Still don’t get “conservative populism”

Well, Ross We CAN’T stop executing people because that’s how we remind ourselves that the criminal justice system is fucked up Douthat has a new NYT column this morn about conservative populism. Oh goody. Douthat:

BY rights, this should be the election when conservative populists, frequently thwarted and co-opted by the Republican Party’s kingmakers, finally succeed in pushing an insurgent candidate to the top of the presidential ticket. Between the zeal of the Tea Party, the unlovability of Mitt Romney and the widespread hatred of all things Washington, there’s never been a better time to run against the Republican establishment and win.


Patently ridiculous. Republicans always run against the establishment, regardless of the situation. Douthat’s last sentence is true, but implies that there’s a time when Republicans won’t run against the establishment. Tom DeLay, incredibly, ran against the establishment as majority whip and leader. He was the establishment, one of the most powerful people on the planet for some years. And yet he still ran against the establishment.

After outlining how all of the prospective candidates have failed to make conservative hearts a flutter, Douthat comes up with this:

This cycle of populist disappointment has probably raised the Republican Party’s odds of taking the White House in 2012, by making a swift coronation for Mitt Romney more and more likely. (So long as a certain New Jersey governor doesn’t lumber into the race, that is.) But it’s a missed opportunity for American conservatism. Republican primary voters deserve a better class of right-wing populist, and the country does as well.


I don’t understand how any of the candidates, current or prospective, can be called populists. The idea of conservative populism confuses me so long as conservative policy refuses to be decoupled from policies that cater almost exclusively to the wealthy. What Palin and Perry do is anti-elitism; it isn’t populism. And yes, in my definition, economic populism is a an integral part of populism as a whole. If you’re selling a bunch of poor folks by raging against limousine liberals, ivory tower professors, union thugs and Hollywood elites and then your economic policy is cutting the highest marginal tax rate to 15%, that’s not populism. That’s bullshit.

The real tell is that throughout Douthat’s column, he never mentions Buddy Roemer, who is a Republican seeking the nomination, and who has talked mostly about income inequality in the media appearances I’ve seen him make. But, as Douthat well knows, any talk of income inequality around national Republicans provokes the LA LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU LA LA LA LA response. That’s the reason that Republicans will get no true populist in the forseeable future. It doesn’t matter whether they get Douthat’s dream faux-populist.


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