Who Owns the GOP?

David Brooks and Dean Barnett both tackle Huckabee's gradual rise today, and both see a lot of promise: Brooks writes that whereas "each of the top-tier candidates makes certain parts of the party uncomfortable ... Huckabee is the one candidate acceptable to all factions," while Barnett acknowledges that the Huck's "taxing and spending in Arkansas may not be every conservative's ideal," but suggests that he "probably has fewer policy skeletons in his closet than anyone else in the field."

I dunno - as Matt says, taxing and spending are a pretty big deal in the GOP, and it's clear that Huckabee wouldn't be acceptable to this particular faction, at the very least. Throw in his wetness on immigration and his various rhetorical forays toward a "conservatism of the heart" on trade and inequality and so forth, and you have a candidate with as many deviations from GOP orthodoxy as John McCain and Fred Thompson, certainly, if not Giuliani and Romney (both of whom have enough skeletons to fill the whole house).

Which is why the current Republican race is so interesting - it's a laboratory, in a sense, for determining which interest groups really have clout in the GOP primaries, and which issues really excite the faithful. If Rudy Giuliani wins the nomination, it will tell us a lot about the real influence (or lack thereof) of folks like James Dobson; if John McCain gets the nod, we'll know that immigration and (to a lesser extent) campaign-finance reform are more important to activists than to actual voters; if Huckabee becomes a significent spoiler (or, though it's much more unlikely, an actual contender) then we'll know the Club for Growth doesn't have quite as much clout as most people, left and right, assume to be the case. And if Fred Thompson or Mitt Romney wins, it will reinforce the notion that all of the various issues and interest groups jostling in the GOP tent really are a package deal, and that the best way to take the nomination, now and forever, is to make sure you've checked all your boxes, even if it means flip-flopping like crazy.