Four Years Later - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Four Years Later

I’m actually looking forward to the end of this election cycle, so I can take a break from horse race stuff, but I wanted to take a moment to respond to this misguided Daniel Larison post, in which he dismisses the chances of Sarah Palin capturing the GOP nomination in 2012 and suggests that Mike Huckabee “could become the presumptive frontrunner.” I generally think it’s way too early to count any candidate in or out in 2012. The makeup of the GOP field will largely depend on which issues are most salient four years from now, and how beatable Obama is perceived to be (should he get elected). For instance, should the economy stagnate for the next four years, you can see a plausible Mitt Romney scenario. Instead of trying to unrealistically present himself as a social conservative crusader again, Romney could emphasize that he’s a competent manager who understands economics and can turn things around. I’m sure he’ll still be showing up at conservative events and loyally raising money for Republican candidates, and in another four years, there will be more distance from his policy conversions so the flip-flopper label won’t be quite as damaging.

I don’t think you can rule Sarah Palin out, either. Larison is right about her having high unfavorables among the broader electorate, but she’s still very popular among Republican voters who will be voting in the primaries. She’ll enjoy high name recognition, will be able to raise tons of money and hire good talent, and appeal to grassroots conservatives and Republican women. She has the opportunity to get more accomplishments under her belt in Alaska and, if she’s serious about running, she could have a Prince Hal moment and decide to spend more time learning about national and international issues. (“And like bright metal on a sullen ground/my reformation, glittering o’er my fault/Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes/Than that which hath no foil to set it off.”) Another thing to keep in mind is that during this campaign, she’s had to adapt to the idiosyncratic positions of John McCain, so there’s no way of knowing how she’d perform running as her own woman.

As for Huckabee, let me dissect Larison:

It seems to me that Huckabee now starts to look much better to the conservative elites who were ridiculing him as Huckleberry just half a year ago; he becomes the relatively safe governing choice who can also generate tremendous grassroots enthusiasm.  

Relatively safe? Huckabee is a complete loose cannon, capable of saying outlandish things at any moment, like when, while theoretically in the running to be McCain’s VP, he made an Obama assassination joke. He also still has an atrocious record as governor that didn’t stand up to much scrutiny and next time around, he won’t be able to operate under the radar for as long as he did during this cycle.

Larison goes on:

Many of his former critics may come to recognize the missed opportunity of running with Huckabee’s pseudo-populism on economics this year, and going forward he may be able to develop a policy agenda that is not limited to praising the wonders of the Fair Tax.  

If McCain’s performance during the last two months has taught us anything, it should be that a Republican candidate cannot run as an economic populist on one hand, and attack the Democrat as a socialist on the other, without tying himself in knots.


Not having been a critic of Palin, Huckabee will not have alienated her supporters, and he will probably carefully avoid doing so over the next few years in the same way that he stayed on good terms with McCain voters.  Provided that he never, ever again tells the ridiculous story about how foreign wars make it possible for children to have schooldesks, and provided that he could get someone to give him some money, he could become the presumptive frontrunner. 

Those are a lot of conditions. Unfortunately for Huckabee, people were always saying he’d have a shot if he could raise money and stop saying stupid stuff, but it never happened. There’s no reason to think 2012 will be different.


Having spoken out against the bailout early on, he will be well-positioned to satisfy libertarians and populists alike.  Given the deterioration of the McCain campaign since it went to war with journalists, the value of favorable free media coverage, which Huckabee was able to attract so effectively during the primaries, cannot be underestimated.  

First off, Huckabee will never, ever, be satisfactory to libertarians given his staunch social conservatism that in the 1990s went as far as to call for the quarantining of AIDS patients, and his tax and spending record in Arkansas. His opposition to the bailout on populist grounds while he was a TV commentator will mean absolutely nothing to libertarians four years from now, weighed against the rest of his record. As for the media, the only reason they liked Huckabee this time around was that a) he was the lovable loser and b) they hated Mitt Romney. Should Huckabee have a legitimate chance at anything, the media will soon turn against him. Remember, it wasn’t too long ago that McCain referred to the media as his “base.”

The biggest problem facing Huckabee, however, is that while he was able to gain traction among evangelicals in a year when none of the candidates really spoke to them, he never performed well outside of that demographic. And next time around, he’ll have more competition for that group of voters. Palin, for instance, would garner a lot of support among the group, as would Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty, in particular, would be tough for Huckabee, because he also has a similar populist appeal, but comes across as more plausible (if more boring). Also, Iowa is a border state to Minnesota, so as a fellow Midwesterner, he’d be a threat in the caucuses, where Huckabee made his name. Additionally, perhaps Bobby Jindal would take a shot, or a Mark Sanford. In any event, we’ll have at least two years until we can begin to discuss this stuff more seriously, so I’ll stop now.

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