Michael Gerson, Mainstream Republican?

Michael Gerson, an important intellectual force within the administration of Bush the Younger, from whose wreckage the GOP is still trying to emerge, now is inveighing that Rand Paul “can never be a mainstream Republican.”

The claim is peculiar because Gerson himself, the purveyor of an unapologetically big-government, “heroic” conservatism, was hardly a mainstream Republican until George W. Bush altered what “mainstream Republican” meant. Certainly, anyone who called skeptics of federal power “morally empty” would not have been identified as a mainstream Republican until Bush (and Gerson) transformed the party.

But in case you need a few other reasons to question Gerson’s conservative bona fides:

One wonders whether Edmund Burke, John Lukacs, or William F. Buckley would have judged these as the marks of a conservative.

Gerson’s takes as a jumping-off point for his latest dig against libertarianism some of the genuinely offensive and wrong things that Paul adviser Jack Hunter had written about the Civil War, race, and the Confederacy. But one gets the sense that though Gerson’s appreciation for Lincoln and a powerful federal government are heartfelt, he didn’t need to see Hunter’s C.V. to dislike Paul—and to use Hunter as a way to slam libertarianism.

In the end, though, Gerson’s argument that Paul “can never” be a mainstream Republican is belied by the fact, highlighted by Gerson’s very article, that the mainstream of the GOP is moving, slowly, in Paul’s direction. As Gerson’s first sentence observes, Paul is 2013’s “Republican flavor of the year.”

Paul and the GOP have at least three choices: a recapitulated Southern strategy, Gerson’s militarist Christian Democracy, or a libertarian-conservatism that can appeal to 21st century America. As Gerson should know by now, much like the course of a war, the future of a political party is hard to predict in advance.