Huckabee Out

Ross Douthat sings the funeral lament for Huckabeeism in today’s Times:

He’ll be missed because he embodied a political persuasion that’s common in American life but rare in America’s political class. This worldview mixes cultural conservatism with economic populism: it’s tax-sensitive without being stridently antigovernment, skeptical of Wall Street as well as Washington, and as concerned about immigration, family breakdown and public morals as it is about the debt ceiling.

Daniel Larison snaps back:

There was no danger that Huckabee was going to link this identity politics up with any new policies, which was why the hysteria his candidacy provoked was so unfounded, but the slightest hint that an era of Republican political dominance had not much benefited working- and middle-class Americans was so scandalous that it had to be shut down as soon as possible. Huckabee presented himself as someone with a chip on his shoulder, and happily contrasted his biography with that of his more privileged, loathed opponent in Mitt Romney.

Well, as I remember. At the Values Voters conference in 2007 where Huckabee effectively denied a religious right endorsement of Mitt Romney, the biggest applause line was about trade. From some reporting I did then:

Asked about economics, Huckabee claims to be “a Main Street Republican, not a Wall Street Republican” and preaches a message of economic independence—even nationalism. Speaking to a group of social conservatives, he declared, “A country that cannot feed itself, that cannot fuel itself, and that cannot fight for itself with its own weapons which it manufactures itself is a nation that is not longer free. … I don’t want to see our food come from China, our oil come from Saudi Arabia, and our manufacturing come from Europe and Asia.” Yet Huckabee has not called for an end to NAFTA or for implementing protective tariffs, insisting against evidence to the contrary that he is a free trader.

Huckabee might have linked up some of his populist rhetoric with policy if he ever got to govern. But during the campaign he was either determined never to be pinned-down, or he was a policy illiterate. I happened to enjoy Huck’s campaign, or at least the spectacle of it. He flouted the conservative movement’s role as policeman of discourse on the Right. There is nothing like personal animus to make the television screen crackle, and so Huckabee launching himself like a tomahawk missile at the Romney campaign produced an amusing wreck.

I’ve always believed that the hatred of Huckabee was disproportionate to his policy differences with the conservative movement. After all, this is the same conservative movement that was able to endorse Mitt Romney four years ago. But Huckabee encountered it because he validated an argument that conservatives were long trying to make: that cutting government spending was not cruel. Huckabee made it sound like small-government people were small-minded people, or rather small-hearted. When someone on the left does it, it agitates a conservative. When someone on the right does it, it makes them crazy.

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