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.
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