Huckabee Takes His Bow

Mike Huckabee is making a gracious exit from the Republican race as John McCain now has enough delegates to official be the Republican nominee for 2008.

He ran an honorable campaign—perhaps too long of one, but he has the good sense to bow out with a sense of real class. He ran a race he can be proud of, and had some impressive achievements along the way.

I don’t agree with Huckabee’s politics, but he does represent the Christian evangelical conservative movement in a much more accessible way than past leaders. I would like him remain a leader with evangelicals, and I hope he advises the McCain campaign on ways of speaking to middle class Americans.

Why Is Huckabee Still Running?

John McCain managed a rout against Mike Huckabee in Virginia, breaking 50% in a red state (with diminished turnout, since most Republicans realize that McCain has a lock on the nomination). While Huckabee’s getting some token protest votes, I honesty don’t understand what Huckabee is doing by the staying in the race. He can’t win, and I have trouble buying the argument that he’s delusional enough to think he can. By running against McCain he squanders the ability to be selected as Vice President. The longer he stays in, the more he seems to marginalize himself.

One the other hand, there is some sense to what Huckabee is doing—by painting himself as an alternative to McCain he can claim to represent the voice of dispossessed evangelicals. But that seems to be a claim without much merit—Huckabee is winning in contests that don’t much matter, and winning by small margins in contests with low turnouts doesn’t say much about Huckabee personally.

Huckabee seems to be burning bridges at this stage. His stubbornness in staying in the race reflects more poorly on him than a magnanimous departure—even one without an endorsement of McCain. Romney’s bowing out was tactically wise and preserves his standing as a potential future candidate. Huckabee’s insistence on running hurts his future chances, which were slim to begin with.

Ultimately, Huckabee’s proven that he’s a liability to the GOP rather than an asset. He could have been a powerful voice for the evangelical community, but the more contests he loses to McCain the more it sends the signal that McCain can win without evangelical votes. If evangelicals throw the race to the Democrats it won’t make them a stronger voice within the party, but inspire a massive backlash that hurts the interests of both evangelical voters and Republicans. Running an opposition candidacy is not a smart way of ingratiating oneself to the party that best fits your political perspective. Huckabee’s Quixotic run is long past its expiration date, and each day he draws things out the more he ends up hurting himself.

UPDATE: So far, Maryland looks like another McCain rout—the margin is above double digits. Huckabee has done well in the South, but that’s all he’s been able to manage. His campaign seems quite pointless, especially now that the major Southern contests are behind us.

The Potomac Primaries

Tonight was a good night for John McCain and Barack Obama, and not so good for Hillary Clinton. Captain Ed live-blogged the results as they happened.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign is in trouble. Obama has all the momentum and is now indisputably the front-runner. Neither Clinton nor Obama have ever run a truly competitive campaign, and Obama’s natural magnetism is giving him a decisive edge. Without her air of inevitability, Clinton is in the fight of her life.

Still, I would not count Hillary out. I don’t at all think that Obama is the superstar that the Democrats have made him out to be. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Obama is in fact the more vulnerable candidate. Obama has two huge problems: he’s incredibly inexperienced, and his appeal is quite literally skin deep. Obama is painting himself as a candidate above politics, but that doesn’t work. Sooner or later Barack Obama will have to stop spouting platitudes and start getting real, and he’s not prepared for that in the slightest. Especially now that it’s clear that McCain will be the GOP nominee, this contest will be one that is about clear differences: the young liberal activist versus the elder statesman and American hero. Sorry, Obamamaniacs, but your guy is all fluff. Either candidate will give McCain a very tough run, and he could blow it, but I think that the Obama hype machine is blowing a great deal of smoke up our collective posteriors.

Still, I do take some comfort in watching the collapse of the Clinton political dynasty. For years we on the right have been excoriated for criticizing the Clintons for being a bunch of amoral hyper-political sleezebags. Our friends on the other side of the aisle are about 15 years behind in realizing it, but it’s nice to know that we’re finally vindicated in that belief. Then again, the way in which the Clintons have gone from liberal paragons to persona non grata is more than a little Orwellian…

This race is going to be quite the interesting one, and even though some conservatives are disappointed that McCain is the nominee, I’m starting to come around to the idea that he’s the best possible candidate for these times. This summer will be quite fun to watch, and hopefully we’ll see some real fireworks—although most of them will be from the intra-party civil war on the Democratic side.

