Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
February 7, 2007
POLITICS: Mike Huckabee - The Right Man For The Wrong Job
There's nothing wrong, this early on, with having a large field of presidential candidates, even if (like me) you have largely lined up behind one of them. We still have many months ahead to test the candidates' mettle on the trail, vet their records and have a debate about issues, priorities and platforms.
But there is one man in the GOP field who should not be running: former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. There are three basic reasons why: (1) Huckabee is the wrong man to lead the national GOP, (2) Huckabee's presence in the race serves no useful purpose, and, perhaps most importantly, (3) Huckabee is needed elsewhere, in Arkansas, to run for the United States Senate.
1. Huckabee Is The Wrong Man To Nominate For President
The more I read about Huckabee, the more obvious it becomes that (a) Huckabee isn't all that conservative, especially on fiscal issues, and (b) Huckabee has his priorities wrong.
Governor Huckabee has spent much of his nascent presidential campaign on the defensive on fiscal issues, in particular - tax cuts remain the single most unifying issue of importance to the GOP and its brand identification with the public, but Huckabee almost certainly has the worst record on taxes of anybody in the Republican field. He has refused to take the Americans for Tax Reform pledge against tax hikes. The Club for Growth has issued a five-page white paper examining Huckabee's record, with significant criticism of him on economic issues, especially taxes. I encourage you strongly to read the whole thing - here are some of the lowlights:
On the Minimum Wage:
On School Choice:
He also supported President Bush's Medicare prescription drug entitlement.
As the Club for Growth notes, Huckabee's record isn't all bad, by any means - he cut property and capital gains taxes, and supports free trade and charter schools, tort reform and Social Security reform. And he does offer defenses to criticisms of his tax hikes, arguing that a tax to build new roads was needed and approved by the voters and that in some cases his hands were tied on tax and spending issues by court-ordered mandates. Still, the overall picture is far from reassuring on an array of issues of vital importance to the GOP's identity as the party of low taxes and of at least some resistance to runaway spending.
Secondly, I think I would create a system where people who wanted to further their education could offer volunteer services as young people either in the military like they have with the GI Bill -- or in some other form of volunteerism, because there really is a sense of which a lot of Americans do not appreciate their freedom. They do not really recognize just how good they've got it. This would give them an opportunity to give something back in exchange so that they wouldn't have to go to college and incur a huge level of debt in order to further their education. The reason that education is important is because without higher levels of education than a high school diploma, they're not going to be able to be competitive enough in the marketplace.
A third thing...I think I'd also pass legislation that would insure that the federal government had to live within its budget, a balanced budget amendment and that it could not balance its budget by simply passing costs on to states or local governments.
Lemme see: encouraging health and fitness; national service; and a balanced budget. If I had to pick two words to describe a platform for the federal government built around these three ideas, it would be "New Democrat." More recently, he was asked the same question in an interview with Liz Mair:
Mike Huckabee: I think the first thing is restoring a spirit of optimism to our party and to the American people. The second thing is to reignite interest in a lot of the domestic issues that really are the bread and butter issues that affect the way people live every single day of their lives. The third is trying to really put forth some common sense ideas on how do we build a safe America with not just secure borders, but [one that's] safe around the world, but do it in a way where it's not all about one side winning against another party, where it's about finding an American solution rather than just a Republican solution. Something where we can absolutely say this is America's agenda to protect ourselves, it's not the Republican agenda. We've got to quit saying Democrats don't care about our security and quit pushing them to have to retort with the same level of rhetoric. We have to start saying "what ideas can we borrow from you, which can you take from us?" The goal has to be not you're going to lose, we're going to win, but ultimately, if my future grandchildren are safer, that's what I need to think about. And that's who's going to win.
Well, that's less substantive, but the rest of the interview goes on to discuss the health theme again ("If we don't take steps to not be sick, we'll be bankrupt in a generation--we'll never make it. So it's changing to a culture of health") and education, stressing music and arts education - hardly the sort of micro-focused issues that should be absorbing the attention of the federal government. We continue to see Gov. Huckabee's nanny-state tendencies at work, something that's been apparent since he lost over 100 pounds and became something of an apostle of physical fitness.
I realize I'm cherry-picking a couple of blog interviews, but there's a pattern to Huckabee's public statements, and it's not one that stresses conservative ideas and in particular conservative priorities. After all, conservatives and Republicans generally may have a lot of internal disagreements, but it's the ability to agree on a common set of priorities that holds us together as a political coalition.
