Adam Graham
December 3, 2007
Mike Huckabee: brought to you courtesy of the GOP establishment
By Adam Graham

The Republican establishment and many pundits have had this race figured out for a long. It's Mitt or Rudy, Rudy or Mitt. That was the way this was supposed to be. Mitt with his deep pockets and connections to Corporate America v. Rudy Giuliani, America's Mayor.

Yet, something funny happened on the way to the coronation, and now the Republicans have to deal with the serious prospect of Mike Huckabee as the Republican Presidential nominee. Some still don't think so, but Huckabee has climbed to third place in the latest national Rasmussen poll and is leading Iowa, while closing in New Hampshire. Should Huckabee win Iowa and finish better than expected in New Hampshire, a win in South Carolina could make him the candidate of the South, and Rudy's firewall in Florida (where Huckabee is currently second) could collapse.

George Will is howling, Club For Growth is in an uproar, and most knowledgeable economic conservatives know that Huckabee's spending and immigration records are unacceptable. Despite that, Huckabee could win the big prize.

And why? A completely out of touch party establishment. The Republican base was agitated and the talk around the GOP was the need to return to the days of Ronald Reagan. In essence, what's been demanded is a Revolution, and neither of the initial big three could deliver.

Rudy Giuliani represents the Rockefeller wing of the GOP, but his big strength was supposedly charisma. Instead, at times he's been combative, mean-spirited, and come off poorly with his backfiring attack on Mitt Romney in the last debate. It's telling that while Rudy leads nationally on the strength of name recognition, in the states that have covered the campaign most thoroughly, he has the lowest percentage of the vote.

Mitt Romney says all the right things, but seems to be an opportunist, who switches positions to benefit himself, and gives many voters the feeling that Honest Mitt should go into the, ahem, pre-owned car business.

John McCain has been politically hapless. Not the dynamo of 2000, but the more aged mix of anger and politically moderate positions that most conservatives can hardly wait to exit the political stage.

Fred Thompson's arrival in the race was fueled by enthusiasm. But Fred Thompson could not compete with the picture painted of him by his supporters. He was supposed to be Ronald Reagan with a southern drawl, a man who even his ex-wife adored. Instead, he has a slow, plodding, deliberate speaking method. His plans on social security and immigration reform were brilliant, but the problem Fred faces is hardly anyone reads action plans. Were the American people a people that read action plans, Fred would be doing far better.

The lackluster candidates and their long dance across the national stage has grown tiresome, giving rise to Huckabee for several reasons:

  1. The Giuliani voters and endorsers, particularly among economic conservatives, sent a clear message to religious conservatives: "Your issues don't matter, but you will vote for the Republican candidate, who else ya gonna vote for?" Many Religious Conservatives have decided to send the same message back.

  2. Huckabee will placate many Economic Conservatives by signing the Americans for Tax Reform Pledge. More importantly, he's the only one of the big six pushing for the Fair Tax. Furthermore, Huckabee critics hurt themselves with one-sided critiques of a plan that's very popular with quite a few conservatives and only help to create publicity for Huckabee's play for these vital voters. The problem, too is that none of the big four have come out pushing hard for either a fair tax or a flat tax. While Fred's voluntary two-bracket flatter tax slightly improves our tax code, it won't inspire folks to jump on board.

  3. Ron Paul has hurt the other candidates. For those of you who want to believe Ron Paul's supporters are all Democrats trying to sabotage the primary, I have bad news, after spending the last few weeks covering the campaign online. Many of these people are Republicans. Few of those who aren't are trying to sabotage the GOP. In 2000, a Black State Representative led a cadre of Democrats to vote in the Michigan GOP Primary, but they didn't send $10 million to help McCain out. There are real Republican voters moving towards Paul, the question is who's losing them.

    The first answer is Giuliani, who was proclaimed by many as "the libertarian candidate" or the candidate for moderates. However, abortion has never been the biggest concern of moderate or libertarian voters, while the war is quite big right now. Fred Thompson has also been hurt somewhat due to his lack of firm commitments to address spending, such as eliminating cabinet departments.

  4. The idiotic front loaded primary process with a seemingly endless campaign requiring insane amounts of fundraising scared away substantive conservatives who could have gained favor from economic and social conservatives such as Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), Governor Mike Sanford (R-SC), and Congressman Mike Pence (R-IN). It also has another consequence. Given the brief, one week interval between Florida's Primary and Super Tuesday, most folks will not have time to analyze all the issues (or rather will not choose to avail themselves of the opportunity.) But, they will size up the personalities. If it comes down to the warm and friendly Country Parson v. nasty Big City Mayor, who do you think wins? What about against the Crusty, Arrogant War Veteran? What about against the opportunist ahem, pre-owned Car Dealer? In all cases, Huckabee wins. The only one he's at risk against is fellow Southerner Fred Thompson. However, only one of the two will emerge from South Carolina as a serious candidate.

  5. Huckabee has an electability argument. Unlike Giuliani, Thompson, and McCain, he's a Governor. And unlike Romney, he proved he could win re-election. Given that the Democrats' likely nominee is going to be a Senator, the odds would bode well for Huckabee. The last time a Senator beat a Governor or Vice-President was 1960, when Kennedy beat then-V.P. Nixon, and the last time a Governor lost to a Senator was 1920. The personality factor weighs in as Hillary Clinton is perhaps the only person who could lose a personality contest to Giuliani. Contrary to the perception of people who think moderates are abortion-loving gay marriage fans, polls show that issues of concern are things like education, health care, etc. which Huck can speak to. While, it's true Huckabee had ethics issues in Arkansas, he looks like a saint compared to Hillary and Rudy. While I wouldn't put it past either politician to throw a rock through a glass door, Huckabee will more likely come off looking better than either opponent.

I'm certainly not rooting for a Huckabee win, as I think it would be disastrous for conservatism and ensconce big government conservatism, nor do I think the trends I've seen are irreversible.

However, I will take solace in one fact should Huckabee emerge as the nominee. We did not lose the soul of the party (as would have happen if Rudy were the nominee), only its brain.

© Adam Graham

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Adam Graham

Adam Graham was Montana State Coordinator for the Alan Keyes campaign in 2000, and in 2004 was a candidate for the Republican nomination for the Idaho State House... (more)

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