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The Conservative Establishment’s Addiction to Tactics

By Matthew Yglesias  

"The Conservative Establishment’s Addiction to Tactics"

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Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei have a piece about the conservative elite’s massive anxiety over Sarah Palin:

Many of these establishment figures argue in not-for-attribution comments that Palin’s nomination would ensure President Barack Obama’s reelection, as the deficiencies that marked her 2008 debut as a vice presidential nominee — an intensely polarizing political style and often halting and superficial answers when pressed on policy — have shown little sign of abating in the past two years.

“There is a determined, focused establishment effort … to find a candidate we can coalesce around who can beat Sarah Palin,” said one prominent and longtime Washington Republican. “We believe she could get the nomination, but Barack Obama would crush her.”

Like Jamelle Bouie, I find these arguments to be not all that convincing. John McCain was a widely admired war hero with a reputation for moderation who had favorable ratings well over 50 percent on Election Day and he lost to a first-term senator with a black nationalist spiritual mentor. Palin isn’t the most formidable candidate out there, and in a very close election her flaws could easily deny the GOP the White House. And very close elections do happen—think how important the 2000 presidential election was in retrospect. But most elections aren’t that close, and if the fundamentals are strongly against Obama—which they may be—Palin will beat him.

I think the dirty secret of conservative Palin skeptics is that they think Sarah Palin would be a bad president. A little while back, Dave Weigel did a good article about conservative reformers whose books about the GOP’s need to moderate are now looking bad in light of the way Republicans are roaring back in the midterms. It made me think that the real issue here, similarly, is that these authors actually think Bush-era policies were bad for America and more moderate ones would be better.

Ever since I read it, I’ve been fascinated by the line in National Review’s endorsement of Mitt Romney which said “Our guiding principle has always been to select the most conservative viable candidate.”

I wouldn’t deny that progressives are prone to a certain amount of tribalism in our internal deliberations, but that kind of explicit ideological maximalism closes off debates on the merits in a weird kind of way. And not only do you see much more ideological maximalism in conservative media, but conservative media is a much more influential force than progressive media. This makes it extremely difficult for arguments on the merits to get off the ground which, in turn, makes it hard to mount persuasive arguments against candidates who you think may be wrong on the merits.

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