Conservatives love him, and yet the Republican establishment can’t seem to stand the guy. And liberal bloggers are strangely drawn to the evangelical politician from Arkansas.
Of the entire motley crew that ran in the 2008 Republican primaries, only two candidates stood out. The first, John McCain, went on to become the eventual nominee.
The second was Mike Huckabee. A former governor with little name recognition and practically no money, Huckabee rose from a third-tier candidate to become the winner of the Iowa caucuses and thereafter consistently exceeded expectations. Days after Senator John McCain dominated Super Tuesday to emerge as the consensus nominee, Huckabee won both Kansas and Louisiana. The media barely noticed.
Mike Huckabee was also the most telegenic of all the candidates in 2008. Barack Obama can give a far better speech and Hillary Clinton can debate with more skill, but there is nothing on cable news like a pundit caught between Huckabee and the camera. The man is warm, self-deprecating, and extremely funny. I remember his multiple appearances in front of Stephen Colbert, who is perhaps the media personality most skilled at skewering conservatives. Mr. Colbert did everything he could to make Huckabee say something stupid; the candidate dodged Colbert’s traps with ease.
Yet for some reason, the Republican establishment simply despises Mike Huckabee. The reason Huckabee never gained viability in 2008 was because the right-wing machine refused to provide him the money, endorsements, and—most importantly—scent of legitimacy he needed. Even today, conservative bloggers blast Huckabee as a fake—a secret liberal pretending to be conservative.
This is strange. On social issues, Huckabee is as conservative as they come, as a former evangelical preacher who even believes in intelligent design. On economic issues, he can sound quite populist; this probably loses him the support of the Republican business community. Yet his actual positions are quite right-wing; for instance, he advocates replacing income taxes with a national sales tax (a terrible idea). As governor of Arkansas, Huckabee successfully fought the teacher’s unions—a favorite target of conservatives.
Interestingly, the opposite holds true for a number of liberal bloggers. While in many regards Huckabee constitutes a male version of Sarah Palin, there does not seem to be widespread dislike toward the guy. Markos Moulitsas, founder of the political blog DailyKos, went so far as to nominate Huckabee for chairman of the Republican National Committee.
It’s not just liberal bloggers who like Huckabee; in the primaries (and previous elections), he drew a surprising percentage of support from black voters, second only to President Barack Obama. Huckabee’s recent Willie Horton-esque scandal might even help him with black voters. Whether he could maintain support in a general election is unknown, but it certainly provides an intriguing avenue to explore.
If one were to imagine the winner of the 2016 presidential election, one could easily picture Mike Huckabee. The man is talented, charismatic, and extremely good at articulating his positions. For Democrats, he is very dangerous. Many Americans would vote for him: In polls against the president, it is Huckabee who performs the best. Why the conservative establishment refuses to support a man of Huckabee’s talents remains an enduring mystery.