Why Huck’s Ahead

While I make no bones about my dislike of Mike Huckabee as a candidate, things like this are why Huckabee has gone from the bottom tier to the top so quickly:

It’s simply, folksy, and puts Huckabee above the fray. Rich Lowry sees a hidden strategy behind the ad, and I’m inclined to agree. This was a brilliant political move for Huckabee.

The fact is, however, that Mike Huckabee doesn’t have the policy chops to be President. However, you can bet that he will be the leader for Evangelical Republicans for some time in the future. He does represent a critical sector of the Republican base, and while his appeal to evangelicals won’t get him to the White House, it does give him a lot of power in the Republican Party. A Mike Huckabee that gets a few years of political and foreign policy experience as Vice President could be a potent force in the future.

Huck And Foreign Affairs

Daniel Drezner reads through Mike Huckabee’s Foreign Policy statement and finds it rather lacking:

The essay is a great symbol of Huckabee’s campaign — there are feints in interesting directions, but in the end it’s just a grab-bag of contradictory ideas.

In a New York Times Magazine profile, Huckabee mentions columnist Thomas Friedman and new sovereigntist Frank Gaffney as his foreign policy influences. Those in the know might believe this to be impossible, but Huckabee’s Foreign Affairs essay really is an attempt to mix these two together in some kind of unholy alchemy.

The more one looks at Huckabee the less substance there seems to be. If this guy gets the nomination, it’s lights out for the GOP’s chances in 2008. No wonder the Democrats are pushing for him—he’s the one candidate that makes Obama seem prepared. (A Huckabee-Obama race would be the most vapid Presidential contest in recent history.) His appeal is that he’s a good-old-boy Evangelical, which is enough for about 25% of the GOP electorate, but not enough to win the White House. It won’t even be close.

Thankfully, I don’t think Huck will make it through the nomination process. He’s peaked too early, and now people are asking questions about his record. The Wayne DuMond pardon is just the tip of the iceberg for Huckabee. You can’t be a governor of Arkansas without a few skeletons in your closet, and Huckabee is no exception to that rule.

Huckabee is not Presidential material. He may be a nice guy, he may be a devout Christian, and he may be the sort of person you’d like to have a beer with, but that doesn’t make him someone who could face down Ahmadinejad or work with Congress on solving our Social Security problems. Republican primary voters need to think about which candidate can actually use the bully pulpit of the Presidency to advance conservative ideas—and that will mean working with a hostile Congress and trying to advance American values in an increasingly hostile world. Huckabee’s vapid piece in Foreign Policy demonstrates that not only is Huckabee unprepared, but he possesses a naïvete that is downright dangerous. The GOP can do better than that, and hopefully they will.

SEE ALSO: James Joyner takes a detailed look at what he calls Huckabee’s “Sunday school” foreign policy.

UPDATE: Even Andrew Sullivan gets in on the act. He’s right, though. Huckabee’s statement basically consisted of throwing out the names of two foreign policy theorists that Huckabee could recall off the top of his head, not even realizing that the two stand for essentially opposite concepts of American foreign policy.

Not Ready For Prime Time

Mike Huckabee says that he wants us to stop consuming energy within a decade. Damn straight it’s time we had a candidate willing to stand up against the laws of thermodynamics!

In all seriousness, even if Huckabee meant that we should switch to all renewable sources within a decade, it’s still a silly argument. Even if you try to make sense of the statement, there’s just no way it doesn’t come off as being silly. We need a President who actually understands basic issues of policy. Mike Huckabee constantly comes off as someone who is clueless about the world around him.

Gaffes like this, and his statements which either sly anti-Mormon innuendos or signs he slept through his comparative theology classes demonstrate why Huckabee isn’t ready for prime time. He will probably win Iowa, but the reality is that Mike Huckabee is not a strong candidate, he’s not a conservative, and if he gets the nomination Hillary Clinton might as well start picking out drapes for the Oval Office. The Democrats have been holding their fire against him for months now because they know damned well that Mike Huckabee is a carbon copy of George W. Bush with all the same faults. He’s the sort of guy you want to have a beer with, but he would be a lousy President and his instincts are dead wrong on key issues.