McCain-Huckabee? A Recipe For Disaster

Bill Quick reacts with revulsion to the idea of a McCain-Huckabee ticket in 2008. I’m with him on that. McCain’s biggest liability is with conservative voters, and to have to people on the GOP ticket who lack strong conservative bona fides would be to alienate the vast majority of GOP voters. The GOP has to realize that the times when the GOP has been successful are the times it has embraced small-government values. The GOP won in 1980 because Reagan elucidated a vision of smaller government. The GOP won in 1994 on the basis that the Democratic Party had lost touch with America and that the Contract with America presented another vision of smaller more efficient government.

The GOP needs to wake up, and fast. Congress’ approval ratings are barely in double digit territory. People have as dismal a view of government as they have ever had. If the GOP wants to be the part of slightly less big government rather than the party that will restore sanity and accountability to government, then the GOP will lose once again.

What is the vision of the Republican Party? Is it based upon our principles of economic liberty, personal morality and strong national defense? Or is it nothing more than the mere desire to scrape together enough interest groups to win? If it is the latter, then the GOP has learned nothing from their failures in 2006.

In a time of rampant public distrust of government, putting the architect of McCain-Feingold together with a clone of Jimmy Carter is exactly the wrong strategy. If people want more government, they can vote Democratic this November and get all the government they can handle.

Ronald Reagan said it best: the most dangerous line in the world is “I’m here from the government, and I’m here to help.” The Republican candidates keep invoking the name of Ronald Reagan—but only one of them seemed to understand what he stood for, and that guy isn’t running any longer.

To lose those principles is to not only lose the Republican base, but the independent voters that the GOP needs to win. You don’t win elections by being pale imitations of the other side, you win elections by bolding and proudly defending your principles. A McCain-Huckabee ticket would send exactly the wrong message.

The Huckabee Record

The Washington Times has a blistering piece about Mike Huckabee’s record in Arkansas and the way in which he left the Arkansas GOP divided and bruised:

Jake Files was a newly elected representative when all two dozen Arkansas House Republicans met for their first caucus in 1999. They had doubled their numbers in elections two months earlier, and were ready to join Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee in pushing for conservative government.

That was when Brenda Turner, the governor’s chief of staff, entered.

“Just walked in, shut the door and said, ‘There’s two kinds of people in the world: those who are for Mike Huckabee and those who are against Mike Huckabee. I’ll do everything I can to help the first group. I’ll do everything I can to hurt the second,’ ” said Mr. Files, who left the legislature after two terms.

And that’s the way it was.

There have been plenty of rumors along the campaign trial from former Arkansas figures about a Mike Huckabee that was very different from his public persona. In public, Mike Huckabee is laid-back, affable and solidly conservative. In private, there have been tales of a Huckabee’s who is petty, vindictive and anything but conservative. While these are merely rumors, their sheer number is hard to ignore.

Thankfully, Huckabee’s campaign is sagging after its win Iowa. If Huckabee’s running well behind the other candidates in Florida, and hasn’t gotten much traction in other states. His appeal is in his particular brand of evangelical identity politics—but that’s only working with a plurality of evangelicals. It isn’t enough to merely play identity politics and use the right language: many evangelical voters are looking at Huckabee’s substance and finding it lacking. It seems highly unlikely that Huckabee would be able to defeat Romney then surge ahead to take down McCain. His appeal is skin deep, and that isn’t enough.

Huckabee’s legacy in Arkansas is one of a party that had been left divided and weakened—which should give Republicans good reason to avoid his candidacy as the leader of the national party.

More On Huckabee’s Downfall

Ed Morrissey takes a look at the cutbacks Mike Huckabee is making post-South Carolina.

The electoral map does not favor Mike Huckabee. He’s never been able to broaden his appeal beyond a plurality of the evangelical vote—and that isn’t enough to win. If he could campaign to the right of John McCain he might have a chance, but he’s already done enough to blow his reputation among conservatives to make that unlikely.

Right now the dynamics of the race favor McCain. The race is starting to boil down to him versus everyone else, and even with Thompson essentially out of the running there isn’t enough consensus among everyone else to blunt McCain’s momentum into Florida and Super Tuesday. Huckabee’s narrow appeal will help him with the South, but it’s not going to help him in Florida, California, New York, or others. Furthermore, Huckabee is not well liked with Arkansas Republicans, which means he could lose his own home state.

Huckabee’s narrow appeal is hurting both his electoral chances and his fundraising, and that means that Huckabee’s momentum is all but gone. This race may yet come down to McCain versus someone else, but that someone else doesn’t seem likely to be Mike Huckabee.

The Real Loser In South Carolina

Is Mike Huckabee:

For all the talk about South Carolina being the death knell for Thompson, who South Carolina really killed was Huckabee. Huckabee is an insurgent. He has neither the establishment support, nor the money, nor the conservative movement mouthpieces to drag him along.

