Mike Huckabee's First Mistake

I have written quite favorably about former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee in the past, as I have long viewed him as potentially the strongest Republican presidential nominee because of his unimpeachable conservative credentials, executive experience, superior debating skills, and affable demeanor. Huckabee comes across like a Christian conservative with a smile. As a result, he seems much more palatable to moderates and even liberals because even though his political views are undoubtedly in line with the religious right, he does not come across as threatening as a Jerry Falwell or a James Dobson. After flying under the radar for months and long being ignored, the media are finally beginning to pay attention to him, as David Brooks of the New York Times has done.

However, now that more of the media spotlight is on him, his statements and positions will receive greater scrutiny than in the past. This is not to say that Huckabee should be cautious and scripted. However, it does mean that he should choose his words a bit more carefully, especially in this age of YouTube when anything you say can and will be used against you while being immortalized for all time. Just ask George Allen.

At this weekend's Values Voters Summit, Huckabee made his first poor choice. I'm not going to call it a gaffe because it's not personally embarrassing, it's not an out-of-bounds attack on any particular group of people, and it's not going to hurt him with his base. However, it does attack one of his greatest strengths: his ability to connect with voters outside of the religious right.

At this weekend's gathering, Huckabee told the crowd:

"Sometimes we talk about why we're importing so many people in our workforce. It might be for the last 35 years, we have aborted more than a million people who would have been in our workforce had we not had the holocaust of liberalized abortion under a flawed Supreme Court ruling in 1973."
Surely the evangelicals in the audience loved what they were hearing, especially since the other leading Republican candidates were either disappointing them (e.g., Fred Thompson not going to church regularly) or avoiding them altogether (e.g., Rudy Giuliani's moderate stances on abortion and gay rights).

However, while the conservatives in the audience undoubtedly ate Huckabee's words up, independents and moderates likely recoiled in discomfort. To them, Huckabee had originally seemed like a Christian conservative that did not intimidate them. But suggesting that abortion has created a holocaust and that this is why businesses have imported so many people essentially rips the friendly mask off of him and potentially exposes him to these voters as yet another abrasive Bible-thumper in the mold of Tony Perkins or Gary Bauer. Huckabee certainly won't be penalized for this during the primaries. If anything, it could actually boost him since he's obviously willing to court this base a bit more vigorously than the other Republican candidates are. Should Huckabee actually win the GOP nomination, however, these kinds of remarks could damage his crossover appeal in the general election.

This is one of the main pitfalls of the primary process. Candidates either run far to the left or to the right in order to secure their party's nomination before attempting to tack to the center for the general election. However, because their previous remarks that placated their bases are well documented, it makes their moderate overtures a bit less credible.

Anyway, Romney won the straw poll that took place at the end of the summit while Huckabee finished a close second. According to CNN, judging from the amount of applause the candidates received, the audience seemed to support Huckabee a bit more than Romney. Interestingly, the libertarian Ron Paul finished third and Fred Thompson finished fourth. Fred Thompson's fourth place finish burnishes my idea that Huckabee is a more serious threat to him than Romney and Giuliani are.

Whether moderates will view Huckabee as a threat to them, however, remains to be seen.

4 comment(s):

oso diablo said...

Two comments...

1. Huckabee overwhelmingly won the straw poll among those who were actually AT the conference, receiving over 50% of the votes. Yes, he got more votes than all the other candidates - Republican and Democratic - combined. Romney eeked out a "victory" in the online poll, fueled by his campaign's push for supporters to "join" the FRC for a buck and vote for him.

2. I'm not making the connection between the comments you cited (re: abortion) and the conclusion that it makes a politician look intolerant, such that it would construed as a mistake. Ronald Reagan was forcefully pro-life, and his famous essay on the subject, was not shy in its language. Pope John Paul II likewise saw similarities, remarked upon in his book Memory and Identity.

The connection to illegal immigration was an odd note, i will grant.

Anthony Palmer said...

Hi Oso.

The point I was trying to make was that when Huckabee likened abortion to a holocaust, that may have been a bit off-putting to middle of the road voters who are not as passionate about abortion.

Also, it was different for Ronald Reagan because the religious right was a new constituency in the 1980s. Their agenda was still new. I think voters have kinda soured on the Christian conservative agenda of abortion, gay marriage, etc. after having it be used as wedge issues in 2000 and 2004. While evangelicals still place a premium on these issues, I don't think they are as galvanizing for other voters as they used to be.

Anyway, I reworded my post to make it a bit easier to see that the "Bible-thumper" part was not really my words per se, but rather how moderate voters might perceive Huckabee's remarks.

Thanks for the comment.

NoReligiousKooks said...

Back to the 80's.

I definately think this is a dealbreaker for Huckster in terms of moderates.

I know many people who are moderates who were leaning to him. But not now.

Too bad he drank the kool-aid.

Anthony Palmer said...


Thanks for the comment. And you definitely captured the essence of what I was trying to say. I don't know how many moderates and independents were paying attention to the Values Voters Summit, but if they were, I certainly don't think they liked what they heard.

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