Mike’s Turn

Anyone can run for president. Many do, all the time, or at least every four years – Harold Stassen even made a career of it. Stassen tried to convince the Republican Party to nominate him ten times, from 1940 through 1992, but they never would. Anyone can run for president, if they have friends, with money. Stassen didn’t, but those friends with money will, however, want something for their money. You might find you have to adjust your position on a few issues for them. The last time around, Sheldon Adelson, the gambling billionaire with casinos in Las Vegas and Macao, and a fervent Zionist and friend of Israel, and the man who owns much of the Israeli press and brought Netanyahu to power and keeps him there, pretty much financed Newt Gingrich’s campaign – ten million here, ten million there. All Gingrich had to do was make those arguments that there’s really no such thing as the Palestinian people – the whole concept was made up. That had people scratching their heads, but that sort of thing kept Gingrich in the scratch – for all the good that it did. Mitt Romney had more friends with even more money – the heads of corporations and everyone on Wall Street. Romney had his own money too, but he didn’t have to spend it. He won the nomination easily.

That had to happen. The media pretended that that guys like Newt Gingrich should be taken seriously, but everyone knew better. Gingrich was never going to be nominated. There wasn’t what can take the place of many friends with money, a groundswell of support from a large natural constituency. Obama had that in 2008 – a groundswell of support from those fed up with Bush, and those who felt they weren’t getting a fair shake – minorities and women and the young and people with degrees who kind of liked science. Or lived in cities, or who preferred thinking things through rather than getting angry and making threats – in short, anyone who wasn’t an angry old white guy listening to Rush Limbaugh. That’s a lot of folks. No one saw Gingrich as the great hope for anything at all.

There’s a third factor, however. Max Ehrenfreund summarizesnew study on the impact of cable news:

A new working paper argues that former President George W. Bush’s popular vote total would have been 1.6 percentage points lower in his race against former Vice President Al Gore if Fox had not launched four years earlier. The paper provides new evidence that Fox and MSNBC have a real influence on how their audiences are likely to vote.

There are friends with money, and there is that large natural constituency thing, and then there is Fox News. A thorough statistical analysis show that Fox News made Bush president, with the help of the Supreme Court, to seal the deal.

Cass Sunstein explains:

The researchers estimated that in 2004 and 2008, if there had been no Fox News on cable television, the Republican vote share (as measured by voters’ expressed intentions) would have been 4 percentage points lower. And if MSNBC had had CNN’s more moderate ideology, the Republican share of the 2008 presidential vote intention would have been about 3 percentage points higher. (In general, Fox has more success in converting viewers than MSNBC does; it also has a much larger audience.)

That’s odd, and Kevin Drum wonders why that is:

I’ve always believed that conservatives in general – and Fox in particular – are better persuaders than liberals, and this study seems to confirm that. But why? Is Fox’s conservatism simply more consistent throughout the day, thus making it more effective? Is there something about the particular way Fox pushes hot buttons that makes it more effective at persuading folks near the center? Or is Fox just average, and MSNBC is unusually poor at persuading people? I can easily believe, for example, that Rachel Maddow’s snark-based approach persuades very few conservative leaners to switch sides.

That is no doubt true, but it could be that MSNBC simply doesn’t see its role as one where they exist to make sure their guy, or their woman as the case may be, becomes the next president. For all the snark, and all the fun they make of conservatives, and a bit of occasional outrage and anger, MSNBC still thinks they’re reporting the news, with commentary, but not making it. CNN doesn’t even add commentary. Fox News is a special case.

