In Republican Party, a Division of Ideology and Age

If Mike Huckabee, left, and Jeb Bush seek the Republican presidential nomination, they will be challenged on positions they took in a different political era. (Credit: Left, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images; Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
If Mike Huckabee, left, and Jeb Bush seek the Republican presidential nomination, they will be challenged on positions they took in a different political era. (Credit: Left, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images; Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Three years before he ran for president in 2008, a newly slim Mike Huckabee peddled a book with a title that doubled as a lecture: “Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork.” Now, as he considers a second White House run, he has written another book with a decidedly different but equally direct title: “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy.”

Mr. Huckabee’s earlier effort delivered a “12-step program to end bad habits and begin a healthy lifestyle,” as the subtitle had it. It is almost unthinkable that an aspiring Republican presidential candidate would do the same today, given conservatives’ strenuous opposition to Michelle Obama’s healthy eating and exercise campaign.

In its own vivid way, Mr. Huckabee’s march from author of a self-help and clean-living guide to cheerleader of artery-clogging calories and conservative traditionalism highlights the Republican shift during the Obama era.

The party is different in tone and substance, moving toward a stricter, limited-government brand of conservatism in response to President Obama’s liberalism, a change that has generational and ideological dimensions.

Now, deviations from orthodoxy on education, health care, immigration and the environment that some Republicans flirted with or embraced during George W. Bush’s presidency are as out of vogue on the right as flip phones.

It is fitting, then, that the first potential Republican candidates to step out prominently in the new year are Mr. Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, and Jeb Bush, a former Florida governor.

On the surface they are as different as Ouachita Baptist University, Mr. Huckabee’s alma mater, and Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., Mr. Bush’s prep school. But they share traits: Each left office in 2007, neither has directly engaged in the party’s fights against Mr. Obama, and if they run, both will be challenged in the primaries on positions they took in a different political era.

The 2016 Republican primaries are shaping up as more complex than formulaic clashes between a center-right, establishment candidate and a handful of hard-line challengers. There are also likely to be fault lines of both age and political sensibility.

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