What he’s got: Affability, humor, and folksy charm galore; arguably the best communication skills—on TV, on the stump, or in retail settings—of any Republican 2016er; executive experience as a two-term-plus Arkansas governor; demonstrated presidential vote-getting capacity as winner of the Iowa caucuses and overall delegate runner-up in the 2008 GOP nomination contest; high name recognition among Republicans due to that campaign and more than six years afterward as a Fox News host, syndicated radio personality, and author; status as an ordained Southern Baptist minister and adamant social conservative views that provide him with deep ties to, and a base of support within, the evangelical community.
What he lacks: Establishment support; national security credentials; convincing defenses of elements of his Arkansas record (on taxes and prisoner clemency, for example) that make him vulnerable to conservative attacks; enthusiasm for, or even tolerance of, asking rich people for money; a path to the Republican nomination that doesn’t involve a repeat victory in Iowa; proven appeal to voters beyond his core of evangelical supporters; ability to conceal the Gibraltar-sized chip on his shoulder regarding his treatment by much of his party and the mainstream media.
Experience: That’ll be one of the primary selling points of Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign, which he formally launches on Tuesday.
At a time when many Republican voters are hungry for something new, Huckabee will try to persuade them to go with the tried and true. Not only has the former Arkansas governor already been through the soul-crushing grind of a presidential campaign, but, from 1996 to 2007, he also spent ten-and-a-half years as governor of Arkansas.
Huckabee, a former Baptist preacher, is known for his appeal to Evangelicals and other social conservatives, but this time around he’ll use experience to contrast with the Obama model as well as with his Republican rivals in the hope of expanding his coalition beyond that slice of primary voters. Of the five Republicans who have announced their candidacies, three — Florida’s Marco Rubio, Texas’s Ted Cruz, and Kentucky’s Rand Paul — are freshman senators, and two — former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson — have never held elected office.
“The GOP primary electorate understands the importance of leading a state,” says a member of the governor’s nascent campaign. Would-be candidates like Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, and John Kasich will also be able to boast that credential if they decide to jump in the race, and the first two are almost certain to do so, but Huckabee’s team will argue that his experience in Arkansas makes him uniquely equipped to take on Hillary Clinton.
Huckabee faced a Democratic legislature throughout his tenure. It’s worth remembering that legislators in Arkansas can override a governor’s veto with simple majority votes—not the supermajorities required in many other states—yet Huckabee, never a micromanager when it came to legislation, ended up getting much of what he wanted out of the Democrats.
Maybe that’s because he and Democrats often saw eye to eye. It was Huckabee who began referring to far-right Republicans as “Shiites,” a parlance still in use in Little Rock.
“We accomplished a lot in that era,” says Argue, the former Democratic state senator. “Significant increases in teacher salaries. Substantial funding for low-income students. Over $300 million for pre-K that wasn’t even directed by the court.”
Huckabee’s belief in the role of government in shaping people’s lives got great reviews from mainstream media outlets.
Although Huckabee has endorsed a flat tax proposal called the “fair tax”, his governorship included efforts to expand government funding for low-income children and increases in gas and tobacco taxes. Huckabee also pioneered a program to collect the body mass index of every child enrolled in Arkansas public schools in an effort to combat childhood obesity. The Arkansas governor also broke from rightwing orthodoxy by supporting efforts to grant in-state college tuition to some undocumented migrants.
And at one point in 2007, Huckabee even said he’d support a national workplace smoking ban – a position he has since backed away from…
The Republican party is far more ideologically diverse than its stereotype would suggest and the former Arkansas governor’s campaign will be a litmus test for the popularity of his blend of social conservatism and economic populism among primary voters in the post-Tea party era.
In Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. makes the case there comes a time when people of conscience have a moral obligation to practice civil disobedience against “unjust laws.” Do you agree with that? For example, is there anything a court could try and impose upon you as a president that you morally would refuse to comply with?
Dr. King’s letter quoted extensively St. Augustine, who developed the doctrine of just and unjust laws. And the necessity to not abide by unjust laws, which as Augustine and King both concurred, “Are not laws at all.” Court decisions that defy the Constitution, or the laws of nature or nature’s God, do not constitute a legal or moral obligation to comply. In addition, the Constitution doesn’t recognize a court—any court, including the Supreme Court—as having absolute power to make a law. In fact, the false doctrine of “judicial supremacy” is in itself unconstitutional, and defies the balance and separation of powers clearly outlined in our law. Unless the people’s representatives pass enabling legislation and a president signs and agrees to enforce it, there IS no law.
From the point of view of constitutional conservatives (an ideological grouping that is rapidly absorbing both the Christian right and the Tea Party movement, which heavily overlap to begin with), you can add another important count to the indictment of liberal elites, bureaucrats, and their underclass clients: an unpatriotic determination to undermine rights and overthrow governing norms set down eternally by the Founders of this exceptional nation under the direct inspiration of Almighty God. So liberals were not only mocking the religion and culture of good white middle-class folk, and stealing their hard-earned money (and richly earned government benefits) to buy votes from the lower orders—they were also spitting on the foundational principles of America and defying God.
While nobody has written a full-fledged manifesto for conservative cultural resentment, Mike Huckabee’s new pre-campaign book is a significant step in the direction of full-spectrum cry for the vindication of Real Americans. It is telling that the politician who was widely admired outside the conservative movement during his 2008 run for being genial, modest, quick-witted, and “a conservative who’s not mad about it” has now released a long litany of fury at supposed liberal-elite condescension toward and malevolent designs against the Christian middle class of the Heartland.
