Two Views on Haley Barbour

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Over at Forbes is a look at why Mississippi governor Haley Barbour is likely the strongest Republican candidate -- in terms of electability, at least -- two years out from the 2012 election. The last reason stated by Rich Karlgaard sounds the most compelling to me.

He is the only Republican candidate who talks about economic growth as Ronald Reagan would have. When Romney talks about growth, it is in the white-paper language of the Boston private equity swell he used to be. Daniels and Christie have lashed themselves to trimmed budgets, and that’s mostly what they talk about, especially Christie. Fine as it goes -- essential, even – but we don’t hear enough growth talk from either Daniels or Christie.
While the Obama Presidency has been a gift to many non-left critics of Bush, for making so many issues so clear (See the rise of the Tea Party movement.), it may come with a downside: In the 2012 election, anyone who can convincingly sound like he is pro-growth and pro-defense (like Ronald Reagan), regardless of whether his political philosophy really is what is best for America (again, like Ronald Reagan), has a decent shot at being nominated by the GOP and, if so, a good one of defeating Barack Obama.

Haley Barbour is a skilled politician with a common touch that can play well in the "red states." His manner will charm many in those states, while easily enraging knee-jerk leftists, who will (and already are) taking the bait.
If you Google "Haley Barbour" today, though, [March 15, 2011 --ed] the top item is not his thoughts on the economy or his achievements in Mississippi, which he touted, but ... you guessed it:

"Barbour aide loses job over earthquake jokes." This, followed by his previous negative press report: "Barbour's Account Of Civil Rights Era In Mississippi ..." that, shall we say, was a bit more flattering about the white Citizens Council than history would portray (and Barbour was quick to clarify in renouncing).
Barbour will, to an even greater extent than George W. Bush ever was, be "misunderestimated," as the former President used to put it. That is, while there are plenty of legitimate reasons to oppose Barbour, he will be attacked as an ignorant, racist hick instead. (Of course, if Barbour is a racist, he deserves no support and should be attacked for it. That said, as far as I know, he definitely has a tin ear about race, but is not actually a racist.)

Yes, a Barbour misstep could help such an attack along, sinking his candidacy, but this line of attack might backfire, too -- by making him able to portray his opponents as unserious, and possibly even giving him the opportunity to make them look ridiculous. In addition, this could set the bar so low in the blue states that many voters there will be relieved when they see that he's really, "not that bad."

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, definitely succumbs to the temptation of "misunderestimating" Barbour. (And he shows a blue-state-ish tone deafness for national politics when he paints conservative voters in the south and midwest with the same tar-laden brush he uses on Barbour.) Nevertheless, Marshall does bring up a serious possible weakness that may well bother conservative voters: his long history as a lobbyist.

That last, as well as the related matter of any meddling with the private economy he has done as governor of Mississippi, is, I submit, the vein to mine regarding Barbour. I do not know enough about Barbour's political philosophy to state definitively my opinion of him, but my initial impression is that he is a run-of-the-mill, pragmatic (i.e., unprincipled) big-government conservative. Whether that impression is correct is the key to deciding whether to support him at all (and, if so, under what circumstances, and with what caveats), or oppose him (and, if so, how best to do so).

-- CAV

PS: Upon re-reading this, I am less persuaded by the Karlgaard piece. The Tea Party, if it strongly-enough demands a promise to move towards limited government, could well be a factor in making Barbour less viable than he might otherwise be. Certainly, it forms a ready audience for anyone who finds that Barbour is not the kind of pro-freedom candidate America needs.


Kyle Haight said...

I'm disinclined to support Barbour for one simple reason: he's a long-standing GOP insider. He's not at odds with standard Republicanism, and we know from experience where standard Republicanism gets us: nowhere. Could I be persuaded otherwise? Perhaps, but it'd be an uphill battle.

Gus Van Horn said...

That's a good, succinct way of putting the problem. I'm with you all the way.