Huckabee is a rising star, but his star will fall just as fast when Republican voters realize that he’s simply unready for the job. His appeal is understandable, but it’s all skin deep. Sooner or later Huckabee will crash, and when he does it will be a hard crash—in this race, Huckabee is playing the role of Howard Dean, and while he has some strong support, at the end of the day he is not electable and Republican primary voters need a candidate who can stand up to Hillary Clinton. Mike Huckabee is not that candidate.

The YouTube GOP Debate

I managed to catch the CNN/YouTube debate tonight, and it certainly was different from most others. The problem was that the questions that weren’t planted tended to be questions based more on Republican stereotypes rather than on substantive issues. Yes, it’s somewhat interesting to know whether a candidate believes in the Bible or not—but is it the sort of question that should come up at a national debate?

The Good

I think this debate was “won” by Mike Huckabee and John McCain. Huckabee came off as the candidate I’d most like to have a beer with some time, and John McCain came off as the elder statesman. McCain put Ron Paul in his place (which is always a good thing for a Republican to do), and he spoke with great moral authority on torture against Romney’s non-answer. Huckabee’s answer that Jesus was too smart to run for public office was a great line. Huckabee came off as very natural and very personable. McCain came off as a man of integrity and honor.

Mitt Romney was also confident and poised. He confidently failed to give a clear answer with great poise. Both he and Giuliani hurt themselves by fighting over abortion—neither one of them are strong on that issue, and both hurt themselves there. Romney’s a very poised candidate, and he has an impressive business background. His honesty on the abortion issue was questioning. It’s nice to have a candidate willing to come out and admit his mistakes.

There were some decent questions that wouldn’t normally be asked in a Presidential debate. As a space exploration fan, I liked the question about the candidate’s vision for space exploration. NASA consumes a very small amount of the federal budget, and the candidates missed the opportunity to talk about private space exploration. Huckabee’s answer wasn’t bad, but it could have been better.

Fred Thompson was very poised and gave very responsive answers. He didn’t knock it out of the park, but he showed the best mastery of the issues. The problem is that he needs to do better—it’s a crowded field and he needs to stand out more. He’s got the substance, but he needs more flash. He has some great ads out that would have done much better than the attack ad he used.

The Bad

First of all, I think Rudy hurt himself with his exchange with Romney. He’s the front-runner (at least nationally), so he doesn’t need to go on the offensive. Hitting Romney below the belt won’t help him, and made him look like a bully. Overall, his answers weren’t a strong as they could be. Rudy needs to get a boost, and this wasn’t it. While he’s still ahead nationally, he’s vulnerable.

The same applies to Fred Thompson’s attack ad. While all the others talked about themselves, Thompson’s offensive seemed out of place. Not only that, but Romney came back with a very human answer that helped him. Huckabee also had a good response. The other campaigns are calling the video an act of “desperation”—and while I don’t think that’s the case, it wasn’t the right call. I’m in Fred’s corner, but even I don’t think that running an attack ad at that point helped him at all.

Ron Paul is a nut. When given a question that basically asked him whether he believes in a bizarre conspiracy theory, he basically said “yes.” I’ll give him some credit for eschewing an independent run, but he’s still the sort of paleoconservative on national defense issues that we don’t need now.

Rudy also hurt himself with his Second Amendment answer. This was not the right crowd to split hairs on regulating guns. This was not a good night for Rudy, and it may hurt him.

This was a solid and substantive debate (at least on the part of the candidates, if not CNN), and it could end up changing the dynamics of the race. Rudy and Romney, the two frontrunners, engaged in a fight that ended up making them both look bad. Mike Huckabee demonstrated once again why he’s gaining the most traction—he was confident and had a decent command of the issues. Fred Thompson did nothing to take him out of the race. John McCain’s campaign was on life support only a few months ago, but he’s not out of the race by any chance, and many may be willing to take a new look at him after tonight.

