It’s never been clear to me exactly what niche Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour is seeking to fill in the wide open 2012 GOP presidential race other, that is, than the Deep South veteran lobbyist niche. That’s the sort of profile that makes implausible candidates like Mitt Romney, who must carry his Massachusetts version of ObamaCare around on his shoulders like Atlas shlepping the globe, look somewhat plausible. But Barbour, whose reputation as one of the most competent governors in the country is offset by his corn-pone Confederate drawl and K Street instincts, is apparently experimenting with an approach that certainly runs against type for a Southern conservative: the GOP dove.
According to Politico, while trawling for future caucus support in Iowa on Monday, Barbour called for both cuts in defense spending and a potential bugout in Afghanistan. During a speech to county leaders and activists, Barbour said that Republicans must cut the defense budget to retain their credibility as deficit hawks. He then went on to say that the United States must also scale back its military presence in Afghanistan, not for financial reasons, but because he thinks the goal of wiping out al-Qaeda there isn’t sufficient to justify a “100,000-man Army mission.”
Barbour is right that U.S. troops alone won’t turn Afghanistan into “Ireland or a Western-style democracy.” But he fails to note what would come from that country being handed back to the Taliban and its network of Islamist terrorists, just as he seems oblivious of the other implications of the sort of deep cuts in defense he appears to be advocating.
The Mississippi governor, who has never been accused of being much of an ideologue of the right, is clearly seeking to pander to hardcore Tea Party activists, who may be right about the problem with government deficits but whose idea of foreign policy consists of building a bigger wall along our border with Mexico. The gambit might win Barbour a few more caucus votes, but it is also exactly the sort of cynicism that makes him such an unattractive national spokesman for the GOP, let alone a presidential contender. The Tea Party revolt transformed American politics last year, but the idea that a Republican can win the presidency by masquerading as a skinflint dove is pure science fiction. Barbour’s putative candidacy, like the mighty Mississippi itself, seems to be heading south.