April 3, 2009

Assessing GOP 2012 - Huckabee

This is the first in a series of looks at the potential contenders for the GOP 2012 Presidential nomination. For each contender I will try to assess their overall conservatism, their level of experience, their likability/electability, and their positions on Foreign Affairs, the Economy, the Military, Border Security, and Social Issues. From there I'll try to provide an overall rating.

Keep in mind that the ratings are subjective, and feedback is encouraged. However, also keep in mind that while I have personal opinions and preferences, I will try to not let it influence my ratings. While personal preferences can color perception, overall the most important thing for conservatives is to get a conservative Republican in the White House in 2012 who will provide as much direction change as possible from the current cabal running the show. No matter who that is, I will support him or her.

First Up: Mike Huckabee. [Others assesed: Sarah Palin , Bobby Jindal , Mark Sanford, Mitt Romney]
Mike Huckabee ran for President in 2008, coming in second to John McCain in the GOP primaries. He previously was the Governor of the State of Arkansas. Currently he has his own show on Fox News Channel.

Experience: Mike Huckabee has executive experience, as Governor of Arkansas from 1996 through 2006. Certainly a Governorship lends itself to executive experience more than that of a Senator, who might find himself in over his head were he to win an unlikely Presidential race in 2008...

How Huckabee's experience is applied is a matter left to other categories, what is important is that in the leadership role, Huckabee has had some trial by fire executive experience in Arkansas. On the world stage the game is raised, but only those in the Vice-Presidential role can claim more direct experience during an initial run for the Presidency than a Governor.

Grade: A-.

Likability/Electability: Mike Huckabee is definitely personable and relatable. Certainly from this perspective he has an advantage over some other potential candidates - he plays guitar, he has a sense of humor and had the ability to be self-deprecating on Saturday Night Live. And he did that long before Senator McCain did it in a desperate bid to salvage a campaign. Likability is an important factor that works in Mike Huckabee's favor. Out of all of the 2008 GOP candidates, Huckabee had the most likely ability to connect with independent voters. While part of that may have been his centrist positions on big government items, much could have been credited to his personality.

In 2012, whether likability is an important factor is yet to be established. But it is always a factor. And Huckabee is likable enough to potentially win over some Democrat votes. Without knowing others in the field, this is still a strong area for Huckabee. He can build on it over the next few years with his show on Fox giving him the opportunity to provide additional familiarity and at the same time perhaps prove his conservative bona fides. It could backfire if he says something too controversial, but it's more likely to benefit him.

Grade: A-.

Foreign Affairs: Let's just do this one as a laundry list. He supports dialogue with Iran (not just bad, Obama bad). He doesn't think Israel should trade land for peace (good), in 2007 he told Time he was not worried about China (bad), he condemned the Russian invasion of Georgia last year (good, but to be expected), other than that he has been a little too untested on Russian issues. In 2002, he favored lifting the embargo on Cuba (bad).

There are other items to review but there's enough softness in here to be concerned about. After 4 years of an Obama administration, the United States needs someone with backbone. It does not need a Bush, it needs someone who can negotiate but is tough, someone who seeks consensus but will be forceful when needed. Huckabee just does not look like that guy.

Grade: D+

Economy: Mike Huckabee wants to end American dependence on foreign oil, and he thinks Kyoto is misguided. That's a huge plus. But he does fall into the greenhouse gases trap.

On the bailouts, he wrote this;

Frankly, I'm disappointed and disgusted with my own Republican party as I watch them attempt to strong-arm a bailout of some of America's biggest corporations by asking the taxpayers to suck up the staggering results of the hubris, greed, and arrogance of those who sought to make a quick buck by throwing the dice. They lost, but want the rest of us to cover their bets so they won't be effected in their lavish lifestyles as they figure out how to spend their tens of millions and in some cases, hundreds of millions in bonuses and compensation which was their reward for not only sinking their companies, but basically doing the same to the entire American economy.

His thinking on the bailout is in the right place.

Grade: B.

Military: During the 2008 campaign, Huckabee seemed to parrot the position of John McCain with respect to the surge being a good idea that should have come earlier. He seems to be a boots on the ground guy.

According to Newsvine he campaigned in Iowa,

Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who jumped to a lead in Iowa polls earlier this month, wants a drastic increase in regular forces to ease the strain on National Guard and reserve units being called up for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We need to have a larger regular force to make sure we are capable if we do have to go into battle, and let's pray to God that we don't," Huckabee told about 120 people in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

This might be one area the big government image could work to his benefit. He wanted to raise defense spending to 6% of GDP. From a military perspective, that's a plus. The negative associated with that is the potential costs, if they are not offset, could be more than problematic. This is especially true in the new climate of ultra-debt that will undoubtedly be the 800 lb. gorilla issue in 2012. So while his heart's in the right place, his opinion could be swayed by heavier matters or the reality of 2011 might preclude his plans.

Grade: B-

National / Border Security:

Marvin Olasky at Townhall reported in January 2008,

On the use of military force, some Christians are pacifists who believe that Jesus' injunction to turn the other cheek is a universal commandment. The more common exegesis, though, is that this refers to personal offenses but not to national policy concerning terrorism.

Question: "When an adversary attacks us, should we turn the other cheek?"

Huckabee's response: "Absolutely not, and we can't wait to be attacked; we must prevent attacks. In this age of terror, we must constantly be on the offensive to hunt down radical extremists who want to kill every last one of us and destroy our civilization."

On the issue of illegal immigration, Huckabee was pounded by the media and other candidates for supporting touch back amnesty for illegals. While that is a bit of a mis=-classification, he can hardly be considered strong on the issue. In response to the issue, Huckabee said "If they're caught as illegal aliens, I don't have any problem with sending them back." That's not exactly an overpowering response to his detractors.

