Prior to last week, when is the last time anyone heard of the “Buckley Rule,” a supposed prescription by William F. Buckley, Jr.? Now it is all the rage for pundits whose man in Delaware lost.
The Buckley Rule now rolls off the tongues, keyboards and pens of the punditry as if it were a law of conservative nature.
Charles Krauthammer describes the Buckley Rule as “a timeless rule of sober politics,” as follows:
“Support the most conservative candidate who is electable.”
Timeless? When is the last time Krauthammer cited the Buckley Rule prior the Delaware primary? Admittedly, I’m not the best at Google searches, but I can’t find it (someone provide a link it you locate one). Even if there is a mention, it hardly has been a guiding “Rule” of politics until recently.
There is no such “Rule.” The text comes from a comment about why Buckley would support Richard Nixon:
“The wisest choice would be the one who would win. No sense running Mona Lisa in a beauty contest. I’d be for the most right, viable candidate who could win. If you could convince me that Barry Goldwater could win, I’d vote for him.”
Why does that comment about a specific election and a specific candidate become a “Rule” applicable to all times and all elections?
Charlie Crist was the most conservative Republican electable until Marco Rubio — written off as a long shot fringe Tea Party-backed candidate — took him out. Should we have buried Rubio early on because Crist appeared at the time to be the more electable candidate?
How everyone in the Republican Party now sings Rubio’s praises. But it was not always that way.
The “Buckley Rule” never was and is not a Rule devoid of time, place and person. If it were, it would be a license for a permanent incumbency and tyranny of the establishment, because by definition those backed by the party apparatus always start out as the most electable.
In fact, Buckley had a great disdain for entrenched, self-perpetuating elites epitomized by the faculty of Harvard:
I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.
Make your case for a particular candidate in a particular race. But don’t invoke some illusory “Rule” just because you don’t like the outcome.