Friday, August 31, 2007

I Don't Get It

Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and current GOP presidential candidate, is intelligent, articulate, funny, and self-deprecating. He plays bass, loves the Stones and handles the media well.

I have never understood why the GOP faithful have basically been ignoring him for much of the campaign, given that he is also a bona fide conservative, he's born again, he doesn't believe in evolution and yet he could certainly win a general election by appealing to independents because he doesn't come across as some scary right wing nut case (even though he is.) Let's face it, Huckabee is hard to dislike.

And yet, up until the Iowa straw poll, Huckabee was down in the low single digits while the GOP faithful held their nose in support of Rudy ("Sure he's for abortion and gay rights, but at least he wants to bomb Iran and stay in Iraq until we get the job done...") or hoped Fred Thompson would turn out to be their conservative Moses. Huckabee looked like he would never get any notice

The Washington Post reports
that is changing, at least in Iowa:

Hip is precisely what Huckabee has become in the weeks since he placed second in the Iowa Straw Poll on Aug. 11. Indeed, since walking into the media filing room that night and being swarmed by the media as if he were -- these are his words -- "Britney Spears being released from prison," Huckabee has been seen as the cuddly antidote to what has been an awfully tough-talking Republican field. He's the affable, compassionate, good guy and rock-and-roll evangelical who plays guitar and wants to hang with the Rolling Stones.

It's hard to think of a candidate in recent political history who felt such a bounce and media hug after a second-place finish in a nonbinding contest where three of the top-tier candidates or almost-candidates -- John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson -- didn't bother to show. But man, is he working it.

"Oh, gosh," Huckabee says when asked to recall the media appearances he's done since his surprise showing at the straw poll. "I did Colbert, Maher. I did Fox News Sunday. 'Face the Nation.' I can't even remember them all. It's just a blur." (Bill Maher, who had Huckabee on his HBO program on Friday, the candidate's 52nd birthday, ended his interview with the former governor by saying, "Rudy Giuliani scares the hell out of me, so I hope you win.")


Even those who think little of his political accomplishments can see Huckabee's appeal. Randy Thompson, whose advertising and consulting group has long aligned itself with the Democratic Party establishment in the former governor's home state, can spend 15 minutes bashing Huckabee's decade as governor, only to go soft.

"Everyone who's spent time with him whether they thought he was the best governor in the history of Arkansas or the absolute worst can agree that he's a nice man," Thompson says. "I think there's a certain freshness to that. That's what the people supporting him in Iowa saw."

Now, with the help of the national media, that's what the rest of America has begun to see. Huckabee's rare combination of down-home folksiness, compassion and ability to intelligently articulate conservative views has helped his transformation from former Baptist minister to the avatar of the post-Jerry Falwell evangelical movement. Once ridiculed for holding his hand up during a debate when asked which candidates didn't believe in evolution, he's risen above the label of religious zealot into, well, a conservative whom liberals such as Maher kind of like.

The problem for Huckabee is three-fold:

1. Repubs like to back frontrunners. Rarely has a second tier candidate made even a significant showing in Republican primaries, let alone actually won the nomination.

2. Because he is seen as a second-tier guy, he has not been able to raise significant cash - which means he has to do the free media like Maher, Stewart, Colbert, et al. Relying on the free media can backfire in the GOP primary where rank-and-file GOPers have disdain for the mainstream media in general and especially the outlets Huckabee is doing in particular. This may be a better strategy for appealing to independents and some Dems in the general. Plus he cannot blanket the airwaves with ads the way Romney has.

3. Because Huckabee is NOT running as the "I will bomb the Islamofascist Caliphate back into the pre-Mohammed era," Huckabee risks losing one of the big issues that rallies the Republican base - idiotic macho bullshit cockswinging to show how "tough" we are."

So, my sense is that while the media may like Huckabee and while I may like Huckabee (though I wouldn't vote for him), the GOP faithful will not like him in big enough numbers to help him raise enough money to jump to the top tier of the race and have a shot to win.

Still, given the dismal poll numbers for Bush and the GOP brand and given the head winds the Republican nominee is going to face winning the White House in '08, Huckabee would probably have the best shot to beat a Dem. And yet, it doesn't look like GOPers are even thinking of going with him.

I just don't get it.

POSTSCRIPT: Huckabee also creates problems with some in the GOP base when he pits Main Street against Wall Street and says the Republican Party must stop working solely for the investor class. On top of that, Huckabee says No Child Left Behind harms children by pushing only English and math. He wants to fund art and music education for kids. These are not exactly winning issues in the GOP primaries.

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