OSKALOOSA, Iowa – Mike Huckabee went full populist on his first day of campaigning, standing on an Iowa factory floor Wednesday decrying new free trade deals and insisting disabled workers should be considered “innocent until proven guilty” of defrauding the government.
Asked by msnbc whether Congress should approve so-called “fast track” authority that would speed trade deals through Congress, Huckabee said, “They should not.”
That position puts him to the left of Hillary Clinton, who has voiced “concerns” about fast track, but hasn’t opposed it. President Obama has pushed hard to get the authority approved. “I don’t care where it puts me on the horizontal scale, I’m not about it on a horizontal basis,” Huckabee said when msnbc pointed out where he stood in relation to Clinton on the issue. “If we do another trade deal that drives American wages lower, and that isn’t motored, and isn’t secured to be completely fair in how it’s administered, then that’s not free trade. Free trade is about trade going both ways.”
He added, “I’d like to think the U.S. government would stand up for the U.S. workers, rather than let them take it in the backside and somehow just have to tough it out.”
Huckabee toured Clow Valves in tiny Oskaloosa on Wednesday during his first 2016 campaign trip to Iowa, where he won a surprise victory in the 2008 caucuses during his previous campaign. The company makes valves and fire hydrants, and Huckabee was presented with a miniature metal fire hydrant as a memento of his trip. Huckabee’s father once worked as a firefighter.
Trade isn’t the the only issue on which Huckabee sounded populist notes that are at odds with much of the rest of his party. Entitlement reform, particularly issues of fraud and waste, are high on the list of GOP priorities, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recently gave a speech in New Hampshire advocating for raising the retirement age and decrying fraud in Social Security’s disability programs.
But Huckabee told reporters Wednesday that proving fraud should be on the government’s shoulders, not the worker’s.
“Sure, you gotta clean up any fraud, and deal with that, but to assume that anyone who is disabled is really fraudulent, I think that’s an insult to a person,” he said. “We should approach it that people are innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around. You should make the government prove that a person isn’t in need.”
Populism aside, Huckabee is still running as a social conservative, key for the evangelical conservatives who sent him to victory in the Iowa caucuses seven years ago. On Wednesday, he twice refused to say whether or not he would attend a same-sex wedding.