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Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 6:26 am | Fair 48º


David Harsanyi: Mike Huckabee Is the Wrong Candidate for the Wrong Time

Sometimes, probably because he's such an affable media presence, I forget why I dislike the political version of Mike Huckabee so much.

Maybe it's the aw-shucks populism, which isn't substantively very different from the class conflict rhetoric we hear from so many on the left these days. Or maybe it's that Everyman Huckabee has been running for one political office or another for the past 25 years — a fact that might escape the attention of anyone listening to the nuggets of blue-collar wisdom found in his speeches and those God-guns-grits-and-gravy books he writes.

Since his previous run for the presidency, Huckabee has hosted a national radio show and television show, and he's endorsed all sorts of interesting products, including "secret biblical cures for cancer" to, no doubt, some unfortunate and desperate people — because Huckabee, like all of those selfish plutocrats he likes to denounce, is out to make a buck.

Or maybe it's his paternalistic attacks on pop culture — the ones that make him sound like some reincarnated member of the Parents Music Resource Center — that are so off-putting. After all, as governor of Arkansas, Huckabee was a zealous advocate of the nanny state — passing precedent-setting intrusions into the lifestyle choices of individuals in Arkansas.

It could also be his role as John McCain's hit man in the 2008 primaries, when he attacked Mitt Romney's faith in an effort to dissuade evangelicals from supporting the Mormon candidate. Focusing on a candidate's belief system, at least from my perspective, is within the bounds of acceptable political debating. But Huckabee's churlish innuendo dropping should have undercut any perception you might have that the cheery former Baptist preacher is anything but your typical politician.

Mostly, though, it's his philosophical outlook.

There are a number of policy fights on the center-right of American politics, but there's also a measure of ideological unanimity (even if it is often only theoretical) about the role of government — namely that it should, to some extent, be smaller and less intrusive. There is no conceivable way for Huckabee to make that argument or represent that consensus.

Huckabee is what liberals in the media imagine a strong Republican candidate might look like. I mean, what segment of the GOP will Huckabee represent? The social conservative vote is well-covered this time around. So will it be the tax hike faction? The anti-trade faction? The "we need more laws" faction? The anti-school choice faction, which believes that teachers unions are doing a great job and that No Child Left Behind was the greatest education reform effort by the federal government in our lifetime?

Yet even as Huckabee announced his candidacy for the 2016 presidential nomination and evidence began to emerge on social media that he is going to have a tough time gaining traction with any conservative group, he was getting plenty of accolades from the press. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza found Huckabee's vacuous presidential announcement solid. He wrote about it, in a piece titled "Why the Republican Party really needs Mike Huckabee right now."

So why? "Because even though Huckabee remains outside of the top tier of candidates, he is, by far, the Republicans' best messenger to the middle and lower-middle classes — economic brackets that the party has struggled to win in recent elections."

Even if we concede that Cillizza's contention is true — and there is little evidence that it is, seeing as it's arguable that Democrats are struggling with middle-class voters just as much — his piece and many like it make the enormous assumption that the GOP can only appeal to these brackets by using the language of the left.

And if you believe that, then yes, Huckabee is your man. Take this statement regarding entitlements as an example: "There are some who propose that to save the safety nets, like Medicare and Social Security, we ought to chop off the payments for the people who had faithfully had their paychecks and pockets picked for the politicians promising them that their money would be waiting for them when they were old and sick."

A Huckabee presidency, it seems, would feature the "there are some who propose ..." straw man that you're no doubt familiar with after listening to our current president's fine speeches. But who exactly is proposing we chop off payments to people who have faithfully paid into the system for years? There is no mainstream conservative in this country who advocates Washington's eliminating benefits already promised to citizens. This is the same dishonest argument you hear whenever there's talk of entitlement reform. Almost every plan offers an element of choice, allowing people to voluntarily enter into a new deal with government, or it changes the parameters of entitlements for future generations.

Now, I confess that if Huckabee were serious about being president rather than simply running a vanity campaign, this sort of thing would matter far more. But the media will almost certainly use Huckabee as an example of how conservatives should be talking about poverty, inequality and entitlements, because his rhetoric will often be indistinguishable from what we hear on the left. But America already has a party tasked with making that case. Do we really need two?

David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him, follow him on Twitter: @davidharsanyi, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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