How weird would it be if he went full metal pander on Social Security and Medicare and then announced that he wasn’t running for president? Although, actually, maybe that makes sense. Shorn of his pretensions to the GOP nomination, he’d now be free to be the progressive he always secretly was.
6 p.m. ET tonight on Fox News: Huckamania is reborn.
— J. Hogan Gidley (@JHoganGidley) April 17, 2015
What’s the first thing an aspiring centrist-y presidential candidate should do to ingratiate himself with swing voters? Why, take a dump on reforming entitlements, of course:
“I don’t know why Republicans want to insult Americans by pretending they don’t understand what their Social Security program and Medicare program is,” Huckabee said in response to a question about Christie’s proposal to gradually raise the retirement age and implement a means test.
Huckabee said his response to such proposals is “not just no, it’s you-know-what no.”
“I’m not being just specifically critical of Christie but that’s not a reform,” he said. “That’s not some kind of proposal that Republicans need to embrace because what we are really embracing at that point is we are embracing a government that lied to its people–that took money from its people under one pretense and then took it away at the time when they started wanting to actually get what they have paid for all these years.”
Huckabee also said he wouldn’t sign congressman Paul Ryan’s plan to reform Medicare for Americans who are 55 years old and younger. “At 55, that still means if I started working, started paying in when I was 14, so for me that would be 51 years [sic] that I’d be paying in and suddenly you’re telling me they’re going to be changing the rules for you here.”
That’s from John McCormack, who notes that Huckabee was all aboard the reform express in summer 2012 when he defended Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform plan as a matter of fiscal sustainability. Now that he’s running for president (probably), the tune has changed. And in fairness to him, this is the smart/safe play: Harry Enten had a short but sweet analysis of polling on entitlements a few days ago that suggests Christie’s reform plan will be a disaster for him politically. Christie may have felt he had no choice at this point but to do something daring, though; he’s at risk of getting lost in the shuffle as center-righties gravitate towards Bush, Rubio, and Walker. Huckabee, who can count on social conservative support and who’s far more personally popular with Republicans generally, doesn’t need to to take such risks. Social cons aren’t the only niche that Huck is eyeing either: His brand is as much blue-collar as it is religious right, which is why he’s framing GOP entitlement reform efforts here as an attempt to steal hard-earned payroll tax dollars from Americans who’ve already paid in. (Irony: Christie’s reform plan would involve means-testing to make sure that most blue-collar workers aren’t affected by the changes.)
He’s also exceptionally well liked by — ta da — senior citizens, who know him from Fox News, are more likely than younger generations to agree with him on issues like gay marriage, and of course are the group least likely to support entitlement reform. Check the crosstabs of a few recent polls and you’ll find him unusually strong for a Republican among older voters. This CNN survey last month put his favorable rating at 46/31 among voters age 50 or older; of the six other Republican candidates tested, the nearest to that level of support was Jeb Bush at just 36 percent — versus 48 percent unfavorable. Same deal with PPP’s most recent poll. Of nine GOP candidates tested, Huckabee topped everyone among Republicans over age 65 with 67 percent support, although Rubio and Walker were hot on his heels in that demographic. I wonder how those two will shake out once they start getting badgered by the media on Social Security and Medicare. My hunch is that Walker will end up a touch closer to Huckabee’s position than Rubio will, knowing that he’s already banked so much goodwill with the right from his battle with labor that he can afford a bit of extra pandering on entitlements in the name of electability.
Exit question: Is Huckabee going to announce that he’s running tonight — or that he’s not running? Some righties on Twitter are speculating that if he was going to jump in, he’d do it with a formal event, not some Q&A on “Special Report.” Fair point, but as a Fox News alumnus, Huckabee may feel some loyalty to the network and want to give them the exclusive news of his announcement. He doesn’t need to formally introduce himself to the public the way Cruz, Rubio, and Paul did; voters, especially socially conservative voters, know exactly who he is from his 2008 run and his TV show. We’ll find out in a few hours. In the meantime, Ted Cruz fans should cross their fingers. If Huck passes, lining up social-con support in Iowa is going to be a lot easier for your guy.
Update: Well, so much for all that. Turns out he’s not announcing. He’s … announcing when he’ll announce.
Huckabee just said he'll reveal time & place of his prez announcement on Fox tonight. He insists he hasn't yet made a final decision to run.
— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) April 17, 2015
This prima donna needed a full day of teasing people about his plans capped by a suspenseful televised appearance just to gin up hype for when he’ll be making his official announcement? Good lord. Maybe, to make it extra suspenseful, he should plant clues around the country for his supporters to find, like in “The Amazing Race,” about launch day.
Can we just talk about how weird it is to make announcements about your campaign on network that pays you?
— Michael Barbaro (@mikiebarb) April 17, 2015
Update: Actually, in fairness to Huck, I’m not sure that last tweet is correct. I thought he had remained a Fox News contributor after ending his show and was therefore still getting paid something, but it seems he only does occasional guest appearances anymore.