From Clark Judge, longtime Reagan and Bush I speechwriter:
By Clark S. Judge, managing director, White House Writers Group
It is becoming a good bet that former Arkansas governor Michael Huckabee will fail in his hope to finish first in the Iowa GOP caucuses Thursday night.
The simple fact is that, despite poll numbers that rocketed skyward in recent weeks, the Huckabee campaign shows all the signs of being in trouble, and knowing it. After feeling secure enough to campaign elsewhere, the candidate has returned to the Hawkeye state in the last couple of days and has uncharacteristically lashed out at his closest rival, Mitt Romney, in a clearly ill-advised press conference.
Talk with Republican loyalists almost anywhere in the nation and the reason becomes clear. While Huckabee is universally admired as a likeable, decent, honorable man with tremendous podium skills, a remarkably large proportion of GOP activists have decided he is unacceptable as the party’s 2008 standard-bearer. The reason is not personality but policy.
What might be called the Republican Project from Ronald Reagan to the present has had three parts, on which for only one, the social issues, is Huckabee seen as a plausible leader. In the party’s quest to promote entrepreneurially driven economic growth through lower taxes and less regulation and to keep the nation secure in a dangerous world, Huckabee is not considered a serious contender.
Romney’s ads about the former Arkansas governor’s record make this point. Huckabee charges that they are not true, but Romney is merely repeating what likely GOP caucus goers have already heard from other, credible sources and believe.
On the economy and taxes, for example, the independent, highly respected supply-side advocacy organization, the Club for Growth, has been at least as hard on the Baptist preacher turned politician as Romney. Its president, Pat Toomey, recently said, “Nominating Mike Huckabee… 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.” And while effectively calling Romney a liar for his ads, Huckabee has made no real effort to counter such charges not just from the Club for Growth but from other independent critics like the Wall Street Journal editorial page.
So the view is settling in that to nominate Huckabee would be to abandon the party’s devotion to economic policies that have made the United States the global growth champion not just as measured by grow domestic product but (despite the drumbeat to the contrary from Democrats) broadly based personal incomes. That is not going to happen.
On foreign policy, Huckabee’s candidacy is even more of a non-starter. Democrats may trumpet that the GOP candidates are all running from President Bush. The truth is that every serious contender but Huckabee has embraced the President’s policies if not always his execution in Iraq and the War on Terror. Huckabee’s now notorious Foreign Affairs article and his fumbling and uninformed comments following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto have convinced many that Huckabee is far from ready for prime time.
Since the late 1960s, the American people have turned to the GOP for leadership whenever the nation’s safety has dominated their concerns. Again, the view is settling in that Huckabee’s nomination would represent an abandonment of that legacy and responsibility.
So Huckabee is stumbling. Look for some of his supporters to leave him by Thursday and for boosters of candidates far back in the pack to decide to cast their ballots so he comes in second, rather than staying with their first choices. Because of the compressed calendar, Iowa cannot determine the GOP nominee this year, but it can exercise a veto. At this writing-despite Huckabee still leading in the Real Clear Politics average of polls-the candidate they effectively nix looks likely to be Mike Huckabee.