Huckabee is not a Republican...or shouldn't be

A version of this article was also published at RealClearPolitics.com A common criticism of the primary process is that it lets activists who are not necessarily representative of the general population have an outsized impact on the selection of the nominees. Every once in a while, a high-profile early primary victory reminds of that, such as when Pat Buchanan won the New Hampshire primary in 1996 despite his being unlikely to get the party’s nomination and his certain inability to win the general election. We may be on the verge of another similar moment as we watch Mike Huckabee’s current surge. Republicans must not be so unintelligent that they nominate Huckabee as the GOP candidate for president because the American voters are too smart to elect him. During the 2006 campaign, the only emails I received which argued that the GOP would maintain its majorities in both houses of Congress came from social conservatives. After the Republicans’ electoral bloodbath, those notes reminded me of Pauline Kael’s famous quote about the 1972 election: “I don’t know how Nixon could have been elected; nobody I know voted for him.” That election proved the Republican party can not win simply by pandering to evangelical voters while ignoring fiscal conservatives and libertarians. The voters showed that when faced with a Democrat or with a Republican who will act like a Democrat on fiscal issues, they’ll go with the real big-spender rather than the wannabe. At least voters don’t then feel that they or their representatives are hypocrites; they’re getting the government they were promised…even if it’s not the government they want. If there is a poster boy for this problem, it’s Mike Huckabee. Mike Huckabee is charismatic and appealing on first glance, and of course he must be in order to have been a successful pastor. He worked in radio since he was a boy and later became president of a religiously-oriented television station where he also hosted programs. Huckabee’s career has been built on being at least superficially appealing and good at offering enough sound bites to keep an audience satisfied an hour at a time. But the master of the sound bite, a man who panders to the religious right on social issues but otherwise is the furthest thing from a fiscal or constitutional conservative among all the GOP candidates should not (and will not) become President of the United States. In their 2006 Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors, the Cato Institute noted that Huckabee “went from being one of the best governors in America to one of the worst. He receives an F for his current term and a D for his entire tenure. The main reason for the drop was his insistence on raising taxes at almost every turn throughout his final term.” Although Huckabee did pass tax cuts in his first term, “Nine days after being reelected in 2002, he proposed a sales tax increase to cover a budget deficit caused partly by large spending increases that he proposed and approved, including an expansion in Medicare eligibility that Huckabee made a centerpiece of his 1997 agenda. He agreed to a 3 percent income tax ‘surcharge’ and a 25-cent cigarette tax increase.” The pro-free market Club for Growth puts it in more political terms: “Huckabee is proud of his tax hikes, his spending increases, and his regulatory expansions as governor, and he has not indicated that he would govern any differently as president. Nominating Mike Huckabee for president or vice-president would constitute an abject rejection of the free-market, limited-government, economic conservatism that has been the unifying theme of the Republican Party for decades….Overall, Huckabee's substantial tax hikes far surpassed his modest tax cuts, with the average tax burden increasing by a whopping 47% over his tenure.” But don’t just take it from fiscal conservatives that Huckabee isn’t one. The New Hampshire chapter of the National Education Association, one of the most reliable and largest union supporters of Democrats, is set to endorse Huckabee, the first time in the organization’s long history that they will endorse a Republican. And why shouldn’t they, with Huckabee calling himself “a passionate, ardent supporter of having music and art in every school for every student at every grade level.”? Could Huckabee be any more removed from the as-yet unsuccessful goal of reducing or eliminating the role of the federal government in education as expounded by Republicans from Ronald Reagan to Bob Dole to Newt Gingrich to Ron Paul? Someone so proud of his “achievements” shouldn’t need to lie about them. Yet he does, according to FactCheck.org: Huckabee’s claim that he asked for a tax hike in May, 2003 because of a court order to increase education spending is belied by his own speech before the Arkansas Legislature in which he called for raising taxes while saying “the business of education, we’ve decided to let that wait until the fall.” And, Huckabee’s claim that a gasoline tax hike was passed with 80% voter approval is also untrue. Huckabee approved the gas tax increase before a bond measure went to the voters. The bond measure passed, “but Huckabee actually campaigned against sending the gas tax proposal to the voters. Eventually he supported a plan under which the gas and diesel tax increases would take effect regardless of whether the bond passed.” As if lying about his fiscal record weren’t enough, reports are now surfacing that even Huckabee’s supposed theology degree may not be true. I’m not expert enough in these matters to know whether there’s an important difference between a degree in “religion” versus “theology”; you can try to parse Huckabee’s response yourself. The Republican Party is indeed a “big tent”. There is room for widely ranging views on a wide range of issues, from social issues to immigration to the war in Iraq. But supporting bigger government and higher taxes is not bringing a new view into the tent; it is burning down the tent, the very fabric of which is made of respect for liberty and limited government. On election day, Huckabee will not appeal to a majority of Americans. His religious emphasis will turn off everyone except the “Christian right” (and they might not come along depending on how the recent report about his “theology” degree plays out). His big-spending ways will turn off fiscal conservatives. So he won’t capture “swing voters” and won’t get enough Republicans to win. Republicans who vote for Huckabee should simply be honest and go find a religious Democrat to vote for. (I presume there is one.) Indeed, if Democrats weren’t so anti-religion, Huckabee would be their pastor; he’s one of them in every other way.
  • Joe Harrington
    Comment from: Joe Harrington
    12/20/07 @ 10:36:22 am

