Douthat's First Column: Defining "Real" Conservatism

In his provocative debut column for the New York Times, Ross Douthat contraposits the scenario of Dick Cheney having taken the 2008 presidential nomination from John McCain. (Bob Woodward predicted as much!)  Douthat's idea is that Cheney represents that "diamond-hard distillation" of real conservatism -- the type of conservatism that would have given voters a real choice.  Knowing Douthat, he is not suggesting that voters would have chosen any differently... just that, if Cheney had run, Republicans wouldn't be able to complain about the lack of a "real" choice.  Republicans, Douthat writes, would at least be able to move beyond their excuse phase and into a real re-examination of their essence.

The problem, as I see it, is that while Cheney may represent some parts of the conservative movement more aptly, and while he certainly satisfies the conservative macho archetype, he is, just like John McCain, just as ill-suited to represent the movement itself.  Douthat makes the untenable claim that Cheney's "precisely the sort of conservatism that's ascendant in today's much-reduced Republican Party, from the talk radio dials to the party's grassroots. And a Cheney-for-President campaign would have been an instructive test of its political viability."

Not true. Maybe the conservatism of Rush, who is a Cheney acolyte and friend, and who pretends to be more socially conservative than he really is. But not at all the conservatism of Michael Savage, or the social conservatism of Laura Ingraham or Janet Parshall, or of Sean Hannity.  Nor does Cheney quite fit in with the anti-immigration crowd.

Doubtless, Cheney as candidate would have had fewer problems with the base than McCain, in part because Cheney was associated with Bush and had fewer problems defending the concept of hard power on national security, which, for a while, knit the GOP together in the early part of the Bush presidency. But John McCain's national security credentials were above reproach, too.