12.15.2007

Republicans: Can Huckabee survive the deluge of attacks?

For months, we had been waiting for the Republican field to start going negative against Rudy Giuliani. The ads had written themselves -- starting with one featuring Rudy in drags! But instead, Mike Huckabee surged and is now attracting all the attacks of the Republican Party. The intensity of the attacks -- unmatched this entire year -- shows just how much more dangerous Huckabee is perceived to be: Unlike the previous front-runners, he is making his supporters feel passionate and enthusiastic, something no one else is managing to do.

So with three more weeks to go, did Huckabee surge too early, giving time for his opponents to recuperate and unleash upon him the aggressivity they were preparing to wage against other opponents? They are sure trying. And they are doing so especially on the issue of immirgation -- not that Huckabee's record is a particularly lenient one, but his rivals have seized upon the tuition breaks for illegal immigrant story. Romney ran with it last week in the first negative ad of the campaign; and today's it's Fred Thompson's turn to blast "Huckabee University" for "welcoming illegal immigrants:"

The full mailer with the accompanying test is available here. Immigration can definitely sink a candidate in Republican primaries (look at what it did to McCain in the spring), but every major candidate has huge flaws on the immigration debate in the eyes of the GOP base. And this is probably the one issue on which most caucus-goers are informed enough to be aware of the Giuliani and Romney back-and-forth about "sanctuary cities" versus "sanctuary mansions". But the significant development is Thompson's willingness to go negative: He needs those Huckabee voters, which are coming from the pool he is targeting. And while Thompson has little chance of getting the nomination at this point, he could very well play spoiler to Huckabee.

The harshest offensive of the week came from the National Review, the conservative magazine par excellence. After endorsing Romney earlier in the week, the National Review's Rich Lowry blasted Mike Huckabee in an article yesterday, calling him the Howard Dean of 2008, i.e. an extremely weak general election candidate the other party is dying to run again. After going through the list of ways in which Huckabee is extremely vulnerable (no foreign policy experience, raises taxes...), Lowry concludes: "Democrats have to be looking at Huckabee the way Republicans once regarded Dean — as a shiny Christmas present that is too good to be true." And his main argument is that Huckabee would reduce the GOP to its caricature: religion-obsessed anti-science traditionalism -- something swing voters are clearly uncomfortable with. And the title of the column says it all: "Huckaside"...

This is an argument that is heard increasingly on the campaign trail. The Drudge Report's main story sometime this week was a report that some GOPers are worried about Huckabee's g-e weakness. I for one disagree with the idea that Dean was that weak; the main anti-Kerry argument ended up being his flip-flops and his lack of conviction, and I do think Dean's aggressive posturing would have played well. I also disagree that Huckabee would be that weak in the general election: socially conservative and economically populist is a solid profile to win over swing voters. But the argument will be repeated often enough -- and by influential commentators like Lowry -- that it might stick in the minds of voters that Huckabee is too dangerous a candidate, especially if the Democratic nominee is Hillary Clinton.

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2 Comments:

  • Good point about the Huckabee-Dean analogy. It is interesting to note that a lot of the people who have been most scared of Huckabee from the beginning and accurately predicted his rise -- some of the progressive blogs in particular -- were precisely those who supported Dean in 04. I think however you could argue there are in fact two big blocks of swing voters -- blue collar Reagan Democrats, yes, but also suburban white collar voters for whom economic populism and social conservatism is exactly the wrong combination.

    By Blogger The Sleep, At 15 December, 2007 14:45  

  • None other than the far-left blogger Markos of DailyKos fears Mike Huckabee as one of the 'scariest' opponents the Dems could face in 2008. I agree with Kos on virtually nothing, but this is something I think we agree on.

    Sure, there's a few groups who claim to be mad at Huckabee, but his credentials on abortion, homosexuality, the death penalty and guns are beyond reproach from what I've heard. People are kidding themselves if they think that Huckabee has somehow accidentally stumbled across his current lead in states like Iowa and South Carolina. Huckabee is winning because he's good at what he does.

    I strongly suspect that conservatives will rally around him in the end, should he win the nomination. I can't say the same about Giuliani or Romney, however.

    By Anonymous Steve, At 15 December, 2007 16:47  

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