Even in This Giant Field, No “Different Kind of Republicans”

Before leaving the topic of the Great Big Republican Presidential Field for the day, I would observe something interesting about it: despite having somewhere between 15 to 18 candidates, and no clear front-runners, which means the smallest niches could vault someone into the top tier or near it, not a single one of them, so far at least, has tried the “different kind of Republican” approach so famously modeled for them by Bill Clinton.

Yes, Rand Paul’s trying to put together (rhetorically, at least) a different kind of coalition that includes Democrats and independents–but it’s not so much by abandoning party orthodoxies as by doubling or even tripling down on “constitutional conservatism” in a way that places him well to the right of most Republicans on issues that might appeal to people to the GOP’s left.

And yes, the Reformicons, and the candidates they advise (basically Rubio and Bush, best as I can tell), are doing a very, very pale imitation of what the New Democrats did back in the early 1990s. But when your big intra-party differentiator is to up the ante on tax cuts by tossing an expanded EITC or child tax credit into the usual stew of upper-income concessions, it’s hard to say you’re “different,” particularly since most actual voters don’t follow the details of tax policy debates.

So for the most part all 15 to 18 candidates are competing to show who is the “true conservative” of the bunch. You’d have to say that the shadow of Huntsman ’12 is pretty big; nobody wants to go there at all, even if the minority of self-identified GOP moderates–and there are even some who self-identify as liberals–is a tempting target for someone trying to get into the mid-single-digits in polls.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.