Huckabee has only the force of his own personality and the media momentum perception. Insurgent candidates like Huckabee need to ride a wave to victory and any wave Huckabee had broke on the shores of South Carolina’s coastline.

Huckabee does have the support of a certain segment of the evangelical vote, but his game of identity politics means he’s already alienated everyone else. Right now the media is fawning over the guy they fawned over in 2000, which leaves Huckabee high and dry. He doesn’t have the support to win and he has little chance of broadening their support.

Had Romney been knocked out in Michigan I think Thompson would have probably won South Carolina on the basis of sealing enough of the conservative vote. There’s still an incredibly small chance that as the race continues Thompson could still pull that off—but that’s contingent on having enough money on hand to remain in the race. Right now the conservative vote is split between Thompson and Romney. If their votes were combined, one or the other would be ahead. If they drop out, it leaves conservatives with a choice of John McCain or Mike Huckabee—which is not the most appetizing choice for many, although McCain would almost certainly be the beneficiary in that case.

In the end, South Carolina spells the death of the Huckabee campaign. If he can’t win there, he can’t win elsewhere, and he needed a win to keep his momentum going. Huckabee’s a talented politician, but he can’t broaden his base beyond his evangelical constituency, and he’s made enough tactical mistakes in recent weeks to take the shine off of his campaign.

Thompson may have been put out by South Carolina, but Huckabee’s second place doesn’t give him much room either. The dynamics of the race are changing, and they’re not changing in a way that’s at all helpful to Mike Huckabee. His narrow appeal and lack of experience have ensured that he can’t broaden his base enough to win, which means that his outsider challenge is likely to fail.

It’s On

Fred Thompson just ripped into Mike Huckabee’s record, and got vigorous applause for it. Did someone wonder where Fred’s fire in the belly is? Because I think he just found it.

Someone has to say it. Mike Huckabee is not a conservative in terms of his view of government. He would be another George W. Bush, but without the resolution on the war. He’s a nice guy to have a beer with, and he’d be a nice pastor. But he’s not POTUS material, and Thompson just forcefully made the case why.

Now Thompson needs to make the case why he’s the best conservative in the race, and if he does that as forcefully as he went after Huckabee he’ll walk away with this debate.

I wasn’t planning on liveblogging tonight, but…

8:39PM: Both Huckabee and Thompson had good lines on Iran. Huck’s line about the “gates of hell” and Thompson’s ad-lib about the Iranians meeting those virgins they’re always pining for was pure red meat for national security conservatives. The difference is that Thompson had more policy detail—which shows that he’s done his homework, but does tend to bog him down a bit.

8:40PM: McCain looks really tired…

8:41PM: Ron Paul brings up the Gulf of Tonkin. Again, he’s the punching bag tonight. Does he not remember the USS Cole?

Thompson’s Iran line: “I think one more step and they would have been meeting those virgins they’ve been looking so forward to seeing.” Classic.

8:43PM: Ron Paul is a whiny little crapweasel. John McCain looks like he’s about ready top jump out of his podium and rip him a new one.

Romney is polished as ever, but it hasn’t helped him yet. Romney is the perfect executive, which just isn’t the same as the perfect Presidential candidate.

8:46PM: McCain has a good line about Iraq, but he still looks so tired. I’d be inclined to support McCain, mainly because he’s been on top of this war, but he’s not inspiring tonight. His stump speech lines are getting old, especially on spending—and I think McCain is 100% dead-on right on the need to control spending.

8:48PM: Giuliani’s answer on Iraq was fine, but he’s also not hitting it tonight. The only two people who are “on” tonight are Fred and Huck, which may mean a lot for the shape of the crucial South Carolina race.

8:51PM: McCain is smacking down Paul, who sounds more and more paranoid and conspiratorial. We supported Osama bin Laden? Bullshit. Why did they bother bringing that raving nutbag into the debate? Unless, of course, it’s to give the serious candidates a convenient punching bag.

8:53PM: Fred just slammed The New York Times on Iraq. Where the hell have you been, Senator? Had you done this well earlier, you’d be leading by 10% right now.

“You can tell the news coming out of Iraq is good, because you read so little about it in the New York Times.” Nice!

What’s nice about Fred tonight is that he has a good applause line followed by some real substantive answers. He’s got energy tonight, and it shows.

Romney mentioned “three dimensional chess.” Is he going for the Trekkie vote? Then again, he had a very sharp answer on Pakistan, mentioning the head of the Pakistani Army.

8:58PM: Now “Mr. Nice Guy” Huckabee is kicking Ron Paul in the ass. He is the punching bag tonight. Small government or not, I’d vote for a dead cow before I’d vote for a nutbag like Ron Paul at this point.

