I can't get away from the conclusion that Mike Huckabee is going to be the Republican nominee. I know, he's come from nowhere; he's cornpone; he's a governor from a small, inconsequential state that has produced a bunch of nobodies; he lacks Mitt's money and organization, and Rudy's name recognition and admiration. Yup. I know all that.
But look …
- Republicans are going to want someone who genuinely agrees with them on core issues: abortion, God, gays, and guns. Sure, they'll accept a "convert" telling them what they want to hear (Mitt), or perhaps stomach someone they feel is acceptable to mainstream America (Rudy-?), but Huckabee speaks to them where they are.
- He's charming and personable. Do not underestimate this. You can say the goofiest, wrongest stuff imaginable and get away with it if you're charming doing it. Huck's got the goods.
- Huck has been steadily gaining in the polls. He's close in Iowa; the question is whether the wack-ass circus of the Iowa caucuses makes the polling irrelevant. I don't know enough of the history to know.
- Are Huckabee's supposed unorthodoxies with regard to taxation somehow more toxic to GOP voters than Mitt's pandering or Rudy's defiance? (Or Rudy's pandering, for that matter?) To quote Bob's furniture: I doubt it!
- Romney is a Fraud. He will say anything to get elected. Voters will eventually sniff that out, if they haven't already. The best conservatives can hope for from Romney is that he's so beholden to their power that he becomes their Poodle-In-Chief, a domesticated long-haired breed that likes to beg and play fetch. Nice … but doesn't exactly capture the imagination.
- With Giuliani, if it ain't one thing it's another. If it isn't Kerik, it's the public-expense alleycatting, or the megalomania, or whatever. If GOP folks don't get cold feet for this guy before January, they'll most certainly have buyer's remorse later. He will implode. It's a matter of time. Maybe it's right now.
- McCain survived his money crunch and is running ads, but he thinks immigrants are human beings, or something. I don't see him reheating the souffle of his previous popularity with GOP voters.
The one reason that I keep hearing as to why Huckabee's got no chance is that … well … he's got no chance. I don't believe that any more. Not after the poll surge and the money surge. And he keeps getting nice notices for his debate performances.
And it concerns me because I think I know how to beat Romney or Giuliani. They're like negative images of each other: Rudy's a loose cannon with some accomplishments and some heterodox views; Mitt's a robot with few accomplishments and newly-adopted, slavishly orthodox stances. I will give GOP primary voters some credit: I think they know this, and don't particularly relish the choice.
Candidates who project optimism and good humor are always formidable in national elections. People didn't agree with Reagan's ideas, but they voted for him anyway. Same with Clinton and Bush II, I'm sure. I have little doubt that Deval Patrick swayed many, many votes by power of personality alone.
Besides his charm, Huckabee also knows how to inoculate himself from some of the bad image of the Republican Party: for instance, he's said the GOP needs to stop being the "party of plutocrats". I don't know if GOP voters even recognize it, but I think we'll find that class-based populism is a strong current in this year's election, if it isn't already. And I wouldn't put too much stock in the Club For Growth's opposition to him; they've had their day, and have rarely been more than a nuisance when it comes to actual elections.
On the other hand, this is not a propitious historical moment for Huckabee, or any Republican. There's no particular reason why this guy should be President: I don't know what particular or unique experience he brings to bear on Iraq, health care, immigration, and so forth. But like some contrived reality TV show, the election season can yield strange results. You don't always see why the last person standing was the most deserving … he just stuck around longer than anyone else.