We are all naturally inclined to see the candidates we dislike strongly as also being the most unelectable, disastrous candidates who will doom our preferred party to oblivion (or something to that effect). This makes a certain amount of sense, since you see a candidate’s positions, weigh them, find them wanting and then assume that similar scrutiny from the general public will lead them to the same rational conclusions. Likewise, candidates whom we support or favour always seem much more broadly appealing. People who are thrilled by Obama believe that he is actually electable nationwide (and that he will magically heal our national divisions and reverse the aging process as well), and those who are horrified by Huckabee believe that he will be the cause of an electoral catastrophe. Let’s test the latter proposition that nominating Huckabee would be a disaster. Let me say up front that I think it would be a political disaster of a different kind, because I think many of Huckabee’s ideas are terrible, so I am not advocating a Huckabee nomination, which I see as a continuation of the errors of the Bush Era. (I am on the record in any case as a Paul supporter who thinks that the GOP support for the war will doom it to defeat in any case unless the nominee adopts a different position.)
First, some anecdotal evidence: Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio, the essential battleground state for next year, says that Huckabee would be the best and strongest Republican candidate, particularly in Ohio. This could be an attempt at deception, I suppose, but on the face of it there really is something to the idea that a socially conservative and economically populist Republican would do well in Ohio. Obviously, it doesn’t help Huckabee’s attempt to cast himself, implausibly, as an “authentic conservative” that Strickland says that Huckabee would be his preferred Republican candidate, but what it shows is that Huckabee may have the kind of cross-party and cross-ideology appeal that the GOP nominee will have to have to recover from the disastrous Bush era. Strickland and Brown both capitalised on populist themes in their campaigns last year, and a Republican who could poach on that territory could keep Ohio in the GOP column. A golly-gee venture capitalist and proponent of globalisation and pro-immigration free traders will not fare well there, just as they will not fare well across the Midwest, where the election will likely be decided.
Obviously, it is Huckabee’s perceived flaws in fiscal policy that drive conservative pundits and some voters up the wall, but the question to ask is this: are moderate and independent voters really going to be put off by someone who has Huckabee’s fiscal record? If not, then Huckabee’s poor record from the Club for Growth and Cato Institute perspective may be an asset in the general election to the extent that the general public is not really on board with CfG and Cato ideas. You may view that, as I do in many ways, as regrettable and frustrating, but I think that is the political reality. Fiscal and business conservatives who are not enthusiastic about Huckabee’s tax-hiking, corporation-bashing, vague nods to protectionism and pro-labour rhetoric should consider the possibility that these are the very areas where Republicans are weakest in the current environment. Perhaps they, rather than the social conservatives, will have to make compromises and hold their noses while voting for the “lesser of two evils” for a change. But just imagine for a moment a variant of Bushism that is not necessarily closely wedded to corporate interests and which supports enforcing immigration laws–that is what Huckabee is beginning to offer on paper and in his rhetoric (however cynical and opportunistic and craven his move to the right on immigration is). This may be an undesirable ideology in many ways, but what it is not going to be is unpopular.
The reality is that the GOP is in hideous shape for the next presidential election and will almost certainly lose. It is not as if Huckabee would be jeopardising the Republicans’ advantageous position. The question is then this: which candidate currently realistically gives the GOP the best chance to compete and possibly win next year? It is not at all ridiculous to suggest that the GOP’s best chance at this point may, in fact, be Huckabee. Jim Pinkerton, who has been talking up Huckabee for some time, has made a related argument. That may be a commentary on how horrible the GOP’s chances really are, or it may reveal how distorted conservative views of the electorate have become that they think that it is an electoral liability that Huckabee is not a doctrinaire tax-slashing, small-governmennt conservative. As someone who supports the quintessential tax-slashing, small-government conservative in the race, let me tell you that I feel confident that this is not the part of the message that is inspiring most of the enthusiasm for Ron Paul. I wish we lived in Ron Paul’s America, but the frightening truth is that we may very well be living in Huckabee’s. There are plenty of arguments against nominating Huckabee, but it’s not at all clear to me that an argument about his electability is one of them. I would like nothing more than to see Bushism repudiated forever, so I don’t want Huckabee to win the nomination. However, as perverse as it sounds, a Bushism that did not contain its open borders, corporatism and aggressive foreign policy elements would be one that a lot of Americans would support.