It’s Friday and the news is slow so why not start the day by trolling the GOP’s new frontrunner? I’ve always thought tea partiers would grudgingly forgive him for backing amnesty and end up giving him a second look. But will they, can they forgive him for … being a Mike Huckabee fan?
The clip is weirdly interesting in a way most “politician once endorsed future rival” stories are not, partly because Rubio and Huck occupy such distinct niches within the party now and partly because it’s an odd move tactically in hindsight by a guy whom I respect for usually being a shrewd tactician. Why would Rubio, at the time speaker of the Florida house and a rising Latino star whose endorsement was coveted by every GOP presidential contender, decide that his best bet was … Huckabee? To be fair, at the time he endorsed Huck in mid-December, a couple of polls showed him leading in the state. But c’mon: A couple of polls showed Herman Cain leading the GOP field nationally in 2011 too. A smart guy like Rubio surely realized that a huge, expensive, cosmopolitan state like Florida wasn’t going to be won by someone who had trouble raising money and attracting voters outside his evangelical base. He had a bunch of more plausible alternatives to choose from. Romney was running as a social conservative too and had the dough to compete seriously in the state; Rudy Giuliani had a shot at capturing New York transplants and more moderate Republicans; and McCain, as a famous amnesty booster and excessive hawk, was a man after Rubio’s own heart. (Even weirder, Huckabee actually opposed the Cuba embargo, one of Rubio’s pet issues, at the time. It took Rubio lobbying him to change his mind.) All three of those guys (yes, even Rudy) ended up outpolling Huck in Florida on primary day. How did Rubio not see that coming? Why not throw in with a candidate who was more likely to win and who, as president, might owe you a favor later?
A fun quote from the endorsement, sure to impress grassroots conservatives everywhere:
“For those of us who consider ourselves to be Reagan conservatives, Mike Huckabee is our best chance to win the nomination,” Rubio told reporters in late 2007. “People are looking for genuineness and sincerity in politics. He has those qualities as well as the positive leadership skills needed to run our country.”
If you say so, pal. When you think about it, though, are Rubio and Huck really so different? As I say, they occupy different niches — Huckabee’s seen, fairly or not, as a social conservative champion who happens to be conservative-ish on other issues while Rubio’s seen as a “checks all the boxes” conservative who also happens to be a social con. On policy, though, they’re not terribly different. They’re both hawkish and admired by righties for their passionate pro-life rhetoric. Like Rubio, Huck’s shown some moderation on immigration; like Huck, Rubio’s been accused of being too far towards the center on taxes. Beyond policy, though, they each have a conspicuous knack for being able to charm voters on the stump. There may be 300 Republicans running for president this year but in terms of sheer personal likability, there’s no contest about who the top two are. That’s Huckabee and Rubio, in whichever order you prefer. Makes me wonder if that’s why Rubio ended up endorsing him eight years ago, notwithstanding the tactical foolishness of it. Maybe Rubio was taken with the retail skills of a guy who shares the same political gift he has. There are worse reasons to support a candidate. I guess?