That’s why Mike Huckabee spent the last six years at Fox News. He tried to win the Republican nomination in 2008 but that was John McCain’s year – and Huckabee’s natural constituency wasn’t large. That would be the Christian Right, the evangelicals, and beyond that he only had his personality. He is a pleasant fellow, but the rest of the country wasn’t ready for a Gomer Pyle guy. Yeah, Huckabee even looks a bit like Jim Nabors – and perhaps we could do worse than having a good-natured, naive country-boy, all childlike innocence, with that Arkansas accent, in the White House. But there was more to him. He was the former governor of Arkansas (1996 to 2007) – so he wasn’t just some yokel – and he’s an ordained Southern Baptist minister. He proudly holds a degree in Bible studies from Ouachita Baptist University, in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. He doesn’t believe in evolution and is sure every word in the Bible is literally true, even if he admits that he, as a mere moral, doesn’t understand it all – but he’s sure that gays are sinners, damned to hell unless they straighten out, and he’s sure abortion is murder, and sure that sex is dirty and nasty and only for married folks, when necessary, and so forth. He’s an odd mix of efficient manager and pulpit-thumping preacher.

John McCain was a safer bet for the Republicans. Huckabee’s consolation prize was a weekly show on Fox News. The network parked him there, and in 2012, Huckabee announced on his show that he wouldn’t run that year. He seemed a bit sad, or wistful, but that was Mitt Romney’s year. Romney had no natural constituency at all – no one in the party or not in the party liked him very much – but he had the big money of the important people behind him. Fox News was okay with him too. Huckabee would wait, on the bench. Things might change.

Things did change:

TV host and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee says he is leaving his Fox News talk show as he considers whether to seek the Republican nomination for president, a decision he expects to reach in the spring.

Huckabee said Saturday night’s edition of “Huckabee” would be his last as he ponders his political future. …

“There’s been a great deal of speculation as to whether I would run for president. And if I were willing to absolutely rule that out, I could keep doing this show. But I can’t make such a declaration,” he said at the end of Saturday’s program.

“Now, I’m not going to make a decision about running until late in the spring of 2015, but the continued chatter has put Fox News into a position that just isn’t fair to them – nor is it possible for me to openly determine political and financial support to justify a race. The honorable thing to do at this point is to end my tenure here at Fox. Now, as much as I have loved doing the show, I cannot bring myself to rule out another presidential run.”

He needs to look into that matter of wide political and deep financial support – and will do so – so it’s time to give up the weekly Fox News show, which was just chat, with musical guests each week. Fox has had him in the garage too long. It’s time to take him for a spin on the track, because, now, he’s ready:

Huckabee has been particularly critical of the nation’s swing toward accepting gay marriage. In October, after the Supreme Court rejected appeals from five states that sought to prohibit marriage by same-sex couples, he said: “It is shocking that many elected officials, attorneys and judges think that a court ruling is the ‘final word.’ It most certainly is not.”

He campaigned last fall for several Republican office-seekers – among them Senate candidates Joni Ernst in Iowa, David Perdue in Georgia, Tom Cotton in Arkansas and Mike Rounds in South Dakota. Mike Rounds was national chairman of Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign.

He’s tuned up and ready to go and he won the Iowa caucuses in 2008 – ahead of Romney, Fred Thompson, John McCain and Ron Paul. He came in third in New Hampshire’s primary, behind McCain and Romney, however. It really was McCain’s year, and four years later it was Romney’s year – but they’re politically dead now. It may be his year.

Dean Obeidallah thinks that could be so:

Sure, recent polls have Jeb Bush leading the GOP field. But Bush is as exciting to many conservatives as Hillary Clinton is to many progressives, meaning not so much. They are both viewed in essence like eating Brussels sprouts. Sure, you knew it’s good for you, but it’s not exciting.

But Huckabee (akin to Elizabeth Warren on the left) is like an ice cream sundae. They excite people, and primaries tend to be dominated by voters who are the most excited.

And keep in mind that when Huckabee ran for president in 2008, he won the Iowa caucuses. He also did well in other early primaries such as in Missouri, which he lost by 1 percent to the Brussels sprout of that field, John McCain.

Plus the GOP electorate has become more conservative since 2008. In 2012, 50 percent of those who voted in the first batch of GOP presidential contests were Evangelical Christians – up from 44 percent in 2008. This bodes well for Huckabee in early primary states like Missouri, Colorado, and Minnesota, where the like-minded Rick Santorum won in 2012.

