Re: Morris and McGann

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Kathryn, it is rare to see the conventional wisdom argued for as poorly as in that Morris/McGann piece. The bit about Huckabee is just nutty. Their claim, recall, is that Huckabee’s failure to get the nomination is evidence that the power of the social issues are waning. They entirely ignore the flameout of the Giuliani candidacy. And they also ignore the compared-to-what? question. You could have made the exact same argument about the failure of Pat Robertson in 1988, Pat Buchanan in 1992 and 1996, Gary Bauer in 2000, and Alan Keyes in too many years to count. The nomination has never gone to the most socially-conservative candidate.

As for social issues not counting in the primaries, let’s look at the results of seriously contested primaries. Many of the pro-life establishment candidates won (McCain, Fiorina, Ayotte); none of the pro-choice establishment candidates did (Castle, Murkowski, and you could even count Crist and Specter depending on when you start the review). In three states establishment pro-life candidates lost (Lowden, Greyson, Norton) but in each case to pro-life insurgents. That none of the tea-party candidates in these races has been pro-choice is a fact so obvious that we don’t even think about it.

But if abortion were a waning issue among Republicans, one would expect a different fact pattern. Pro-choicers would be beating pro-lifers at least in some appreciable number of cases–but they’re not. Being pro-life would have no effect on an establishment candidate’s chances of winning the primary–but it dramatically increases them.

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