Let's look at an interview with the National Journal for another sample of Huckabee's thinking:
"If I were to say that some of it is driven by just sheer racism, I think I would be telling you the truth. I've had conversations with people that and it became very evident that what they really didn't like was that people didn't look like them, didn't talk like them, didn't celebrate . . . holidays like they do, and they just had a problem with it. Now, that is not to say that everyone who is really fired out about immigration is racist. They're not."
2. Asked directly if he believes humans caused global warming, Huckabee says that while he is "not a scientist," he thinks "we ought to act as if that is the case. There is never a downside when it comes to conserving national resources."
3. "I think every American should have a visceral reaction," he said of the USA Today story on phone monitoring. "If we don't have a visceral reaction, I'd be worried about that. Now, I might come to a conclusion that I'm willing to let you troll through my phone records if you think you're going to find Mohammed Atta. But I want to make darn sure that you're going to do that." Government, he said, should be "very careful [about] getting into the private lives of American citizens."
Again, not all of these views are necessarily objectionable - although the view that there is "never a downside" to restricting economic activity on environmental grounds is alarming - but I'm not hearing a guy who has much idea how to govern as a conservative and avoid giving your enemies the kind of soundbites they love to use to hammer the GOP with. Add to that the fact that Huckabee has zero record or national profile on foreign policy issues and is running in wartime (the foreign affairs section of his exploratory committee website isn't exactly brimming with his views on terrorism, Iraq, or any other security threats to the U.S.), and you have to wonder why anybody would consider him a serious candidate.
2. Huckabee's Presence In The Race Is Redundant
You can argue, if you like, that even if Huckabee is a neophyte on foreign affairs and a squish on fiscal policy and small-government issues, he is still needed in the presidential race to carry the banner for social conservatives generally and pro-lifers in particular. "Issue" candidates serve an important role, too, after all. But that ignores Sam Brownback. Brownback is an experienced U.S. Senator (more than a decade in the Senate) with a relatively safe seat, he's better-known than Huckabee, and he's a relentless battler for the pro-life cause and for socially conservative causes generally. If there's anybody in today's GOP well-suited to hold the leading candidates' feet to the fire in debates, it's Sam Brownback. As long as he is in the race, Huckabee is superfluous.
3. Huckabee's Party Needs Him In The Senate
Arkansas is definitely a winnable red state, having voted (albeit not by overwhelming margins) for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. Republicans should be able to compete in the state. And Mike Huckabee has done just that, winning election as Arkansas' lieutenant governor in 1993 and two terms as Arkansas' governor, in 1998 and 2002; he recently left office after a decade as the state's governor. In his last election he drew 53% of the vote. He remains reasonably popular; an October 2006 poll, conducted during a low ebb of GOP popularity nationally, showed his approval/disapproval rating with Arkansas voters at a healthy 55-32.
Yet despite the favorable climate that socially conservative Arkansas presents for Republicans, the state's long Democratic roots are still hard to dislodge, and as a result Arkansas sends two Democrats to the Senate, Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln. Unfortunately, Republicans have screwed up recent Senate races against these two, including a disastrous 2002 campaign that put Pryor (son of former Senator David Pryor) in the Senate in a Republican year amidst controversy over the extramarital affair and divorce of incumbent Tim Hutchinson. Pryor drew a slightly higher percentage of the vote than Huckabee in 2002, and the Arkansas poll gives him a 50/21 approval/disapproval rating. In other words, Pryor will not be an easy guy to take down, but he can be taken (especially now that the Democrats control the Senate and can't evade responsibility), and Huckabee is almost certainly the only candidate who makes this an even race from the get-go. In a state like Arkansas, however, he's going to need to stay home and work retail to steal a march on Pryor while the latter is in Washington; spending the next year in Iowa and New Hampshire isn't likely to help.
Would Huckabee be a good Senator? Well, for all the reasons set out above, he wouldn't be a great one, by conservative standards. But he'd be an improvement over having a Democrat hold the seat, and would probably be no more irritating than other periodic apostate GOP Senators like Norm Coleman. And in a Senate divided by one seat, he could swing the partisan balance back - a significant reason to run - and could make a real difference on judges, where social conservatives need help the most.
Give up the long-shot presidential bid, Governor Huckabee. Your party needs you in the Senate.