In the 1950s, the conservative movement was an intellectual backwater for various eccentric ex-communists and antistatists of both the libertarian and cranky reactionary stripes.
By the early ’60s, it had become a muscular, if still nascent, popular force. Tired of the Republican Party’s acceptance of the post-New Deal status quo, it felt bold enough to entice firebrand Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater into a race against President Kennedy, and subsequently President Johnson.
Goldwater was trounced, but the “Draft Goldwater” movement became legendary: the reluctant idealist, pressed into service. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP candidates.]
The plan afoot to “draft” another Reluctant One—Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels—is strikingly similar, with this critical difference: The Establishment and the Movement have switched places.
In 1964, true-blue conservatives wanted a legitimate alternative—“a choice, not an echo”—to milquetoast Rockefeller Republicans.
Today, that establishment has become a rump within the GOP. True, it is more conservative than it was in 1964, but it fears the Michele Bachmanns and Sarah Palins of the world as acutely as Jacob K. Javitz feared Goldwater.
Behind the Draft Daniels movement are social moderates like New York Times columnist David Brooks, who praised Daniels as a “normal person” who could “restrain debt while still helping government efficiently perform its duties.” [Vote now: Who is your pick for the 2012 GOP nomination?]
It’s hard not to assume that George Will, the cautious Burkean and religious agnostic, is behind the scenes of the Draft Daniels movement, too. He penned a column with positive things to say about Bachmann’s role as irritant for liberals and mainstream media types—but, when it gets down to it, Will cited only Daniels and Gov. Tim Pawlenty as “serious contenders.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a solid conservative but also a Northeastern realist and a key Palin doubter, publicly (and diplomatically) signaled his enthusiasm for a Daniels candidacy.
“He’s certainly somebody who I have enormous respect for and would give real consideration to supporting,” Christie recently told a Philadelphia radio station. [See a slide show of GOP 2012 contenders.]
What we clearly have is a group of self-styled Sane Republicans trying to persuade Daniels to, as they see it, save the party from snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in 2012 by nominating unelectable base-pleasers like Palin or Bachmann.
Newt Gingrich is a curiosity here, since he views himself as a base-pleaser, but, along with ex-governors Jon Hunstman and Mitt “Multiple Choice” Romney, isn’t trusted by the base.
The interesting thing about 2012 is that the Establishment may get its wish simply through a process of attrition: While Daniels does the Hamlet to-run-or-not-to-run thing, his potential rivals—Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, Haley Barbour—are dropping like flies.
Come on, Palin and/or Bachmann.
Make this thing interesting, will ya?!