The biggest loser: CNN. Having a Clinton campaign advisor not only be allowed to ask a question, but then to follow up live demonstrated incredibly poor judgment. At the very least CNN could have Googled the people they were having speak. Either they were trying to bias the debate or they were simply asleep at the wheel—either way it reflects badly on them.

This race is still entirely up in the air, and even with weeks left until the Iowa Caucuses the rankings could change dramatically. Fortunately, the Republican Party has a solid group of candidates to pick from. The problem is that eventually the field must be narrowed to one—and who that may be is anyone’s guess.

The Narrow Appeal Of Mike Huckabee

Byron Hill takes a look at why “values voters” love Mike Huckabee. He did do an amazing job at the Values Voters Summit, but ultimately the reason why Huckabee won’t win the nomination is because his appeal is largely limited to these values voters.

Huckabee’s biggest liability is that he’s not all that fiscally conservative. His record in Arkansas on taxes is mixed. His governing philosophies tend to be more about expanding the scope and reach of government rather than protecting and preserving individual rights against the state. He’s the sort of President who would be more likely to do things like regulate trans fats and other examples of nanny-state tinkering. Yes, he’s excellent on social issues, but the GOP isn’t driven entirely by social issues.

Despite Huckabee’s great performances and appeal to social conservatives, he’s still below the double digits in most polls. What that suggests is that for all the much-vaunted influence of “values voters,” they don’t have all that big an effect on Republican politics. The media loves to play up their influence because it fits with their narrative of Republicans all being closet theocrats. However, the real face of the Republican Party is much more diverse than that. Huckabee’s appeal is strong, but narrow, and ultimately that’s not enough to push him above his second-tier status.

The other issue that unites the Republican Party is the war—and Huckabee doesn’t have the foreign-policy credentials. With the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran growing more and more pressing with each passing day, the GOP is looking for someone who can lead a vigorous American foreign policy and strongly defend national interests. Mike Huckabee isn’t the sort of man who would strike fear into the heart of a madman like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Republican voters are looking for a President who can.

I think a Giuliani/Huckabee ticket is entirely likely as a way of balancing out Giuliani’s northeastern squishiness with some good old-fashioned Bible belt conservatism. I do think that Mike Huckabee is a charismatic speaker, a man of deep principles, and a great asset to the Republican Party. At the same time, he’s not Presidential material. A successful candidate has to have broad appeal with fiscal and social conservatives to win the GOP nomination. The GOP is characterized as the party of “God, guns, and gays” but that stereotype has little basis in reality. Huckabee may do well with the people who would attend a summit for self-described “values voters” but religious appeal isn’t the only value that Republicans are interested in seeing.

UPDATE: Pat Toomey of the Club for Growth says that putting Huckabee in the VP slot would be a bad idea. Granted, Huckabee’s fiscal record is pretty poor—but ultimately, the job of the modern VP is to break ties in the Senate and help the top of the ticket broaden their political appeal. In terms of formulating policy, I don’t see the next Vice President doing much—certainly not after the Cheney Vice Presidency. So long as Huckabee isn’t influencing tax policy, he would still settle the nerves of conservatives who are wary of a Giuliani Administration.

The Election Is Officially Over

Chuck Norris has endorsed Mike Huckabee. I think a Huckabee/Norris ticket would give a roundhouse kick to Clinton’s chances in 2008…

In all seriousness, Huckabee has done very well in this campaign. Not enough to necessarily challenge the front-runners, but well enough that I’d give good money that he’ll be the winner of the VP race. Especially if Giuliani were to be the nominee, he’d need someone who could appeal to a) Southern voters and b) social conservatives. Mike Huckabee is exactly the sort of person who could help him with those important Republican voting blocs.

Huckabee won’t get the nomination this year unless Giuliani, Thompson and Romney all collapse—but that doesn’t mean that he won’t be a rising star in the Republican Party for some time to come.