Farewell to Haley Barbour, Voice of Compromise

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 26 2011 12:31 PM

Farewell to Haley Barbour, Voice of Compromise

Jeff Zeleny makes a smart point here.

With Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi out of the 2012 presidential race , Republican leaders in Congress are losing a key supporter as they head into the fights over the next budget and raising the national debt ceiling.

When President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio reached a compromise that averted a government shutdown this month , the $38 billion deal was criticized by some Republicans and members of the Tea Party movement for being too timid. It was Mr. Barbour who stepped forward and urged patience, calling the agreement "a single in the first inning on deficit reduction."

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One reason Barbour occasionally got into trouble on frivolous race questions was that he has/had a congenital distaste for intra-party squabbling. When Gov. Bob McDonnell, R-Va., signed a proclamation on the Civil War that did not mention slavery, Barbour said it wouldn't "matter for diddly." This was not a defense of Civil War revisionism. It was an honest -- and correct! -- assessment that the scandal was beltway nonsense that would blow over. And it blew over.

Barbour was basically a non-factor in national polls, but the media took him seriously and saw a path to viability in 2012. When he defended a compromise in the House, or -- just as importantly -- criticized the war in Afghanistan, this was seen as the smart take of someone who understood every element of Republican politics. It shifted the debate, and it was occasionally the only factor shifting it away from pure right-wing populism.

This, by the way, is another reason you're seeing the pundit class pine for a Mitch Daniels candidacy. He can play this game, too.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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