Like Ed Kilgore, I couldn't help but notice this colorful detail from a New York Times story today by Jonathan Martin about how the seemingly different Mike Huckabee and Jeb Bush share a challenge in that both have been out of elected office for most of the last decade while the Republican party has sprinted to the right:
Three years before he ran for president in 2008, a newly slim Mike Huckabee peddled a book with a title that doubled as a lecture: "Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork." Now, as he considers a second White House run, he has written another book with a decidedly different but equally direct title: "God, Guns, Grits and Gravy."
Mr. Huckabee's earlier effort delivered a "12-step program to end bad habits and begin a healthy lifestyle," as the subtitle had it. It is almost unthinkable that an aspiring Republican presidential candidate would do the same today, given conservatives' strenuous opposition to Michelle Obama's healthy eating and exercise campaign.
In its own vivid way, Mr. Huckabee’s march from author of a self-help and clean-living guide to cheerleader of artery-clogging calories and conservative traditionalism highlights the Republican shift during the Obama era.
I doubt that Huckabee's recent return to corpulence was a deliberate strategy meant to capture the Republican zeitgeist. But is it really true that conservative loathing of anything contaminated by contact with Barack Obama is so encompassing that it includes not only policies like cap and trade or an individual health insurance mandate that they used to embrace before Obama got a hold of them, but even something as seemingly unassailable as exercise?
I guess the answer that Martin is implying is, sort of. It's perfectly fine for a Republican to eat healthy foods and stay in shape, so long as they keep those habits on the down low. But what they can no longer do is advocate that to others as a wise choice to make. Once the message "eat right and exercise" became associated with Michelle Obama, it became toxic to conservatives.
But there's one Republican whose opinion I'd be interested to hear on this topic. Here's a little trip back in time to 2002. The subject was the forced regulations of Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and National Economic Council director Larry Lindsey; Lindsey had angered President George W. Bush by saying publicly that the Iraq war could cost as much as $200 billion, a number that turned out to be too small by a factor of 10, but within the administration was regarded as absurdly high, since the war was going to be a piece of cake. Here's the interesting detail we learned at the time:
Lindsey, a former Federal Reserve governor, was at loggerheads with O'Neill as the administration devised a package of tax cuts that is to be a centerpiece of Bush's legislative agenda next year. Bush blamed Lindsey for many of the administration's economic missteps in recent months and even complained privately about his failure to exercise, aides said.
That's right: George W. Bush never liked Larry Lindsey because Lindsey was fat, and to Bush, who exercised every day, that showed a weakness of character. Just one more way in which Bush was never a real conservative, I guess.
Even if you were to accept that as a general matter liberals hate conservatives just as much as conservatives hate liberals, I think even conservatives would have to admit that folks on their side put more time and thought into doing things that they hope will irritate their political opponents. It comes in forms that are positively deranged—people outfitting their cars to emit as much toxic smoke as possible—and more benign, like the wave of GOP politicians posting pictures of themselves eating Chick-fil-A because they thought liberals would be aghast.
But liberals are seldom as horrified at that sort of thing as conservatives hope. They might mock it, but that doesn't mean they're actually enraged. I think I speak for most liberals when I say that if conservatives want to stop exercising because they think staying in shape would make Michelle Obama happy, they should go right ahead. Mike Huckabee can bathe in gravy if he likes. Chris Christie can tell himself that every stromboli he inhales is an arrow fired at the enemies of freedom.
Though it does appear that a couple of the potential GOP candidates are looking disturbingly trim. If Rand Paul or Marco Rubio want to be competitive in 2016, maybe they should spend some time bulking up at the Iowa State Fair. Too bad the deep-fried butter on a stick is gone.