There has been increasing talk among Virginia Republicans about “the Buckley Rule,” and how it should impact decision on the nomination for U.S. Senate. There are, however, two problems with the application (usually from Ed Gillespie supporters): the rule isn’t quite what they think it is; and even if it did, Gillespie still wouldn’t qualify.
First of all, the rule itself is repeatedly “both misquoted and misapplied” as Neal Freeman noted in his account of when the rule was first promulgated (National Review). He should know; he was there. Buckley came up with the rule during the 1964 Goldwater-Rockefeller nomination battle. Despite what we may think, Rockefeller had his defenders on the right. He trailed LBJ by less than Goldwater, and his anti-Communism was rock-solid and unquestionable (Goldwater himself noted in his autobiography that before he decided to run himself, he was leaning to Rockefeller). It took months for NR itself to make a decision:
These intramural arguments, as I say, were protracted, begun in the winter and carrying on into the early spring. WFB sat at the head of the table, encouraging others to speak, keeping his own counsel. In early June, after Rockefeller had won the Oregon primary and Goldwater had won California, after all of us had had our say, after rumors had begun to creep out of 35th Street that NR might shift its support to Nelson Rockefeller — the equivalent, today, of word leaking out of 15th Street that the Washington Post might endorse Michele Bachmann — Bill, who rarely proposed, decided that it was time to dispose. With each of us in our assigned seat and with six pairs of eyeballs staring at him unblinkingly, Bill announced that “National Review will support the rightwardmost viable candidate.”
Victory for Team Goldwater! We all knew what “viable” meant in Bill’s lexicon. It meant somebody who saw the world as we did. Somebody who would bring credit to our cause. Somebody who, win or lose, would conservatize the Republican party and the country. It meant somebody like Barry Goldwater.
Indeed, NR did endorse Goldwater. More to the point, one year after this, Buckley himself chose to run for Mayor of New York – despite having no shot at winning – against the Republican establishment’s candidate, John Lindsay….
…in the general election.
So clearly, those who use the Buckley rule as an electability argument have it wrong. However, even if they had it right, Ed Gillespie has a problem that sinks his electability: his support for TARP (a.k.a. the Bank Bailout).
Gillespie supporters will, of course, take issue with this. They will tell you (and me) that the key issue in 2014 isn’t the bank bailout, but the failures of the Obama Administration. As it happens, the critique against the Administration has three planks: government has grown massively large and costly; the economic “recovery” is so sluggish as to be hardly felt; and the president’s dangerous habit of assuming the Affordable Care Act is an American Enabling Act giving him legislative powers to change the law on the fly. The problem is that pro-TARP candidates are unable to use any of these arguments.
If Ed Gillespie tries to criticize the president and Mark Warner for reckless spending and government enlargement, Warner can throw the $700 billion bank bailout back in his face, but Mark Warner cannot accuse Shak Hill of supporting hundreds of billions in spending for America’s biggest banks.
Likewise, any attempt by Gillespie to discuss the economy will be trumped by Warner mentioning the 2008 financial crisis – and then remind everyone that Gillespie agreed the crisis was exceptional because of his support for the bank bailout. Only Shak Hill can remind voters that the bank bailout and hysteria ginned up by Washington to get it enacted made things worse, not better.
Finally, there is the fact that after TARP was enacted, Bush’s Treasury Secretary Henry Paulsen rewrote the law at whim. That he had the authority to do so was bad enough, but Warner can play it simple and demand to know why Bush can change the law at whim but not Obama. Only Shak Hill can address this issue with the hypocrisy charge being thrown back in his face.
In short, Shak Hill can deliver the conservative message in 2014 far batter than Ed Gillespie can. As a result, he is a more “viable” candidate than Ed, and in my opinion, a more electable one, too.
Cross-posted to Virginia Virtucon