    I find it fascinating that Mr. Huckabee said that he really didn't know much about other religions and the reporter knew more... so he wasn't really smearing Romney's religion when he "innocently asked whether it was true that Jesus and the devil are brothers"...This from the guy with the RELIGION degree!! I couldn't care what religion either one is from, but I do care that he so easily lied when pressed, and his lie was in the area of his supposed expertise.

  • Gerand Tobinare
    Comment from: Gerand Tobinare
    12/20/07 @ 11:53:19 pm

    You make the arguement that as a governor raising taxes of any kind immediately disqualifies Huckabee from being a true conservative or a Republican for that matter. This is absurd, true conservatism should allow states to levy their own tax for whatever reasons they see fit, whether it be to improve education, invest in infrastructure, cover deficits, etc. Who better to identify the fiscal needs of the state than the states themselves, and in the process be accountable for those taxes. If all states did this than we would not need an federal income tax or the IRS. (Seems like I've heard that proposed by somebody.) The fedarlist system we have now has given Washington too much control over the pocket books and lives of ordinary citizens. This control goes unchecked and is accountable to no one with out of control deficit spending. By eliminating the IRS, we take away a large part of government control and move it closer to the people at the state level and that my friend is truer conservatism.

  • Muwattalis
    Comment from: Muwattalis
    12/21/07 @ 06:03:54 am

    Libertarians need social conservatives a whole lot more than social conservatives need them. In fact, in the core domestic issues facing America now, illegal immigration, health care, and trade, the public flatly does not want libertarian responses. A recent poll in the WSJ showed that 60% of REPUBLICANS now believe that free trade has been bad for America. So clearly, Huckabee represents the future of the GOP. He represents a GOP that solidly represents the cultural values and class interests of working class and lower middle class Americans of all colors. If Huckabee is the candidate look for him to get a whole lot more minority votes than Republicans are used to. At a time of mounting economic insecurity due to globalization, libertarianism is in political free fall. That was what the whole "comprehensive immigration reform" battle last summer between the populists and the libertarians was about. The populists won then and are winning now. Huckabee is the tangible reflection of this power shift. Social conservatives are refusing to support free trade policies that depress their standard of living. They are refusing to be used as the foot soldiers of secularists who live on returns from capital.

  • nobodyislistening
    Comment from: nobodyislistening
    12/21/07 @ 06:52:17 am

    Country Club Republicans running scared. Same thing happened with Reagan, when the rich Rockefellers mantra defied common sense the people revolted. Its happening again and Mike Huckabee is rising above the elite chattering classes that think they can throw lies out and muddy a great shining candidate and his message. Huckabee 08 - a true conservative - and he's not mad about it - only the country clubbers are.

