Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Haley Barbour says something conservatively incorrect:

America should slash defense spending -- and consider shrinking its presence in Afghanistan, Haley Barbour said Monday night.

Barbour, a likely candidate for president in 2012, told Iowa county leaders and activists here that the GOP won't have any credibility on cutting spending if they're not willing to trim the defense budget -- often considered sacrosanct for Republicans.

... He also said that the U.S. should consider reducing the number of troops in Afghanistan. "I think we need to look at that," he said when asked if the U.S. should scale back its presence....

"What is our mission?" Barbour said. "How many Al Qaeda are in Afghanistan. ... Is that a 100,000-man Army mission?" ...

'Bye, Haley. Thanks for playing.

Look, I know Ron Paul gets away with this stuff, but his appeal within the Republican Party is limited to Paulbots; if he doesn't run this time around, someone like Gary Johnson will probably carry the Paulbot banner and peel off that limited number of voters. The rest of the party believes, as part of its core identity, that it is the party of muscularity, and of zero doubt about who the good people and evil people are in the world. Add that to the fact that Republicans believe Obama is The Other -- a rootless cosmopolitan relativist at least, an actual Muslim who sympathizes with jihadism and sharia at worst -- and you see how far out on a limb Barbour has gone.

This far:

Barbour's leading Republican rivals have positioned themselves to President Obama's hawkish right on a range of foreign policy issues. They've also resisted calls from some associated with the Tea Party movement for deep cuts to federal spending that would include defense cuts. In fact, two of the candidates -- Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich -- have in the past backed the Heritage Foundation's "4 percent for Freedom" initiative, which would actually raise baseline defense spending.

If you're seen as less muscular than Mitt freaking Romney, you're in trouble in the GOP primaries.

Joe Klein writes:

...this is Haley Barbour, folks--and we know two things about him: he's not the world's boldest policy thinker and he's probably the smartest political strategist in the field. When Barbour decides that Afghanistan is a loser, you can bet that more than a few Republicans are heading that way--and that means interesting times for the trigger-happy neoconservatives who have dominated Republican foreign policy thinking in recent years. It also means that the foreign policy debate in the Republican primaries may be a real eye-opener.

Nonsense. What evidence do we have that Barbour is "probably the smartest political strategist in the field"? As a candidate, he's won a grand total of one political office in his entire life. A rich white Republican getting himself elected governor of Mississippi -- wow, that must have taken some doing, hunh? Yes, he was RNC chair when his party ran the table in a midterm election, but you could also say the same thing about Michael Steele.

As long as Republicans' self-image is "Democrats are smelly hippies who want to hold hands with evildoers and sing 'Kumbaya,' and we're not," rethinking war and Pentagon spending will be an unacceptable minority view in the party. Barbour blew it.


Klein's post reminds me of Thomas Edsall's declaration, back in 2007, that surely John McCain would make the shrewd move and renounce Bush and the Iraq War in order to win the GOP nomination and the 2008 general election. The inability of political insiders to understand just how much of a stranglehold crazy people and crude passions have on the Republican Party never ceases to amaze me.

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