Matt Duss had an article Wednesday on Huckabee’s recent statements earlier this week rejecting a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. In short, Huckabee absolutely opposes any divison of Jerusalem and believes the Palestinians should not have a state “in the middle of the Jewish homeland.” Huckabee said that such an arrangement would be unrealistic. While Huckabee may not have thought out quite what this entails, it would mean either that the Palestinians remain a stateless, second-class people in the territories or that they would have to be relocated to some other territory that Huckabee would not regard as being in “the middle of the Jewish homeland.” Huckabee has now securely occupied the transferist ground in Republican presidential politics. Put that way, it sounds very bad, but it will almost never be put that way in conservative media outlets and it will not be heard that way by conservatives. Even though it is the mirror image of radical anti-Zionist rhetoric that insists that Jews ought to have their own state anywhere except Israel, it will not draw the same ire or condemnations because there is no political downside in the U.S. to denying Palestinian claims. Indeed, there are many political rewards for the politician or pundit who not only rejects a Palestinian state but who also denies that Palestinians exist as a nation.
The article’s title asked whether Huckabee will pay a price for saying something like this, but the question must be a rhetorical one. We already know that the answer is no. After all, who would make him pay a political price for saying this? He is voicing a sentiment that is not only broadly popular on the American right, but which also outrages no one of consequence inside the Republican Party. Even if Huckabee’s statement puts him to “the right” of Israel’s own nationalist government and puts him out of step with the official bipartisan and international consensus on the matter, there is no group or institution in the United States that would be willing to penalize Huckabee for taking this position. There are depressingly few on the right who would have a principled objection to the substance of his remarks. Most conservatives would say that Huckabee has his heart in the right place, but that he is the one being “unrealistic” and too idealistic. A movement and party that not only abides but embraces the likes of John Hagee will hardly be interested in punishing Huckabee for rejecting a Palestinian state.
Were someone to attempt to hold these statements against Huckabee in a significant way, we could expect Hagee’s CUFI and their allies to rally to his defense. Far from paying a price, Huckabee stands to solidify his standing with evangelicals in the GOP and shore up his credentials as a hawkish “friend” of Israel (if these were ever in doubt). At the same time, he has staked out an uncompromising rejectionist stance that will reassure national security conservatives who had once thought him too prone to foreign policy realism. All of the incentives in GOP pre-primary and primary politics work to encourage Huckabee’s sort of crazy policy freelancing.
Were a Jon Huntsman in the 2012 mix, Huckabee might at least have a credible rival who could make Huckabee look foolish in debates on foreign policy. Glib and clever as he is, Huckabee would not fare well against an experienced diplomat on matters of substance. As we all know, this debate will never happen because Huntsman scrapped any near-term presidential hopes when he accepted the job in Beijing. At present, Huckabee’s main rival in any future presidential campaign will likely be Romney, and Romney has shown repeatedly that he can be at his pandering worst when it comes to foreign policy questions. The only question for Romney will be how he can get to Huckabee’s “right” on Israel.
Can a prominent American conservative leader now oppose this consensus, reject the right of the Palestinian people to a state in their homeland, and even endorse population transfer as a solution — which is, after all, the clear implication of Huckabee’s suggestion that the Palestinians should find a homeland “elsewhere” — and still hope to run for president?
Duss seems to think that a more forthrightly extreme anti-Palestinian stance would be a liability for a Republican presidential candidate. I am not sure why he thinks this. The most damage that Huckabee might suffer from this is the accusation that he is not well-versed in foreign policy and would therefore be prone to saying and doing provocative or foolish things were he to be elected President. Then again, for a nontrivial segment of the GOP this seems to be a desirable quality. His future primary opponents could paint him as being “out of touch” or ill-informed. This would not be because they find Huckabee’s remarks all that objectionable, but rather because they could use his statements to make him appear naive and unprepared. However, that might not be very effective, either. We have already seen how Palin’s apologists came out of the woodwork to glory in her international ignorance, much as many conservatives did when journalists and pundits mocked Bush’s ignorance in 2000 and afterwards. There is no reason to believe that rank-and-file distaste for expertise, international experience and diplomacy has lessened in the last year or that it will have significantly waned by 2011-12. The question then is not whether Huckabee will pay a price, but rather it is this: how much will he gain?