Grade: D

Social Issues: Marvin Olasky who interviewed Mike Huckabee in his 2008 run, wrote;

He went on to say, "The most valuable thing the government can do for the poor is protect the opportunity created by our free-market economy, enacting pro-growth policies that create jobs, make certain that every child has access to a first-rate education, and adopt policies [like tax policies] that encourage marriage and the family. Much of the poverty in this country is in families headed by a single mother."

Jonah Goldberg, a strident anti-Huckabee conservative, complained this past Sunday that Bush/ Huckabee compassionate conservatism is "a political program that apparently measures compassion by how much money the government spends on education, marriage counseling and the like."

He has defined compassionate conservatism as teaching self-reliance and not being big government. It's the right words, but his Governor record belies the rhetoric. He's been positioned as wanting to enforce smoking bans. He's definitely strongly against gay marriage.

It's a mixed bag with Huckabee, and perhaps a bit of a roll of the dice. I'm not convinced his rhetoric on his former liberal positions outweighs the conservative positions he does support. It's a tough call.

Grade: C. (More evidence is required)

Conservatism: Mike Huckabee has a track record that would indicate he's a big government Republican. According to the Cato Institute,

The number of government workers increased by 20 percent, and the state's debt services increased by nearly $1 billion. Huckabee financed his spending binge with higher taxes. Under his leadership, the average Arkansan's tax burden increased 47 percent, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, including increases in the state's gas, sales, income, and cigarette taxes. He raised taxes on everything from groceries to nursing home beds.

Huckabee answers these complaints by pointing out that he "cut taxes 94 times" while governor. True. But most of those tax cuts were tiny, like exempting residential lawn care from the sales tax. Some cuts reduced overall state revenues by as little as $15,000. On net, Huckabee increased state taxes by more than $500 million. In fact, Huckabee increased taxes in the state by more than Bill Clinton did.

But Huckabee doesn't just embrace big government in the form of big taxes. He truly appears to believe that if something is a good idea it should be a federal government program.

That's definitely a concern. And despite the fact that he signed a pledge not to raise taxes during the 2008 campaign, and despite the fact that he had a 12 year career as a pastor, the believability of that tax pledge is dubious.

Perhaps knowing that he's been labelled as not coservative enough, if he did not live the conservative mantra in his role as Governor, since the 2008 election cycle, Mike Huckabee has at least been speaking the conservative mantra. Speaking it well, and speaking it a little more forcefully.

On the 18th of March of this year, Mike Huckabee wrote in the Washington Times,

Conservatives believe that the best government is the most local government possible and that the 10th Amendment means something and should be followed. Yet, the supposedly conservative Republican Party has been a drum major for the expanded role of the federal government.

Our founders feared a highly centralized and endowed federal government, instead preferring a system of strong and virtually independent states so that no one person, party, or power broker would exercise a great deal of control.


It was especially disgusting to me to watch some of the very leaders who had smugly dismissed my candidacy for president because I had the audacity to speak out against the excesses of Wall Street and Washington as early as February 2007 now stand up and flop-sweat as they explained why they were about to support the government taking off the striped shirts of the referee and put on the jersey of a team to play the game for one team against another all in the name of "saving the markets."

By abandoning our bedrock conservative principles, and those of our founding fathers, they risked ruining our country to save the markets.

If nothing else, he has certainly become eloquent about conservatism. In the end, it's probably too early to gauge whether he has turned over a more conservative leaf, or he's just recalled the mantra of running to the right in the primary process and the center for the genral election. So in a fit of caution, I will be less harsh than the Cato Institute and provide a central (not centrist) grade.

Grade: C- (with more evaluation needed).

Overall: Mike Huckabee was not ready in 2008. 2012 will be different - he will be an improved candidate and have had time to smooth over some of his more liberal past leanings while on Fox. But will it be a rhetorical paving over of the past, or will he 'come-to-Jesus' on illegal immigration and other issues? Is he electable? Now, no - Obama is still too poular. Next year, probably more so. That's a definite plus. But conservatives want more than electable. We want Reagan 2.0. So far, Huckabee is not it, and even by 2012 there will be conservatives reticent to believe he is more conservative than he was as Governor of Arkansas. It's a tricky call for anyone.

So at this point, I'm willing to listen but not yet confident that he's as conservative as his rhetoric. I say, let's give him time to establish a narrative that conservatives will listen to and decide upon.

Grade: C+ (incomplete, but will be re-graded in the future).
Of course I could be wrong. I'd love to hear your opinions.


  1. Overall I agree. I think Huckabee is one of the most genuine people in politics, and I like him a lot on a personal level. My big concern, aside from some of his Bush-esque track record, is that, like many Christian Republicans, he feels he has a mission to move the country in a Christian direction. While I can understand and sympathize, I don't like having someone, from the left or right, trying to legislate morality.

  2. Austin, I may be a little picky here but don't all laws legislate morality? Thou shall not murder, steal, and give false wittiness, there seems to be a morality basis for all legislation, good or bad.

  3. I think for Austin, and I don't want to put words into his mouth, it may be a matter of degrees.

  4. My view of the law, and the role of government, is that its role is to deal with those who, by force or fraud, violate others' basic rights to life, liberty, and property. Some things, like murder, are morally wrong and violations of others' rights, and should be illegal; other things, like, say, gay marriage, may be considered immoral, but don't threaten others' life, liberty, or property, and therefore shouldn't be the government's business.

  5. Austin,

    Are you saying the government should take no position either way on an issue such as gay marriage?


Disagreement is always welcome. Please remain civil. Vulgar or disrespectful comments towards anyone will be removed.

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