  • Mark Rolfes
    Comment from: Mark Rolfes
    12/21/07 @ 11:56:12 am

    Excuse me, did I miss something? Are the Republicans we have in Washington for the past 8 years (Bush and both houses) believers in limited government? They have been big proponents of pork barrel spending, earmarks, huge spending increases, etc. Tell me how they have worked to limit government in the spirit of Ronald Reagan? I am a true conservative (non-evangelical), and very supportive of Bush, but the one area that Republicans in Washington have most abandoned conservative principles is the commitment to limited government. We need spending cuts in addition to tax cuts. I don't have a huge problem with some minor fee increases, especially if it is increasing a flat fee to keep up with inflation. The broadest tax, though, is the income tax, and as far as I know, Huckabee did not raise the income tax, but cut it. Huckabee and McCain are the two best choices out there, as far as I am concerned.

  • Ben
    Comment from: Ben
    12/21/07 @ 01:12:22 pm

    Nearly all of the above comments deserve responses. I am a social conservative, a fiscal conservative, and a lifelong Republican. Here goes: To Gerand, you are setting up a straw-man argument. Of course, states have the right of taxation. What Rossputin was pointing out was Huck's overall trend in tax policy, which is not good by a fiscally conservative Republican standard. To Muwattalis, your read of the immigration debate is oversimplified and misleading. You are going to have to do a whole lot more heavy lifting (or at least sourcing) to show how "libertarianism is in political free fall." Your read of the immigration debate is also largely irrelevant here, since Huck himself is a newcomer to the strong enforcement side - which in fact muddles his otherwise populist views. Some of us happen to be social and fiscal conservatives. The two wings of the party need each other. Why not pick a candidate who reflects both, rather than one who splits the party and destroys the agendas of both? To nobodyislistening, simply plastering labels on those who disagree with you as "country club Republicans" only shows the weakness of your position. Hurling these epithets at someone like Rossputin (or, if you care to, me) only diminishes your credibility. A true conservative? It means more than just being pro-life and pro-traditional marriage. In addition to the fiscal shortcomings so eloquently written about in this post, what about Huck's naive foreign policy that sounds like echoes of Barack Obama? Is this the guy you want as commander-in-chief in a time of war? To Mark Rolfes, your comment is a total non-sequitur. Like Rossputin and me, you say you are animated by frustration with the lack of fiscal discipline shown by Congressional Republicans. How does that translate into support for Huckabee (who has been anything but an advocate for limited government)? McCain, maybe, for his lead on earmark reform, but he also pushed the giant Medicare expansion. Please clue me in here. In summary, for all I know, most of the commenters here might be working for the Huckabee camp, since there are no links to follow that would identify them. That being said, their arguments need to be refuted. I'm writing to implore GOP primary voters to think seriously about their decisions. If you're going to support Huckabee, fine, but only if you at least got there by coming to grips with his record and having given some thought to a couple broad questions: 1) What would his foreign and domestic policy prescriptions really mean for our country? and 2) What are the odds he could actually win a general election? Writing as a Baptist born-again Christian, let me remind you we are electing a President, not a pastor.

  • Brody
    Comment from: Brody
    12/24/07 @ 12:06:36 pm

    "if Democrats weren’t so anti-religion, Huckabee would be their pastor; he’s one of them in every other way." FOX news recently that Huckabee participated in the “Baptist wars” as a liberal. It is my understanding that this “war” was primarily concerned with the doctrine of the inerrancy of scripture. The conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention won that fight in favor of preserving the view that the original scriptures where without error. So, if Huckabee was a liberal on that issue, then he is a liberal Christian, think Methodist, Presbyterian USA, Lutheran ELCA. The vast majority of Protestants who vote Democratic come from those sects. So, it turns out that he is a liberal in his religion as well as his politics.