January 18, 2008

The answer to this question seems to differ wildly depending on who is responding and when in the last year they have been giving the answer. There is a virtual consensus of pundits and activists at major magazines, think tanks, and community blogs and on radio shows on the right who find Huckabee not merely undesirable, but deeply threatening and, in some cases, even frightening.

This ferocious backlash against his candidacy has coincided, remarkably enough, with Huckabee’s dramatic swing to the right on immigration, his departure from one of his more draconian nanny-state proposals of a federal smoking ban, and his adoption in recent months of such favorite pet phrases of pro-war Republicans as “Islamofascism.” The most recent move on immigration, continuing Huckabee’s abrupt pre-Iowa caucus shift against amnesty, seems to bear the marks of one of his new policy advisors, columnist and American Conservative contributor Jim Pinkerton.

On the other hand, several different surveys of Republican voter opinion show something entirely different from the conservative elite judgement of the man: 63% of Republicans assert that he “shares their values,” compared to just 48% who say the same of Mitt Romney, the candidate National Reviewdeclared to be a “full-spectrum conservative.” In the other poll, 64% identified Huckabee as conservative and 25% see him as very conservative, making him the most right-leaning Republican candidate among the top four in this survey. It would be easy to explain away the disparity between the majority of Republican voters, who likewise continue to identify President Bush as a conservative in similar numbers, and the elite of both movement and party as a function of a combination of voter ignorance, favorable media coverage and the impression left by media coverage that Huckabee is, if anything, “too far” to the right. Then again, the most remarkable thing about these surveys is that they probably accurately describe Huckabee, at least in comparison with his three main rivals (if we must continue to include Giuliani as a major rival). 

Despite the reality that he has supported virtually every wrong policy of the current administration and shows all the “compassionate,” big-government instincts of the president, he may be by the end of this campaign the most conservative of the very un-conservative leaders of the Republican field.  This is a measure of how much the GOP has changed in just the last decade, and a testament to how unattractive the prospective Republican nominees really are.


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