Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) may seem like yesterday’s news in the world of Republican politics, not having won an election in 12 years and not having served in any public office in nearly nine years. But the preacher-turned-politician-turned-pundit-turned-politician-again still has a base of support and sees a national opportunity.
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee from his hometown Tuesday announced his second run for president, declaring to an auditorium of cheers that he is ready to help take America “from hope to higher ground.”“I am a candidate for president of the United States,” he said.
Huckabee put together a respectable showing in his 2008 race, but struggled to raise money, and failed to rally support outside the party’s evangelical base. The Arkansan – who now calls Florida home – has held onto many of those supporters and enters the race as a credible, second-tier contender, leading much of the large GOP field.
But by most measures, Huckabee remains a factional candidate who will struggle to compete for his party’s nomination.
Broadly speaking, Republican politics at the national level is comprised of three contingents: social conservatives (anti-gay, anti-abortion), economic conservatives (tax breaks for the rich, deregulation), and military hawks (more wars). The more a GOP presidential candidate can appeal to voters across the factions, the greater his or her chances of success.
Huckabee clearly excels with the religious right, which applauds his radical worldview on cultural and social issues, but the problem he can’t shake is simple: the other two contingents aren’t just backing other candidates; they actively despise Huckabee.
This is especially true of economic conservatives, who look at Huckabee’s Arkansas record and see an enemy. Alan Greenblatt reported this morning:
[Huckabee’s] record as governor would likely surprise many of those who have come to know him only as a political commentator in recent years.Just days after Huckabee won election to his final term in 2002, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the state’s funding levels for education were inadequate. Huckabee launched a campaign to consolidate school districts and did not hesitate to propose a sales tax increase, telling reporters the figure he proposed was “the starting line, not the finish line.”
The Politico report added that Huckabee ended up raising gas taxes, sales taxes, and a tax on beds in nursing homes, en route to increasing state spending and the size of state government.
There is a reason the right-wing Club for Growth is already launching attack ads against Huckabee – that wing of the party simply can’t stomach his Arkansas record.
As for the GOP’s hawks, neoconservatives were terrified of Huckabee’s 2008 candidacy, and there’s no reason to believe his standing has improved. Shortly before the Iowa caucuses, Huckabee conceded he didn’t know what the National Intelligence Estimate was; he cited Thomas Friedman and Frank Gaffney as his biggest influences on foreign policy, despite the fact that they have nothing in common; and in the aftermath of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, Huckabee’s first reaction was to argue that the slaying should lead to a reevaluation of immigration policy, which didn’t make any sense.
Rich Lowry wrote at the time, in reference to the Republican’s knowledge of foreign policy, that Huckabee is “manifestly unprepared to be president of the United States.”
Maybe the former governor is more of a general election candidate? Actually, the opposite is true – Huckabee’s extremism makes it nearly impossible for him to appeal to a mainstream audience.
On gun violence, Huckabee blamed the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre on the lack of government-sponsored school prayer. On women’s issues, Huckabee has endorsed the belief that “a wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband,” and he’s referred to birth-control pills as “abortion pills.”
Let’s also not forget that during his tenure as governor, Huckabee wrote a ridiculous book that equated environmentalism with pornography and homosexuality with necrophilia. Indeed, he’s reserved some of his most over-the-top vitriol for gay people.
And for all the perceptions about Huckabee’s jovial persona, it’s important not to overlook an ugly mean streak. Huckabee has been a birther, falsely claiming that President Obama “grew up in Kenya”; he endorsed the “death panel” garbage; and in August 2009, he argued on his radio show that the Affordable Care Act would have forced Ted Kennedy to commit suicide were the celebrated senator not already dead.
There’s also Huckabee’s unfortunate business practices, which have turned him into something of a snake-oil salesman. It’s hard to seem presidential when you run a sketchy online operation in which you use a mailing list to “blast out links to heart-disease fixes and can’t-miss annuities.”
I don’t doubt Huckabee will play an important role in 2016 race, but if he wants to get to the Oval Office, he’ll have to arrange a visit as a tourist.