Campaign 2008, Politics

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.