On Tuesday, as he formally kicked off his second campaign for the presidency, Huckabee knows he must reassure his former supporters that he has not changed even as his pockets grew much, much deeper. His announcement, in the small town of Hope where he grew up poor, reflects a broader effort by his campaign to show that he’s still folksy and down-to-earth.
A POLITICO report last July highlighted his penchant for using private jets. He’s racked up more than a quarter-million dollars in private air travel bills over the past few years and has routinely insisted that candidates or local parties that he’s coming to support pay the expense.
The New York Times recently spotlighted dubious groups Huckabee has rented his campaign email list out to – from survivalists warning of coming food shortages to a group that says there’s a miracle cure for cancer hidden in the Bible (which people can find out about with a $72 subscription to their product). Huckabee recorded an infomercial for a sketchy diabetes treatment that scientists say is bunk…
Ironically, though he’s now rich himself, it’s an open question whether Huckabee will be able to raise enough money to stay in the race through the SEC primary and beyond. He’ll get a lot of small-dollar gifts, but he has yet to demonstrate the ability to put together a high-dollar finance operation. “That’s not been solved, to the best of my knowledge,” said Rollins.
Seven years later as he announces his second presidential bid, Huckabee faces the same barriers he did in 2008, making him a very long shot to win the Republican nomination in 2016. The Republican donors and elected officials who were resistant to Huckabee in 2008 haven’t changed their minds about him and are already lining up behind other candidates, particularly ex-Florida governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker…
And Huckabee may struggle to even match his 2008 performance, because this time the Republican field is full of other candidates who are strongly opposed to abortion rights and gay marriage and speak eloquently about their personal faith like Huckabee.
Walker and Cruz are making the same case to evangelical voters: they are deeply conservative but can win the primary and potentially the general election. This is a big problem for Huckabee: he has already lost one Republican primary and showed himself unable to expand his base of support. Christian conservatives may opt to try someone different and see if that person can emerge as the GOP nominee…
And the gap between Republican moderate voters and Huckabee is likely to grow during the campaign. To hold onto Christian conservatives against Cruz and others, Huckabee will likely be forced to play up his credentials on social issues. In particular, he may opt to emphasize his opposition to gay marriage and his belief that Christian businesses should not be required to provide services as part of same-sex weddings.
But here’s Huckabee’s problem: He’s just re-entering the political fray. Huckabee’s image within the GOP has benefited from years as a host for Fox News, the most trusted news channel for Republicans. Once Huckabee jumps back into the rough-and-tumble of the campaign, GOP voters may be reminded of his less desirable positions, and his popularity may plummet…
To win in 2016, Huckabee would need to convince economic conservatives that he’s seen the light. Will he? I seriously doubt it. In his opening campaign ad, he came out strongly for protecting Medicare and Social Security, even as the relatively moderate Bush has called for raising the retirement age for Social Security. In fact, Huckabee has actually shifted left on the issue since 2008. Huckabee’s position may be a winner in a general election, but it’s not the way to win over skeptical Republican party actors in a primary…
Huckabee’s lack of appeal among non-evangelicals is a large part of the reason he struggled in New Hampshire in 2008 and will probably do so again in 2016. Born-again and evangelical Christians made up only 22 percent of the New Hampshire Republican primary electorate in 2012. Huckabee doesn’t have to win the Granite State to win the nomination, although he probably needs to be competitive to be seen as viable in future primaries. The sample size is small, but no one (on the Democratic or Republican side) has ever won a presidential nomination in the modern era1 without finishing in the top two or above 25 percent in New Hampshire. Huckabee, as we mentioned above, isn’t anywhere close to that at this point.
[E]ven though Huckabee remains outside of the top tier of candidates, he is, by far, the Republicans’ best messenger to the middle and lower-middle classes — economic brackets that the party has struggled to win in recent elections.
Huckabee’s southern populism, which he played to great effect during his 2008 campaign, was front and center during his announcement today. He talked about growing up with people who worked so hard they “sweated through their clothes.” He reminisced about a childhood spent with “fishing poles” and “firearms.” And, in the speech’s rousing conclusion, Huckabee delivered a double-barreled assault on elites; “I don’t come from a family dynasty, but from a working family,” he said. “I grew up blue collar, not blue blood.”
Coming from Huckabee, those messages sound genuine — whether it’s his southern twang, his skills at plain-spokenness or, perhaps most simply, because they are true. (And, yes, I am aware that Huckabee is no longer middle class or anything close to it.) And, boy oh boy, does the Republican party need a messenger who can talk to working people without it feeling about as authentic as George H.W. Bush using a grocery scanner at a supermarket.
Of all the GOP candidates who have jumped in, most of whom live South of the Mason-Dixon line, he’s the only one who actually sounds like it. Next to Kentucky’s Rand Paul, Texas’ Ted Cruz and Florida’s Marco Rubio, he’s the guy your fishing buddies — folks he calls “bubbas” — get the most.
And he has policy appeal not because he’s so far right, but because he has a talent for finding economically populist themes that appeal to both sides. As Time’s Michael Scherer put it in 2007, “At some of these events, if you close your eyes, you would think a Democrat was speaking — Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton turned Southern Baptist.”
Another major asset that can’t be overlooked? He’ll have to forgive me the profanity, but he’s so damn likeable…
Huckabee’s positions won’t win everyone over, that’s certain. But if voters are truly ready for a “new tone,” as they perennially say they are, they’d be hard pressed to find a more promising candidate.
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