David Brooks looks at the Republican field and the conservative orthodoxy and discovers something:
The voters are revolting.
To which comes the inevitable Mel Brooks response: “You said it! They stink on ice!”
Ba dum bum.
After reviewing all the candidates — Romney, Giuliani, Huckabee — Mr. Brooks says that the Republican voters are not happy with any of them.
The fact is, this has been a bad year for the conservative establishment. Fred Thompson was supposed to embody the party line, but he has fizzled (despite being a good campaigner the past month). Rudy Giuliani proposes deep tax cuts that do not seem to excite. Mitt Romney ran as the movement candidate in Iowa and New Hampshire and grossly underperformed. Now he’s running as a nonideological business pragmatist for the exurban office parks, and his campaign has possibilities.
The lesson is not that the conservative establishment is headed for the ash heap. The lesson is that the Republican Party, even in its shrunken state, is diverse. Regular Republican voters don’t seem to mind independent thinking. There’s room for moderates as well as orthodox conservatives. Limbaugh, Grover Norquist and James Dobson have influence, but they are not arbiters of conservative doctrine. [Emphasis added.]
That last part’s a little hard to digest, given that Limbaugh, Norquist, and Dobson have pretty much run the GOP since Ronald Reagan left office, and to hear them tell it, they are the last bastion against the gays, the immigrants, and presidential candidates with vaginas, and Mr. Brooks has gone along with them without a whole lot of objection. Only now when he smells the stench of the rotting corpse of the New Conservative Majority does he decide that John McCain is the one.
In his South Carolina victory speech, McCain defined a more inclusive conservatism: “We want government to do its job, not your job; to do it better and to do it with less of your money; to defend our nation’s security wisely and effectively, because the cost of our defense is so dear to us; to respect our values because they are the true source of our strength; to enforce the rule of law that is the first defense of freedom; to keep the promises it makes to us and not make promises it will not keep.”
That sounds a lot like what they used to call “compassionate conservatism.” And it tells you something when the candidate has to go out of his way to reassure the voters that “Hey, we’re not as bad as you think we are.”