Newsweek Plays GOP Adviser: 'Populist, Far Right' Palin Should Run As a Female Pat Buchanan
Republicans should always beware liberal media outlets offering them political advice. In "The GOP's Palin Problem," Newsweek's young Jonathan Darman (the liberal son of the late George H.W. Bush aide Dick Darman), suggests "far right" Sarah Palin could have a future if she focused like Pat Buchanan on the disgruntled white people who don't like foreigners much:
Democrats, having witnessed Palin's wobbly 2008 performance (31 percent of registered voters in the new NEWSWEEK poll say Palin makes them less likely to vote for McCain), will no doubt relish the prospect of Palin lingering on the national stage. They should be careful what they wish for. For all her problems now, Palin has the biography, the ideological sympathies and the charisma to be what the Republican Party lacks: a populist, far-right politician with intense celebrity appeal.
Darman thinks that if Palin runs again for national office in four years, she somehow can run against the first African-American president by being the White People's candidate. She could give Obama a wedgie on the "wedge issues." (And, for the sake of his argument, Darman's not going to explain just how viciously Newsweek and the other liberal media outlets would treat that.) Darman says there's absolutely no way Republicans are going to make inroads among minorities, no matter how much Karl Rove used to fantasize about it:
Those fantasy targets are gone. African-Americans will almost certainly remain solidly Democratic in the Obama era, as will Hispanics given the realities of immigration politics in the GOP. A public fight concerning Roe v. Wade (an Obama first term might see three Supreme Court vacancies) will preclude major GOP gains with affluent coastal moderates. The one remaining target is low-education white voters, Reagan Democrats, the last group to join Obama's coalition, and thus the first group Republicans should try to snatch away.
How would they do that? For several years, conservative intellectuals have argued that, to survive, the party needs to adapt its economic message to address the insecurities of the culturally conservative working class. This populist GOP, they argue, would offer more than just the pro-life, anti-tax party. It would offer a vision of how limited government can promote strong families and grow the middle class. The intelligentsia look at Republican governors such as Louisiana's Bobby Jindal and Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty -- thoughtful conservatives who have a touch with the common man --and see reasons for hope.
But what the intellectuals have not always acknowledged is that there is an easier, if less utopian, way to speak to the anxieties of working America: full-fledged culture war. There are, in fact, wedge issues the Republican Party has yet to fully exploit. Rather than expose the divide between McCain and the base of his party on immigration (the nominee takes a moderate stance; party activists are filled with close-the-border zeal), the Republicans have taken the issue off the table in 2008. But any politician who thinks millions of middle- and working-class white Americans have stopped caring about it is delusional. It is only a matter of time before a candidate with A-list name recognition decides to make it a pet issue.
Why not Palin? Unlike most top-tier Republican candidates, she owes very little to the party's business wing and thus would have little to lose by taking an anti-immigration stand. Since joining McCain's ticket, she has echoed his moderate position on the issue. But she could turn this into a virtue: yet another McCain mistake she had to grin and bear. She could use the issue as a jumping-off point to break the party from business altogether on things like trade, making a protectionist argument from the right. The inexperience that has dogged her this year could help her in the future; without a record of party fealty, she could easily dispose of any party orthodoxy that kept her from marrying pitchfork populism with the ideals of the Christian right.
No telegenic Republican has tried this since Pat Buchanan in the 1990s. No superstar Republican has tried it in history.
It's quite true that McCain's support of amnesty legislation for illegal aliens cost him some credibility with conservative voters. It's possibly true that favoring free-trade agreements doesn't win a lot of votes among the "working class." But Darman obviously ignores that "superstar Republican" Ronald Reagan amassed majorities without consciously posing with a pitchfork for the white people. Now, for a taste of Newsweek's insincerity, let's take a brief peek back at how Newsweek in particular greeted Buchanan in 1992:
"For all of his rock solid principles, Pat Buchanan has a few authenticity problems of his own, starting with the Mercedes in his garage. Of course, portions of his opinionizing have an authentic flavor -- authentically racist and anti-Semitic." -- Newsweek media critic Jonathan Alter, March 2.
"Buchanan CW cynicism: Hey, what's a little racism and anti-Semitism if he drives Bush nuts?" -- Newsweek's "Conventional Wisdom," written by Alter, same issue.
Tsongas: "Rarely mentions the poor."
Bush: "Has paid little attention to urban America."
Buchanan: "Right up there with David Duke on the hate chart."
-- Summary of "Social Policy" positions, Newsweek Voters' Guide (supervised by Alter), March 16 issue.