The Huckabee Shuffle
As I mentioned earlier, Mike Huckabee is soaring in South Carolina, traditionally where the Republican nominee has been determined in recent years. Considering that another Southern state, Florida, comes up right after South Carolina, and considering that Huckabee now has the national lead, there's no question that he's the front-runner on the Republican side right now, no matter what the McCain-fluffing media seems to think. The biggest sign of this is Bill Kristol's quasi-endorsement of him in the New York Times yesterday, a sign that the conservative establishment is no longer putting up a firewall, but trying to cultivate Huckabee as someone they can work with.
Indeed, Kristol’s column goes on to praise Huckabee as “likable regular guy” with a compelling personal narrative who may appeal well to younger voters. He concludes that the “Republican establishment spent 2007 underestimating Mike Huckabee,” and insists that “Huckabee is a talented politician.”
Kristol didn’t go so far as to endorse the former Arkansas governor — he said, “I’m certainly not ready to sign up” to back Huckabee’s campaign — but that he was willing to be as laudatory as he was should be enough to raise a few eyebrows.
As regular readers know, the Republican establishment, especially throughout the month of December, experienced what John Cole aptly labeled the “Huckabee Panic.” All of a sudden, it seemed to dawn on the party that the GOP nominee may be a former governor who raised taxes, supported immigration “amnesty,” has a record of making extreme comments, and whose understanding of foreign policy and national security issues rivals that of a small child [...]
And yet, here’s Kristol, effectively giving Huckabee his blessing. It suggests the Republican establishment freak-out, at a minimum, is subsiding, and the party is coming to grips with the former governor being a reasonable alternative to their preferred candidates.
As John Cole noted, watching the establishmentarians turn on a dime if Huckabee can't be stopped will be great fun. But I think you'll see more of Huckabee going to the establishment than the establishment going to him. His movement on immigration, from a position of compassion to a position of wanting to deny birthright citizenship, has already occurred.
But I think it's going to be easy for Huckabee to become "acceptable" to the money boys on the right; his campaign isn't really about anything but the fact that he's a good Christian and an aw-shucks kind of guy. I actually took a look at a Huckabee campaign rally on C-SPAN. It's like a stand-up comedy/variety show. The jokes come fast and furious, with lines like this one which he made on Letterman last night being indicative.
"If I win New Hampshire, it's because I did this show. If I lose New Hampshire, it's because I did this show."
He's funny and charming and he plays bass guitar almost everywhere. The policy specifics are amazingly lean. There was an entire campaign event this week based on a diner naming a burger after him. As far as the establishment is concerned, he can demagogue about the economy all he wants, as long as he's not prepared to do anything about it. And the indications are that he wants to talk about these things but actually go in the opposite direction, by proposing regressive taxes like the FairTax plan. As long as he can keep the grunts in the pews excited, they'll have an army of volunteers at the polls in November. A certain kind of army:
"When we become believers, it's as if we have signed up to be part of God's Army, to be soldiers for Christ," Huckabee told the enthusiastic audience.
"When you give yourself to Christ, some relationships have to go," he said. "It's no longer your life; you've signed it over."
Likening service to God to service in the military, Huckabee said "there is suffering in the conditioning for battle" and "you obey the orders."
I don't think the Big Money Boys are comfortable with this at all, but they may have to live with it. After all, their alternatives are dwindling.