The trends favor him, but there’s that other problem:

There’s the kindly Governor Huckabee who championed an increase in the minimum wage, hired more state employees and even expanded government services with programs such as “ARKids First” that provided health coverage for thousands of Arkansas’ children.

Now let’s meet “Mr. Huckabee,” whose views on a range of issues are truly frightening – I’m talking hide the children and grab a pitchfork scary.

Obeidallah offers examples:

Huckabee wants Christian sharia law: Huckabee stated during his 2007 presidential campaign that we can’t change the Bible to line up with society’s “contemporary view,” instead we “should amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards.” Do you think he really wants to stone to death woman who aren’t a virgin on their wedding night like it mandates in the Bible?

Gays are a health hazard: Huckabee stated that “homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle, and we now know it can pose a dangerous public health risk.”

The Sandy Hook shooting is our fault: Huckabee blamed the horrific killing of 26 people, including 20 children, at the Sandy Hook elementary school in 2012 not on gun violence or even the act of a crazed gunman. Instead he said it was because “we’ve systematically removed God from our schools” and as a result we should not be “surprised that schools have become a place for carnage.”

And these:

Michael Brown had it coming: In December, Huckabee told us that Michael Brown would be alive if he acted “like something other than a thug.” He added that he was “disgusted” by politicians and athletes who flashed the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture.

Gay marriage makes Jesus cry: In 2013, Huckabee called gay marriage an “unholy pretzel” that has turned “holy matrimony” into a “perversion.” Huckabee also tweeted that “Jesus wept” over the 2013 US Supreme Court decision striking down DOMA. And Huckabee even said in September that he doesn’t care if he is on “the wrong side of history,” as long as he is “on the right side of the Bible” when it comes to gay marriage.

Not only does Huckabee oppose Obamacare, he opposed the one provision that most people like, namely that health insurers shouldn’t be able to deny coverage to those with preexisting medical conditions.

Ignore court decisions/laws that God wouldn’t like: This past September, while speaking of abortion laws and gay marriage court decisions, Huckabee declared that we should not accept “ungodly” judicial rulings that “will cause us to have to stand before God with bloody hands.”

Some of that is odd, but much of this is standard fare on Fox News, so the guy has a chance:

Now while many of you might be shaking your head in disbelief over Huckabee’s views, keep in mind that it’s likely that nearly 50 percent of the GOP primary voters in 2016 will agree with most, if not all of them. And that’s far scarier than anything Huckabee has said.

That, of course, depends on your point of view, and Damon Linker thinks the Republicans are split on Huckabee:

On some level smart Republicans understand that populism is as much a problem for the party as plutocracy.

Yes, Mitt Romney’s tendency to toady to superrich donors and entrepreneurs – coming on the heels of George W. Bush’s high-end tax cuts – certainly saddled the GOP with a plutocratic image problem. But what about its tendency to flatter culturally alienated middle-class Americans by dismissing evolutionary biology, by mocking professors and “experts” of all kinds, and by pandering to the prejudices of a certain kind of ill-informed, reactionary religious believer?

The fact is that the Republican Party has long since become a bizarre only-in-America hybrid of fat cats and rednecks.

Deep down Republicans know that while a Huckabee candidacy might help address the image problems associated with the first half of that equation, he’d make those wrapped up with the second half far worse.

This is a problem:

Huckabee’s shtick is the irritable mental gesture of a provincial (rural or exurban) white America that can’t tell the difference between cultural signaling and a cogent argument. And it treats the details of public policy as an afterthought or a matter of indifference.

Would-be Republican reformers can look for a better vehicle than Mike Huckabee for the populism they favor, but they’re unlikely to find one. Huckabee – or someone like him – is the only game in town. The authentic reform of the GOP – refashioning it into a genuinely national party – requires more than the shedding of its plutocratic image. It also requires that the party’s leading lights give up on their impossible populist dreams.

Michael Dougherty sees a secondary problem:

The most fascinating question to my mind is which of the other viable 2016 GOP candidates Mike Huckabee will dislike the most.

