I don't underestimate Mike Huckabee. I've seen how personable he can be, and how he can get laughter and applause even from an audience that is hostile to many of his idea. (Check out, for example, his appearances on Real Time with Bill Maher.) He comes across as personable, likable, and even superficially convincing. He manages to bob and weave around direct questions without seeming excessively evasive. He keeps his cool under pressure. Those are all good things in a political candidate.
Does that mean I would vote for him? Hardly. As I've previously stated, I think that any politician who supports FairTax should be disqualified from office on that basis alone. His use of coded messages to the religious right makes Bush's similar efforts seem understated. He opposes abortion rights (a valid position), but also opposes sex education, and some (perhaps all) forms of birth control. He is anti-gay and, while championing "covenant marriage", cynically used his "covenant marriage" to his wife to obtain wedding gifts - circumventing state laws limiting the amount of gifts to public servants. His supposed belief in reform and generosity with pardons, transformed by concern for his standing in the polls into braggadocio about how many death warrants he has signed. He is ignorant of... pretty much everything, as evidenced by his stated tax policy, historic statements on AIDS, disbelief in evolution, and woeful ignorance of foreign policy.... Need I continue?
I'm not going to argue that all of this is obvious to voters. For goodness sake, last night I heard somebody on a call-in show explaining that he was trying to figure out whether to support Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul. But he's no Clinton. When the media ultimately goes after him and his scandals, I don't think he'll be able to charm his way into the nomination, and even less the Presidency.
While the Republican Party's fear of a Huckabee nomination is palpable, Bill Kristol attempts to turn conventional wisdom on its ear and make his potential victory a bad thing for Democrats.
Some Democrats are licking their chops at the prospect of a Huckabee nomination. They shouldn’t be. For one thing, Michael Bloomberg would be tempted to run in the event of an Obama-Huckabee race — and he would most likely take votes primarily from Obama. But whatever Bloomberg does, the fact is that the Republican establishment spent 2007 underestimating Mike Huckabee. If Huckabee does win the nomination, it would be amusing if Democrats made the same mistake in 2008.Okay... let's review.
First we assume Huckabee and Obama are nominated. Next we assume that "well-born" and monied Republicans are so happy with this outcome that they push Michael Bloomberg as a third party candidate, pouring their time and money into Bloomberg's campaign. Strangely, Kristol does not imagine that Bloomberg will draw any votes from Obama. That should leave Obama with a comfortable lead in the polls. Except Kristol also assumes that Huckabee will siphon away support from Obama - so much that he could win the election.
This seems to come back to the Republican attack machine's line that Huckabee is a liberal populist and, of course, every Democratic candidate is a liberal populist. Thus, when asked to choose between a Democratic Illinois senator with a progressive record on social issues, and a Republican Arkansas governor with a reactionary record on social issues, voters truly won't be able to tell the difference. And this is before we consider the investment Bloomberg and right-wing 527 groups would be making in trying to draw voters away from Huckabee - Bloomberg will need those votes to win.
Am I arguing that the Democratic Party has nothing to fear from Huckabee, or shouldn't take him seriously if he in fact gets the nomination? Not at all. But I'm not convinced by Kristol's straw man. Is he truly trying to convince Democrats that Huckabee is a threat, or is he trying to convince himself that his party still has a shot at winning the next election?
A question for Kristol's next column on this subject: Who does he imagine is going to bankroll a Mike Huckabee presidential campaign, particularly if Bloomberg enters the race?