Conservatives love him, yet the Republican establishment can’t seem to stand the guy. And liberal bloggers are strangely drawn to the evangelical politician from Arkansas.
The Huckabee Phenomenon
Of all the motley crew that ran in the 2008 Republican primaries, only two candidates stood out. The first, John McCain, went on to become the eventual nominee.
The second was Mike Huckabee. A former governor with little name recognition and practically no money, Mr. Huckabee rose from a third-tier candidate to the winner of the Iowa caucuses and thereafter consistently overperformed expectations. Days after Senator John McCain dominated Super Tuesday to emerge as the consensus nominee, Mr. Huckabee won both Kansas and Louisiana. The media barely noticed.
Mike Huckabee was also the most telegenic of all the candidates in 2008. Barack Obama can give a far better speech, Hillary Clinton can debate with more skill – but there is nothing in cable news like a pundit caught between Mike Huckabee and the camera. The man is warm, self-deprecating, and extremely funny. I remember his multiple appearances in front of Stephen Colbert, perhaps the most skilled media personality at skewering conservatives. Mr. Colbert did everything he could to make Huckabee say something stupid; the candidate dodged Colbert’s traps with ease.
Yet for some reason the Republican establishment simply despises Mike Huckabee. The reason Mr. Huckabee never gained viability in 2008 was because the right-wing machine refused to provide him the money, endorsements, and – most importantly – scent of legitimacy he needed. Even today conservative bloggers blast Huckabee as a fake, a secret liberal pretending to be conservative.
This is strange. On social issues Huckabee is as conservative as they come, a former evangelical preacher who even believes in intelligent design. On economic issues he can sound quite populist; this probably loses him the support of the Republican business community. Yet his actual stands are quite right-wing; for instance, he advocates replacing income taxes with a national sales tax (a terrible idea). As governor of Arkansas, Mr. Huckabee successfully fought the teacher’s unions – a favorite target of conservatives.
Interestingly, the opposite holds true for a number of liberal bloggers. While in many regards Huckabee constitutes a male version of Sarah Palin, there does not seem to be much dislike towards the guy. Markos Moulitsas, founder of DailyKos, went to far as to nominate Huckabee for RNC chairman.
While I’m not keen to offer the GOP advice, here’s who I think (in a genuine, non-concern-troll way) would be their best candidate: Mike Huckabee. He is exactly the GOP’s version of Howard Dean — a popular governor of a small state, with a huge, energized following who briefly led his party’s nomination contest before being kneecapped by his party’s establishment. Like Dean, Huckabee isn’t an insider, isn’t one of them, and as such, isn’t bound by their outdated and obsolete conventions. Like Dean, Huckabee offers a different direction from his party. Dean wanted muscular, unapologetic progressivism. Huckabee wants a more compassionate version of conservatism — not fake “compassion” like Bush’s, but the real stuff. “Big government conservatism”, as his fiercest detractors charge.
And shit, you see Huckabee speak, and you don’t think “he’s fucking crazy”. You ever see him on the Daily Show? The guy is good. Real good. (I’ve worried about this guy for years for those very reasons.)
Not just liberal bloggers like Mr. Huckabee; in the primaries (and previous elections) he drew a surprising amount of black support, second (in percentage terms) only to President Barack Obama. Mr. Huckabee’s recent Willie Hortonesque scandal might even help him with blacks. Whether this support would hold in a general election is unknown (definitely it wouldn’t against Mr. Obama), but it certainly provides an intriguing avenue to explore.
If one were to imagine the winner of the 2016 presidential election, one could easily see Mike Huckabee. The man is talented, charismatic, and extremely good at articulating even the most extreme positions. He is very dangerous for Democrats. I would not vote for him, but many Americans would: in polls against the president, it is Huckabee who performs the best. Why the conservative establishment refuses to support a man of Huckabee’s talents remains an enduring mystery.