He is a capable assassin. In 2008, his distaste for Romney was obvious – and often hilarious. Like a lot of Evangelicals who grew up on books describing Mormonism as a “cult,” Huckabee couldn’t restrain himself from making less-than-respectful comments about Latter-Day Saint theology. He considered Romney “presumptuous and arrogant,” and in the most memorable line of the 2008 GOP primary, said Mitt looked more “like the guy that fired you” than the one who hires you. Huckabee did more than anyone to create a McCain comeback, certainly more than McCain himself.

In this way, Huckabee has a kind of veto power. He’s able to prevent his opponents from consolidating social conservatives as part of a primary coalition. Who will be the next victim?

Sally Kohn sees another danger:

Perhaps the most dangerous thing about Mike Huckabee is that some of those firm beliefs, those clear convictions, appeal to liberal voters. In a post-Occupy moment, when even Democrats are desperate to strike the chord of economic populism – fueling, for instance, the clamoring for Elizabeth Warren to mount a challenge Hillary Clinton – Huckabee spouts populist rhetoric with ease. …

In campaigns that are more about more about ads and appearances and personality, and sadly less about substance – even though substantive disagreements exist and are key – the sense that Huckabee is a Republican who knows there are poor people, knows how to talk about them, and apparently wants to do something to help could be very appealing. As evidence, Huckabee is pro-government enough – which is to say, at all – that already the arch anti-tax Club for Growth is pledging to oppose his potential 2016 candidacy because he “increased state spending” in Arkansas and “raised the minimum wage.”

Kohn also adds this:

Polls about who voters would rather have a beer with may seem stupid, but they make some sense. Deciding you want to hang out with someone reflects a combined decision about whether they’re “your kind of person” in terms of beliefs and, also, simply a nice person who would be fun to hang out with. In such beer polls, I suspect a lot of voters would pick Huckabee. Never mind that Huckabee doesn’t drink.

He seems like an easy-going, relatable guy. And in terms of his beliefs, maybe they’re not yours, but at least you know what his are – as opposed to, say, Hillary Clinton, who always seems like she’s still searching for whatever beliefs you’ll like most.

That’s appealing, and in a general election, Huckabee could be formidable, but at Five Thirty-Eight, where the statisticians live, Harry Enten tells everyone to calm down:

The vast majority (70 percent) of Republican delegates are from outside the former Confederate states. Given that many non-Southern states have minimum thresholds to win delegates or will be winner take all, Huckabee would win few delegates in them if he performs anything like he did in 2008. In fact, his path to a majority of delegates would probably be shut out no matter how well he does in the South.

Perhaps so, but anyone can run for president. If they don’t have friends with big money, well, maybe they can sell their personality and build a large natural constituency – and if they can’t manage either of those, they might go to work for Fox News for a few years, to see what they can develop. Mike Huckabee did that, and if Fox News could make George W. Bush president, they might do the same for Huckabee. American voters aren’t that particular.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Mike’s Turn

  1. Rick says:

    Jon Stewart did a big takeout on 2016 the other night that included Mike Huckabee’s announcement that he’s leaving Fox (about 5:30 into that YouTube video), with Stewart mercilessly lampooning Huckabee’s citation of the alleged “great deal of speculation” that he might run for president:

    Huckabee (in playback screen): “I’m not going to make a decision about running until late in the Spring of 2015, but the continued chatter has put Fox News into a position that just isn’t fair to them.”

    Stewart (live): “NOBODY’S TALKING ABOUT IT! YOU’RE THE ONLY ONE! Oooh, the phone’s ringing off the hook! You’re like a guy breaking up with someone who didn’t realize that you two were ever going out in the first place!: ‘It’s not fair to you, for us, to go on like this.’ “

    And frankly, I can’t see his candidacy really taking off, other than him being just another cardboard cutout on the stage with all the other also-rans. In fact, I wonder if, other than just launching a small trial balloon, abandoning his show wasn’t just a way of Huckabee finally saying, “Screw it, it’s just not working. I’m stopping this.”

    If so, then Stewart hit the nail on the head, in that the first word we will have heard of a candidate’s running is of him dropping out. Welcome to 2016!

    Rick

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