Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Conservatism, Tribal Loyalty, and Mitt Romney

Many Republican activists have said publicly that they could never support John Huntsman for President because of his service as Obama's ambassador to China. As Will Wilkinson points out, this is a great example of a phenomenon that sociologists have found to be general: conservatives care much more than liberals about group loyalty. Conservatives talk a lot more about patriotism than liberals partly because of their emphasis on group loyalty, and they are more likely to judge their leaders on who they are rather than particular policies. Republican activists stuck with George W. Bush despite his free-spending ways because he was one of them; progressive activists don't really care who Obama is, they're just pissed that he hasn't governed farther to the left.

For Erick Erickson, Huntsman has shown disloyalty in two ways, first by accepting appointment from the leader of the other party and then scheming against that leader:
While serving as the United States Ambassador to China, our greatest strategic adversary, Jon Huntsman began plotting to run against the President of the United States. This calls into question his loyalty not just to the President of the United States, but also his loyalty to his country over his own naked ambition. . . .  Loyalty is a primary issue for me and there need be no further evidence that he is disloyal.
Rock-ribbed conservatives I think see it like this: By agreeing to serve as ambassador to China under Barack Obama, Mr Huntsman picked a side, and it wasn't the side of the conservative tribe. And then he flaked on the Obama administration in order to run for president as a Republican. This is how I read Mr Erickson's denunciation of Mr Huntsman: "Are you crazy, Huntsman? You want back in? Now? No. Forget about it. You're dead to us."
And this brings us to Mitt Romney, whose march to the GOP nomination continued in New Hampshire yesterday. Conservative activists oppose him because he is not one of them, full stop. So what if the policies he is advocating now are far to the right, and if his past deviations from conservative purity are no greater than those of Newt Gringrich or W. He is not their guy.

Romney's path to the Presidency is tough and getting harder. He will win the nomination without the support of the party's energized, activist base, and his Republican opponents have tried out and thus legitimized attacks on his record as a predatory capitalist. To disarm conservative opposition in the primary he has taken far right positions on issues from Iran to Medicare that will not help him win moderate voters in the fall. And the economy is improving.

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