9:00PM: Rudy speaks out on behalf of Israel, followed by Thompson. Thompson goes on the offensive against Huckabee on Pakistan, over the issue of military funding. He needs to go after Huck, and that’s what he’s doing. No good lines for that one, though. He probably should have let it go.

9:03PM: Some quick thoughts: this is Fred’s night. McCain looks tired, Mitt’s moribund, Rudy’s not hitting it, and Ron Paul is a nut. Even Huckabee is just treading water. Fred is going hard after Huckabee on the issues, and it’s putting him on the defensive. Huckabee is not good on the defensive. We’ll see if Fred can keep the pressure on—if so, it will be interesting to see what effect it has at the polls.

9:05PM: Mitt gets a good line: do people want Washington insiders because of Clinton’s NH win? “Nope.” Romney’s positioning himself as the candidate of “change” is his best bet, but the problem is that McCain’s been doing it longer. I think people are getting sick of the word “change” by now—I know I am. Romney’s is talking about his resume, which is impressive, but he’s giving yet another solid second-place performance. That’s not enough for him.

9:07PM: McCain gets a question about being a Washington candidate. He gets a decent line in, then goes back to his stump speech: Iraq, the Boeing deal, etc. However, he does have a great line about the Abrahamoff corruption case. Corruption was a huge issue in 2006, and McCain is doing a good job of positioning himself on it.

9:09PM: Now Huckabee gets attacked for a big-government record. He’s definitely taking flack tonight. He’s not helping himself by talking about raising “hope.” Government doesn’t raise hope, people do. I’m half expecting Fred to take him on over this.

9:10PM: And they give the response to Fred… quelle surprise. Thompson brings up his own record, which is smart. He’s slammed Huck, now it’s time to draw the contests. Fred’s energy is a bit down with this answer, but he’s still solid. He came in tonight with a strategy to contrast himself with Huck on conservative issues, and he’s doing just that. Now, will it work?

9:13PM: Huck gets a response. Oh, and Huck’s slam at Minnesota about bridges was gratuitous. He’d never carry Minnesota, and you’d damn well better think that Minnesota Republicans are not going to like that. This one certainly didn’t.

Rudy’s up. I’ve seen Rudy speak, and he can command a room. Right now, he’s flailing. This questions should be a softball for him, but he’s just not inspiring.

9:16PM: Huck is getting slammed about his line about women “submitting to the servant leadership of her husband.” His answer to this is sold. He brings up his wife, which is nice. The question is very unfair, and shows a lack of what being a “servant leader” is to a Christian. This was designed to be a slam, but Huckabee is walking away with it. You don’t go after Huckabee on a theological issue, because that’s the one thing he’s the most qualified to speak on.

I don’t want Huckabee in the Oval Office, but he’d make a damned fine replacement for Dr. Phil.

9:20PM: Why do they let Ron Paul rant again? God, he’s annoying.

9:22PM: Even The New York Times is giving Fred solid marks tonight.

9:24PM: McCain gets a sharp question on immigration, which is apparently a popular issue. This is McCain’s real Achilles heel, although I don’t think there’s that much daylight between any of the candidates. McCain’s plan is similar to Thompson’s which is similar to Romney’s. But they all still want to try to get traction on this issue.

9:27PM: So is Romney saying we should deport all 12 million illegals? That’s what he seems to say? Exactly how can he pull that off? Attrition is possible, mass deportation would be difficult at best.

9:28PM: Thompson “we need to be a country of high fences and wide gates.” I really like that line. But his answer goes too long.

9:30PM: Ron Paul is almost making sense on immigration. I recall something about stopped clocks… but then he goes to Iraq again. Ugh.

9:32PM: I know immigration is a critical issue, but all this hair-splitting just doesn’t seem to mean much. Huckabee’s answer was as long-winded as Fred’s and less substantive. Rudy’s also flailing here on whether NYC was a “sanctuary city.”

9:35PM: Fred won. I know I’m not unbiased here, but a quick read through of the blog reactions. He just won over the Frank Luntz focus group too.

This is the Fred Thompson that I support.

Not-So-Great Moments In Pandering

Reason finds a wonderful Christmas tale of how a 7-year-old girl got the best of Mike Huckabee:

“Who is your favorite author?” Aleya Deatsch, 7, of West Des Moines asked Mr. Huckabee in one of those posing-like-a-shopping-mall-Santa moments.

Mr. Huckabee paused, then said his favorite author was Dr. Seuss.

In an interview afterward with the news media, Aleya said she was somewhat surprised. She thought the candidate would be reading at a higher level.

“My favorite author is C. S. Lewis,” she said.

Ouch. Just ouch.