Is Huckabee Conservative?
If someone had told me back in mid October that Mike Huckabee would have a legitimate shot at the Republican nomination, I would not have believed him. Neither would have anyone else. But in the ensuring weeks, Mike Huckabee has picked up a great deal of momentum. Now, according the the latest Rasmussen poll, two points behind Mitt Romney and just ten behind Giuliani. He has consistently placed second to Romney in Iowa.
There is a lot to like about Huckabee. He is quick-witted, and often displays an amazing sense of humor. He communicates well (unlike Bush), and possesses the ability to make positions known. Perhaps more importantly, he can also make them sound reasonable and practical.
His positions on social issues is another big plus. In a election where one frontrunner is pro-abortion, another converted to the pro-life cause two years ago, and another inexplicably opposes a human life amendment to the Constitution, values voters feel as if they have been pushed aside. (And it's not like they were a deciding force in the 2004 election or anything). Huckabee, with his strong and eloquent defense of life, is an ideal candidate for this issue.
Equally as important, Huckabee seems to a different kind of politician. He doesn't take himself too seriously. He does not sound like he has come from Washington, as the rest of the candidates do. He sounds like an average man from the South who wants to serve the American people (like another recent President, also from Arkansas). Huckabee's recent ad with Chuck Norris ("My plan for the border? Two words: Chuck Norris") was cheesy- but effective. It is a microcosm of Huckebee's campaign.
However, many conservative writers and bloggers display a remarkably strong repugnance to Huckabee. Many say that he is far too liberal, that he is a "false" conservative. Opposition to Huckabee comes on three main grounds: that he is a proponent of big, tax and spend government, that he is a not wholly opposed to illegal immigration, and Wayne Dumond.
It is tempting to wonder how anyone can be too liberal in a Republican race that features Rudy Giuliani as its frontrunner. Giuliani is liberal on at least five major issues (abortion, guns, gay rights, sanctuary cities, and global warming). In this election, being a pure, unblemished conservative is probably not necessary- its more of a having to be more conservative than Giuliani type of thing. However, it is informative to take a look at the three main charges against Huckabee.
To charge that Huckabee is in love with government, the only possible response is: guilty as charged. He raised spending in Arkansas. He has expressed support of a federal smoking ban. It is clear that he sees a significant place for government in the lives of Americans.
As to the second part of the first charge (that he would raise taxes), the situation is complex. He raised taxes as governor of Arkansas, which is a major factor in the Cato Institutes grade of F for fiscal policies. But now, he claims to be against any tax hikes.
Huckabee now supports the FairTax, which is basically a plan that would eliminate income taxes and supplant them with a really, really high sales tax. There are more that a few flaws in this plan (to begin with, it might not be the most efficient way to get money into the economy, as any expenditure is taxed through the roof), and National Review Online is probably right in calling it "half-baked". However, his support for this plan does give hope that perhaps Huckabee would push for tax cuts, or at the minimum keep the Bush tax cuts where they are.
So the first charge is half right, half possibly wrong. The second charge, which is that he is weak on immigration? His position is a little more ambiguous. He says that he does not support amnesty, which is good. But supports a "path to citizenship", which is bad. But wants the "path to citizenship" to require a fine and a place at the end of the line, which is acceptable. But he supported the infamous "amnesty bill" (the mention of which still sends shivers down conservatives spines), which didn't provide a pathway to citizenship, it essentially was a method of handing out green cards.
Huckabee's position on immigration must also be considered a weakness. So what of Wayne Dumond? Dumond was a convicted rapist who was sentanced to life in prison. It was possible to feel that he was treated badly- Bill Clinton may have been harsh on him because his victim (Dumond's, not Clinton's, I know its hard to keep track of predators here, but bear with me) was a Clinton relative, and Dumond was castrated (though some believed that he did it himself. It happens sometimes among sex offenders) Huckabee felt sorry for him, and commuted Dumond's sentence to a still lengthy 39 years- but with the possibility of parole. Dumond got parole- with Huckabee's support, and raped and killed again.
In this sounds familar, think Willie Horton. This mistake transcends right and left and instead is a insult to common sense. Things like this cast serious doubt on Mike Huckabee's judgement.
So, it appears that those who do not consider Huckabee the right man for the job are correct. His popularity is a reflection of the ideological weakness of his opponents. His popularity is a reflection of the desperation of social conservatives.
Count me among them. If the election were to come down to Giuliani versus Huckabee, I would vote Huckabee. Without hesitation. However, it would be better if it were neither.