Bryan’s headline yesterday said it all. Geraghty has a list of choice quotes from today’s tirade — “McCain’s starting to look better to than this guy, and that’s saying something” jumps out — but the partial transcript suggests he spent most of his time defending himself as a heartland conservative rather than attacking Huckabee.
Most, but not all:
CALLER: Yeah, Romney after that debate, the last debate, said he was in favor of expanding entitlements, which is anything but conservative.
RUSH: Yeah, that’s why I haven’t endorsed anybody. I’m waiting. I don’t know how else I can do it. I realize that there are a lot of you out there: You got a candidate, and you think that if I got behind your candidate it would put ’em over the top, and you might be right. But, at this point, it’s just an age-old belief that I have, and I remain true to my beliefs and principles. Now, some people have written me, “I hear you say this, but you’re full of it. What about 2000 with Bush and McCain in South Carolina?” Special circumstance. You had a two-man race, and what was happening in South Carolina, McCain was going so far off the conservative reservation, so far off of it, that it was necessary to step in. Huckabee is getting close, I’m going to have to tell you. Huckabee’s getting close to the same stuff. Huckabee is using his devout Christianity to mask some other things that are distinctively not conservative. He is against free trade. He’s really doesn’t believe in free market. Well, let me read what George Will wrote today. This is when I go along with “the DC-New York axis.” But I just want to read from George Will’s column, a paragraph today. “Huckabee’s campaign actually is what Rudy Giuliani’s candidacy is misdescribed as being — a comprehensive apostasy against core Republican beliefs. Giuliani departs from recent Republican stances regarding two issues — abortion and the recognition by the law of same-sex couples. Huckabee’s radical candidacy broadly repudiates core Republican policies such as free trade, low taxes, the essential legitimacy of America’s corporate entities and the market system allocating wealth and opportunity. [C]onsider New Hampshire’s chapter of the National Education Association, the teachers union that is a crucial component of the Democratic Party’s base. In 2004, New Hampshire’s chapter endorsed Howard Dean in the Democratic primary and no one in the Republican primary. Last week it endorsed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary — and Huckabee in the Republican primary.” It likes Huckabee on education.
Huck’s people have already begun kissing ass to mitigate the damage. The more the conservative world comes out against him, from Will to Peggy Noonan to NRO to Rush to Sean Hannity, the more he’ll be forced to pitch an “us against them” campaign to his supporters. He’s too far left on too many issues to tack right credibly, so the only way to keep them in the fold is to try to build on that religious and economic populism he’s peddling and make this a full-blown Cause against the conservative establishment. The trick is keeping the few truly big players like Limbaugh neutral, since they really do have the chops to tilt this thing in a two-man race. Sounds like it might already be too late.
Update (Bryan): Here’s audio of the Maha Rushie’s show today.
Update: Geraghty wonders:
My instinct is to say, “no way, a thumbs down from Rush is fatal,” but a guy on another campaign cautions me. “An Iowa pastor who has been talking up Huckabee isn’t going to change his mind because Rush Limbaugh doesn’t like him.” He points out that a pastors and religous leaders deal with people who fall short of their ideals all the time; hearing that Mike Huckabee was too merciful in dealing with Wayne Dumond is not going to be a dealbreaker for them. They’ll probably go, no pun intended, “there but for the grace of God go I.”
So… if a certain significant chunk of Huckabee’s supporters back him because he’s the most vocal Christian in the race, not because of the conservatism of his record or policy stances…. if the moment comes where the race needs a Huck Slayer (as social conservatives thought the race might require a Rudy Slayer)… can anybody in the race go after Huckabee on that ground? Can anyone make the argument to that Republican plurality, “Okay, nevermind conservative policy choices – he’s not the good Christian leader you think he is”?
Coulter’s been trying, but no, no candidate can afford to alienate Huck’s supporters that way. They’ll have to stick scrupulously to attacking him for being too far left — which they should, incidentally. The more religion stays out of this, the better. The question is, if Huck does turn this into a crusade to remake the party and overthrow the establishment, how many of his supporters will be willing, if they’re defeated, to turn out for the eventual nominee?
Update: Apparently Limbaugh mentioned the CBS interview with Ed Rollins, Huck’s new campaign manager, as another reason for today’s pique.
CBSNews.com: Let’s start with the attacks on Governor Huckabee from a lot of Republican establishment figures lately. Rush Limbaugh has called him “the Huckster.” Rich Lowry, the editor of the National Review, has said it would be suicide to nominate him. Why do you think he’s provoking all of this criticism?
Ed Rollins: Well, I think first of all he is not an establishment candidate. I don’t think anybody anticipated early on when he started to run that he would do as well as he’s doing. Some of these guys have picked other candidates.
And I think, to a certain extent, the alleged wise men have sat around in either the studios, or the newsrooms, basically writing magazine articles. They didn’t see it coming and I think they underestimated him.
CBSNews.com: Does he threaten them?
Ed Rollins: Well, I think he’s not their candidate. You know some of them obviously are with McCain. Some of them are obviously with Romney. And I think at the end of the day Mike is a guy who basically was a very effective governor.
You can look at his record. It’s a record of accomplishment. He didn’t use the governor’s office to just purely run for president. He wanted to fix mistakes and do things that are meaningful. And I think the thing they challenge him on is not really about his record.