Now We Have Palinism Without Palin

In Ed Kilgore’s piece in the new issue of the Washington Monthly, he comes out of the box making a couple of astute points.

In late January a once-dominant figure in Republican politics suddenly began hinting at a presidential run and got a lot of negative feedback. It had to make Mitt Romney feel better.

Yes, 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin pointedly refused to take herself out of the running for 2016. There were few cheers. And in a first, when Palin subsequently gave a scatterbrained and embarrassingly juvenile speech at Representative Steve King’s Iowa Freedom Summit, conservatives were as scornful as liberals.

In part that’s because the ratio between her brief career of statewide public office in Alaska and her subsequent self-promoting isn’t improving. But in part it’s also because she’s proved to be eminently replaceable in Republican politics.

In Palin’s case, I like using the idea of a ratio between what she has actually accomplished politically and the quantity of exposure to her the American public has endured. It’s true, the ratio gets worse every day, and that does help explain why she gets more ludicrous over time. Thinking about Palin this way is a little deeper than just seeing her as a carnival act whose novelty has worn off.

And that’s important because Ed’s second point is that what was novel about Palin hasn’t gone away. It’s gone mainstream in the Republican Party. And no one demonstrates this better than the formerly happy warrior, Mike Huckabee.

It’s easy to forget the old Mike Huckabee from 2008 whose message Frank Rich called, “simply more uplifting—and, in the ethical rather than theological sense, more Christian—than that of rivals, whose main calling cards of fear, torture and nativism have become more strident with every debate. The fresh-faced politics of joy may be trumping the five-o’clock-shadow of Nixonian gloom and paranoia.”

The author of God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy bears little resemblance to the man who scolded Mitt Romney seven years ago for wanting to punish the children of undocumented workers by denying them in-state tuition in the University of Arkansas system.

Here’s Ed:

While nobody has written a full-fledged manifesto for conservative cultural resentment, Mike Huckabee’s new pre-campaign book is a significant step in the direction of full-spectrum cry for the vindication of Real Americans. It is telling that the politician who was widely admired outside the conservative movement during his 2008 run for being genial, modest, quick-witted, and “a conservative who’s not mad about it” has now released a long litany of fury at supposed liberal-elite condescension toward and malevolent designs against the Christian middle class of the Heartland.

In other words, Huckabee has written a book that could just as easily have written (or, more likely, ghostwritten) by Sarah Palin. He’s in on the grift.

The clever conceit of God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy is that Huckabee is explaining to powerful and arrogant elites of “Bubble-ville”—New York, Washington, and Los Angeles—the sturdy folk virtues and beliefs of “Bubba-ville,” by which he means the rest of the country, though it often sounds like just the Deep South as viewed by its older and more conservative white residents. But the book is clearly meant for “Bubbas,” and it is meant to make them very angry.

The old Huckabee is gone, replaced by this bitter and resentful scam-artist. Now the question is, how much “Palinism-without-Palin” will the 2016 presidential field ultimately produce?

It’s a good question. Check out the piece to see Ed’s answer.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.