Amid increasing chatter about a potentially imminent decision by My Man Mitch on whether to run for president, and increasing noise from Daniels himself, Ross Douthat has a good analysis of why “talk radio conservatives” are cool to Daniels. The title of this post is a hint. Excerpt:
[Most of the conservative arguments against Daniels] are all about his rhetoric, his public persona, and who his admirers happen to be. It puts me in mind of a smart post from one of David Frum’s pseudonymous contributors at FrumForum, which tried to figure out why talk radio hosts love Chris Christie while remaining cool to Daniels:
Why is Chris Christie the heartthrob of the radio right, while Daniels is suddenly an intolerable RINO? Christie is not more conservative than Daniels, and arguably even less so … The difference is this: talk radio is not much interested in the substance of a politician’s views or the reasons for decisions. Talk radio wants a confrontational style, and unlike the soft-spoken Daniels, the fierce Christie meets the test. The rule seems to be: it’s OK to be a Republican moderate – provided you are belligerent enough about it.
This is where the populist style in conservative politics becomes self-defeating. The underlying theory behind the talk radio critique of Daniels is basically that you can’t trust a man who disarms liberals with his seeming reasonability, and what you need instead is somebody who takes the fight to the left at every opportunity. This is an excellent description of the qualities required … to be a good talk radio host. But when applied to the presidential scene, it amounts to a kind of politics of schadenfreude, in which actual conservative accomplishments count for nothing, the ability to woo undecided voters is downgraded or dismissed, and all that matters is how much a prospective candidate irritates liberals. It’s the right-wing version of the theory that almost made Howard Dean the Democratic nominee in 2004, you might say — and it’s how you end up, for instance, with Rush Limbaugh lumping Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin and Donald Trump in with Christie as examples of “candidates you could coalesce behind” in 2012. (Coalesce behind … on your way to a world-historical defeat.)
I’m not sure it’s accurate to say that Dean, who only won a single primary — his home state of Vermont, long after he’d screamed, lost, and dropped out — was “almost…the Democratic nominee in 2004.” But other than that, I think Douthat and the quoted FrumForum contributor are dead on. Of course, I suppose you’d expect me to say that. (BREAKING NEWS: Brendan Loy agrees with RINO columnists’ analysis of Republican foibles! Film at 11.)
P.S. As an aside, I’ve seen a bunch of liberal posts and tweets that are like, “OMG!!! Daniels isn’t a moderate at all!!! He signed a bill defunding Planned Parenthood!!! He’s a radical!!! #PANIC!!!” Look, that bill was, admittedly, a bit of apparent pandering to the Religious Right by Daniels, which is unfortunate but probably politically necessary after his “truce” talk. So it’s not a point in his favor, sure. But does it mean he’s some foaming-at-the-mouth crazy right-winger? No. It means he disagrees with the liberal position on abortion, and believes government funding shouldn’t support abortion; neither of those positions are at all indefensible. (P.S. I’m pro-choice.)
Bottom line, yes, the man opposes abortion rights — which is a mainstream, non-radical position in the Republican Party, and in this country generally. It’s also a perfectly defensible position on a moral, ethical, and legal level, one that doesn’t make the person holding it either anti-woman or anti-freedom or anti-anything-else-except-abortion. Nor is it automatically hypocritical just because he opposes a variety of liberal policies (like, say, ObamaCare) on the grounds that they supposedly restrict “choice” or “freedom” in some way. Abortion is, obviously, fundamentally different than other issues. To those who believe abortion involves the deliberate, premeditated taking of human life, it is not, and cannot be, a legitimate “choice.” Other things can be legitimate “choices”; deliberately killing an innocent person can’t, so if you believe abortion is the deliberate killing of an innocent person, obviously you will oppose that particular type of choice, in most if not all circumstances. One doesn’t have to agree with that position — I don’t, exactly — but it’s wrong to simply dismiss the position as crazy or dishonest or hypocritical or radical. Being pro-life doesn’t make someone a “radical,” and neither does being pro-choice! We really need to get over this ridiculous demonization of the other side on the abortion issue. Abortion is a very difficult, complicated, and singular issue. Why can’t people, on both sides, acknowledge that obvious fact? Ugh.
If you’re against Mitch Daniels because he’s pro-life, that’s fine. You’ll never, ever vote for a Republican for president if that’s your position. And that’s okay! But don’t pretend he’s a “radical” Republican just because he’s pro-life. You’re dismissing roughly half the country as “radical” if you take that position, just as some folks on the Right dismiss roughly half the country as evil, amoral baby-killers if that’s how they view pro-choicers. I know we all feel strongly about this issue, but that’s no excuse not to respect each other, or recognize that these are very difficult questions that can’t be compressed into reductionist bumper-sticker slogans without cartoonishly mischaracterizing the other side’s stance. [/rant]
P.P.S. Yes, I realize my “P.S.” just swallowed my post, and there’s no way anyone will comment on my original point now. Oh well.