Dean, Goldwater, and the Netroots

October 28, 2008

My discussion with Jon Henke and Patrick Ruffini at The Next Right made it into kos’s Sunday reading and he responded with a lengthy reflection on Howard Dean, the Goldwater Republicans, and the netroots (past, present and future).

Mulling over Henke’s and Ruffini’s respective suggestions that Romney or Palin take the lead of the RNC, kos pulls out an intriguing alternative:

While I’m not keen to offer the GOP advice, here’s who I think (in a genuine, non-concern-troll way) would be their best candidate: Mike Huckabee. He is exactly the GOP’s version of Howard Dean — a popular governor of a small state, with a huge, energized following who briefly led his party’s nomination contest before being kneecapped by his party’s establishment. Like Dean, Huckabee isn’t an insider, isn’t one of them, and as such, isn’t bound by their outdated and obsolete conventions. Like Dean, Huckabee offers a different direction from his party. Dean wanted muscular, unapologetic progressivism. Huckabee wants a more compassionate version of conservatism — not fake “compassion” like Bush’s, but the real stuff. “Big government conservatism”, as his fiercest detractors charge.

kos then goes on to argue that while Huckabee has the support of the theocratic base, the internal divisions between theocons (e.g. Huckabee and Palin) and corporate-cons (e.g. Giuliani and Romney) are likely to sabotage efforts to achieve party unity for quite some time. He also lays out an important obstacle that Huckabee never quite overcame:

But if Huckabee has the ground troops, what is he missing? The money. He got far in his primary race without any, winning Iowa with something like $27. But he won’t be able to rebuild his party on shoe leather alone.

Us Demcoratic rebels bypassed the Terry McAuliffe wing of our party by building our own alternate small-dollar fundraising mechanism. Without that cash, Dean would’ve never existed, and the establishment’s favorite candidate, Hillary Clinton, would’ve been (for better or for worse) our nominee and future president. Her hundred million dollars wasn’t enough because Obama was able to match her dollar for dollar in 2007, and ultimately blow by her in early 2008.

Huckabee, for all his talents, has been unable to motivate his ardent supporters to pony up. That’s the challenge for the GOP’s Huckabees — to create their own independent funding mechanism distinct from the corporate con spigot. Once they have that figured out (perhaps Sarah Palin’s role in the process?), their civil war will be fully engaged.

Conservatives laughed when Dean took the DNC’s helm and look how that turned out. But our differences with the DLC types was a matter of degree and strategy — a little more populist, a lot more aggressive. The fundamentals that united us as a party were not ideologically mutually exclusive.

kos’ assessment takes it for granted that we’re witnessing the collapse of the Goldwater/Reagan alliance of cultural and fiscal conservatism that has been the bread-and-butter of the Republican party for the better part of 50 years. If that is the case, the resulting shake-up may do more than merely re-structure the composition of the Right; it may provide the basis for a much broader realignment of the electorate.

Before I get to that, however, I should point out that the parallel between Dean and Goldwater is illustrative for several reasons, all of which support the view that the Right today faces a totally different sort of challenge. In both cases, the candidate represented a vocal and growing faction within his party. It also helped that these respective factions could boast of robust organizational strategies that successfully scaled at the national level.

Can the same be said of the Palin/Huckabee supporters within the Republican party today? I don’t think so, although I’d welcome evidence to the contrary.

Now, to the question of re-alignment. If the subsequent struggle for power is half as scornful as Peggy Noonan, the GOP will splinter even further than it already has. It’s still too difficult to predict the impact this might have on the national political scene, but the profound demographic and cultural changes that have taken place since Goldwater could facilitate the rise of a new conservative alliance to replace the old.

What would that new alliance look like? Clearly, there are potential constituencies among the Huckabee and Ron Paul acolytes. However, in order to rise to national power, any new conservative movement will need to take a substantial bite out of the groups currently supporting Democrats. I don’t have any insights into how that will happen, but the current jockeying for position within the Republican party will likely determine the available options.

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One Response to “Dean, Goldwater, and the Netroots”


  1. […] #2: kos responds to Henke and Ruffini (and even me, a little) and I reply to him too. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)More on the prospect of a conservative […]


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