. If either of those two candidates can maintain some momentum well into the primaries, they will begin to feel a groundswell from their supporters to run as a third party candidate. At this point, I doubt Huckabee could or would, but I have no doubt that Ron Paul would jump at the chance. Just one of these two would cleave off enough conservative voters to toss the election to whatever democrat wins their nomination. As it is, Republicans might have a tough time getting libertarians and social conservatives to the voting booth in 2008. A hard split in the party could make either Mike Huckabee or Ron Paul the democratic nominee's best ally.

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