Who's Afraid of Ron Paul?

"There's something weird going on," Jonah Goldberg writes, "when [Ron] Paul, the small-government constitutionalist, is considered the extremist in the Republican Party while [Mike] Huckabee, the statist, is the lovable underdog. It's even weirder because it's probably true: Huckabee is much closer to the mainstream. And that's what scares me about Huckabee and the mainstream alike."

I take Jonah's point, but I feel like there's a pretty big piece missing from the story he tells. It's true that Huckabee has risen in the polls by tapping into concerns that are probably more "mainstream" among GOP voters (and certainly among the electorate as a whole) than Ron Paul's angst about the decline of the American Republic. As NR's own (anti-Huckabee) editorial on his campaign noted, the former Arkansas governor "more than the other Republican candidates, understands that even in a time of economic growth Americans are worried about their health care, their wages, and their country’s future." But the reason the Huck isn't being vilified by conservatives the way Paul has been isn't because the GOP as a whole is suddenly going populist and statist; if anything, Huckabee's campaign has capitalized on the reverse phenomenon, the cautious small-government orthodoxy that the front-runners have adopted to cover over their heresies on other fronts. No, the reason Paul has been treated differently than Huckabee by the right-wing media is very, very simple, and it has nothing to do with size-of-government issues: Paul opposes the Iraq War (and war with Iran, waterboarding, and all the rest of what's increasingly defined as the right-wing foreign policy package) and Huckabee doesn't. Full stop, end of story.

Now I know that Paul is a less-than-ideal standard bearer for the "conservatives against the Iraq War" cause; for pragmatic reasons alone, I would prefer to have a realist candidate in the field making a Dick Cheney circa 1994 case that the invasion was a mistake, rather than someone so easily dismissed by his opponents as an oddball and a crank. But even allowing all that, I'd like to see Jonah - who's called the Iraq War a mistake (albeit a worthy one) himself on some occasions - take more seriously the possibility that the current right-wing foreign-policy lockstep, and the anti-Ron Paul hatefest it's summoned up, might be a more serious problem for conservatism going forward than the (very modest) love being shown to a compassionate conservative like Mike Huckabee.