The Nation's Pulse

Whither Huckabee?

Ballast for the GOP ticket.

By 2.10.08

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For me, as for most Republicans, this has been an amazing presidential primary, fraught with anticipation and excitement, especially the recent "Primary Air Hockey" game between Colbert and Governor Mike Huckabee.

Huckabee claims he can still win Texas because "I know barbecue." Colbert has proclaimed the Governor "the new president of Texas."

As an Irish-German urban Catholic, I was crushed that the GOP's first ever Papist seriously contending for its presidential nomination was the ultra-heterodox Rudy Giuliani. It would have been grand to have one of our own (He is Italian; but you get my drift) to support for the nomination of the party to which my family has been committed for four generations. My family was generally pleased when Jack Kennedy was nominated by the Democrats in 1960, even though not one of them voted for him in the general election.

Alas, Rudy was wrong on all the issues that truly matter: life, love, and family.

Having carried my spear for Reagan in his victory in the 1976 Missouri caucuses against President Ford, I naturally gravitated to the candidate whom I thought resembled the Gipper's true heir apparent, Fred Thompson. Sic transit gloria mundi. Fred's best day was the day before he announced his candidacy.

Romney? What does that man truly believe in? He may be the most qualified executive in the race, and he is plenty smart. But what positions would he have taken on the important issues the day after he was sworn in as President? Everybody can change his mind, but for Governor Romney it happened too often and in too many elections. He may be back in 2012, seasoned and experienced, ready for a second look by those of us who respected his abilities but could not quite take his measure.

Dr. Paul? I am a Catholic, committed to subsidiarity and federalism, not a libertarian. He is a lovely man, a defender of the unborn, a tax-cutter, and deeply suspicious of adventurism overseas, but he is more Lockean than Burkean for my taste.

Catholic Republicans seem to be strongly supporting Senator John McCain both for his personal heroism and for his perfect voting record against abortion, notwithstanding his support of embryonic stem-cell research. He is a strong figure who picks his targets wisely, e.g., earmarks, the means by which the congressional Republicans have disgraced themselves the last seven years.

It is a mark of ecumenical progress that many GOP Catholics either don't care or don't know that John McCain is Scots Irish (Ulster Scots) whose compatriots in the old country still celebrate July 12 as the anniversary of Protestant King William's victory over the Catholic James II in 1690 in the Battle of the Boyne, oh cursed Memory! These notorious "Orange marches" resulted in severe rioting in New York City in the 1800s. God bless America, James Madison, and the First Amendment for diffusing these sectarian conflicts.

During a photo session for the cover of Irish America Magazine, Senator McCain asked the editor, "Am I the first Scots-Irish person on your cover?" To which the editor replied, "Yes. But it's all the same DNA."

Of course, many of the lads also appreciate the Senator's generally liberal support for immigration, legal and illegal, however you might characterize it in terms of amnesty or a path to citizenship.

I happen to agree with McCain on torture, God bless him. I make a point of telling my kids, usually during an episode of 24, that "when I was a boy, it was the Gestapo or KGB who did the torturing in TV shows and movies, not the Americans."

Regrettably, McCain's dismissive attitude toward the Marriage Amendment, his trashing of the First Amendment with his futile campaign funding reforms, opposition to supply-side tax cuts, and ambivalence about open borders leave much to be desired.

I also worry that he is more warrior than statesman. His parody of the Beach Boys' song in which he sang, "Bomb, bomb, bomb... bomb, bomb Iran," is hardly a performance one might expect of, say, Dwight Eisenhower, Winston Churchill, or George Marshall.

His call for a Hundred Years War in Iraq, if necessary, and his repeated prediction of "more wars" in our future are worrisome.

Rush, Sean, and Laura are busting a gut over McCain with an intensity I cannot feel for any politician. As Samuel Johnson said, "How small, of all that human hearts endure,/That part which laws or kings can cause or cure!" Still, McCain will have to attend to the conservative wing of the party if he is to be successful in the fall.

McCAIN IS THE PRESUMPTIVE NOMINEE of the Republican Party, but one candidate still remains on the field.

I had never seriously considered supporting Governor Mike Huckabee even though I appreciated, still do, his general demeanor and good humor. I once heard Bill Clinton praise Huckabee, describing him as "conservative, but he's not mad at anyone about it" or words to that effect. That's about right. He is someone you can have over for dinner without worrying that he will smash the china or chew you out for deviationism.

The criticisms of Huckabee by the Club for Growth do not ring true to me. The Arkansas Governor does not look like a man dying to raise taxes, notwithstanding court orders and balanced-budget amendments at the state level that might have constrained him back home. Having worked in state governments for thirteen years, I can tell you that only the Feds can use deficit spending as an escape hatch. Indeed, McCain is more likely to roll over on the expiration of the Bush tax cuts than would Huckabee.

Huckabee is rock solid on social issues and speaks for that wing of the GOP with a clear voice, even for Catholics who might not share his biblical fundamentalism.

Governor Huckabee's article in Foreign Affairs magazine struck me as a reasonable, responsible statement of a realistic, values-based foreign policy than anything I have heard from any of the other leading candidates to date. Huckabee claims that "...my administration recognizes that the United States' main fight today does not pit us against the world but pits the world against the terrorists." He embraced the Powell doctrine, praised the prophetic General Eric Shinseki, and argued for putting other options on the table with respect to Iran, not just the military one.

Governor Huckabee would make a fine vice president on the GOP ticket. Forgive my mixed metaphors, but he would add ballast to the ship and serve as a gyroscope for the dashing fighter pilot at the top of the ticket.

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About the Author

G. Tracy Mehan III served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the administrations of both Presidents Bush. He is a consultant in Arlington, Virginia, and an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law.