Haley Barbour, radical pragmatist?
Haley Barbour and “radical” don’t usually go in the same sentence. After all, Barbour is the former governor of Mississippi and former chairman of the Republican National Committee. If you look up “Republican establishment” in the dictionary, you see a picture of Barbour.
And yet, Barbour has emerged over the last year as a leading voice of moderation within the party on issues ranging from defense to immigration to the debt ceiling — within the party.
“I don’t think that is unorthodox thinking for a Republican,” Barbour told The Fix in an interview. “I think it’s very consistent from at least [Ronald] Reagan forward.”
But these days, most of the GOP’s internal critics are swing-state politicians with their own future ambitions on the line (former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio) or those who have no real future in the GOP (former Utah governor Jon Huntsman). Barbour is the rare party standardbearer speaking out against current party orthodoxy.
On Friday, Barbour chastised Romney for suggesting illegal immigrants “self-deport.”
“I would just have a different policy than what he has espoused,” Barbour said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast. “We need to recognize we are not going to deport 12 million people and ... we shouldn’t.”
Barbour made similar comments back in 2010, saying illegal immigrants had helped Mississippi rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. “[C]ommon sense tells us we’re not gonna take ten or twelve or fourteen million people and put them in jail and deport them,” he told Human Events.
“I think he’s honestly befuddled with how the party has gotten where it is” on immigration, said Ed Rogers, a longtime GOP strategist and close Barbour confidante. “He doesn’t know why we’re not being more honest.”
Immigration isn’t Barbour’s first apostasy against current GOP orthodoxy. During the primary, he repeatedly suggested it was time for the U.S. to consider pulling out of Afghanistan.
“Haley is a wonk, he always has been. I don’t think people realize that,” said Henry Barbour, the former governor’s nephew and a Republican National Commiteeman for the state of Mississippi. “So he has a lot of ideas, and a lot of depth on issues, and he thinks for himself.”
“I thought Romney at one time tried to compete for being the most-conservative candidate” in order to satisfy the tea party, he recently told the Ripon Society. “There was a perception that they wanted the most conservative candidate. I’m not sure that was ever right.”
With the primary over, Romney might agree. After all, he’s refused to say whether he would overturn Obama’s executive order allowing some illegal immigrants to stay in the country.
Barbour, at 64, is not likely to seek another office down the line. That could well free him up to be the ultimate — or at least most high-profile — truth-teller for the party in 2012 and beyond.