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“A Strangely Desultory Campaign”: The Great Lost Huckabee Constituency

Something I was vaguely aware of but hadn’t really focused on came very much to my attention yesterday while we were taping this week’s WaMo BloggingheadsTV/podcast with guest Matt Cooper of Newsweek. Matt wrote a column that actually got Trump’s personal attention (leading to a brief interview) pointing out that The Donald’s hostility to “entitlement reform” and trade agreements along with his better known rhetoric on immigration had positioned him well to appeal to a distinct segment of Republican voters: non-college educated white voters, a.k.a. the white working class:

In the 2014 midterms, 64 percent of noncollege-educated white voters favored Republicans. “You are talking about people who are deeply alienated from American life, both culturally and economically,” says Ronald Brownstein, a political analyst who has written extensively on the subject.

These new blue-collar Republicans are more skeptical of free trade than the right’s traditional base is. And that’s created a major shift in the party. A Pew Research Center study in May found that Republicans, more than Democrats, believe free trade agreements cost them jobs, which bodes well for Trump since the leading Republican candidates largely support free-trade agreements. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz voted for fast-track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership—an essential step for ratifying the agreement—although on Tuesday, Cruz said he wouldn’t back fast-track, insisting he wanted, among other things, amendments that would limit immigration in future trade deals. And Jeb Bush and Scott Walker support it. Others oppose the deal, mainly due to the secrecy involved in the negotiations. But none are as vocally opposed as Trump.

His free trade position isn’t Trump’s only appeal to Republican voters; he’s also in line with most of the GOP’s base on entitlements. A majority of voters in both parties oppose reducing programs such as Medicare and Social Security. Not surprisingly, whites who haven’t gone to college tend to be adamantly opposed to slashing the safety net.

The flip side of all the talk about Democratic prospects to regain some of the white working class vote (see our most recent roundtable on the subject here at WaMo in conjunction with The Democratic Strategist, based on Stan Greenberg’s advice in the current issue of our magazine) is that this demographic has entered the Republican coalition without necessarily internalizing the economic views of GOP elites. So much as the “Reagan Democrats” represented a potentially rebellious segment of the Democratic coalition back in the day, today’s blue-collar Republicans are vulnerable not just to a “raid” from Democrats but from heretical Republicans who defect from party orthodoxy on hot-button issues like trade and entitlements. That’s probably an important part of Trump’s otherwise mysterious constituency.

But you know who was positioning himself to occupy this same ground? Mike Huckabee, as I observed back in May.

It will be interesting to see if he seeks and gains attention for being (most likely) the only candidate in a huge presidential field to take issue with the Republican congressional leadership’s push to win approval for Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. More importantly, the heavy, heavy investment of Republican politicians in budget schemes that depend on reductions in Social Security and Medicare spending will give Huckabee constant opportunities to tout his newly stated opposition to such cuts as a betrayal of promises made to middle-class workers who’ve been contributing payroll taxes their entire lives. Beyond that, two candidates — Chris Christie and Jeb Bush — are already on record favoring reductions in retirement benefits that go beyond the highly indirect voucher schemes associated with Paul Ryan.

Since then Huck has run a strangely desultory campaign, missing a lot of opportunities for earned media and making most of his noise competing with Bobby Jindal as to who can get most hysterical about imaginary threats to Christianity. He’s also showing his old incompetence in fundraising.

So Huck has languished in the polls even as Trump surged, and the final indignity had to be Trump getting all of the attention at an event–last weekend’s Family Leadership Summit in Iowa–that definitely should have been prime Huck Country.

I guess it’s possible that if Trump fades quickly Huckabee can batten on some of his supporters, though they seem to be a more secular crew than the God, Guns, Grits and Gravy folk. But more likely Huck will burnish his reputation for being a politician with more potential than performance.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 22, 2015

July 23, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Mike Huckabee | , , , | 1 Comment

“Working Man’s Wingnut”: Huckabee Laid Down Two Markers Directly Across The Class Lines That Divide Rank-And-File Republicans

So Mike Huckabee is “formally announcing his second presidential candidacy this morning from his rather famous home town of Hope, Arkansas. He’s not generally thought to be a threat to win the nomination, partly because his poll ratings in an incredibly crowded field aren’t that impressive, partly because he’s notoriously poor at fundraising, and partly because he has pre-alienated important elements of the Republican Establishment (Grover Norquist) and the conservative movement (the Club for Growth). His other problem is that having won Iowa in 2008, his expectations there are so high that if he fails to win again he may get written off before he reaches the Deep South primaries where he might be able to live off the fat of the land.

More fundamentally (pun intended), Huck’s natural base among white conservative evangelicals is no longer where it was in 2008, when it all but belonged to him after he disposed of Sam Brownback at the Ames Straw Poll. As they recently showed at Ralph Reed’s Iowa cattle call, nearly the entire gigantic 2016 field knows how to pitch the Christian Right, and many of the candidates–viz. Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal and potentially even Jeb Bush–have credentials for appealing to that constituency which rival Huck’s.

What he could bring to the table, however, is sort of a full-spectrum conservative white working class message that transcends the usual cultural issues and spits fire at Republican as well as Democratic elites. He tried that to some extent in 2008, though his “populism” was more rhetorical than substantive. This time around, though, Huck’s laid down two markers directly across the class lines that divide rank-and-file Republicans on the rare occasions their leaders are challenged on them: trade and “entitlement reform.”

Last month in Iowa, Huck attacked free trade agreements with China for depressing U.S. wages, and argued “globalists” had too much power in the GOP. With the Trans-Pacific Partnership drawing a lot of attention right now, it will be interesting to see if Huckabee mentions this topic again in his campaign launch.

Huck got more attention earlier this month for letting it be known he opposed any “entitlement reform” plans that modified Social Security or Medicare for people already paying payroll taxes into the systems for those two programs–in other words, grandfathering current retirees or those very close to retirement, as Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposals do, isn’t enough in Huck’s view. This was taken as an attack on Chris Christie, who had made means-testing of Social Security and Medicare a signature initiative for his doomed proto-candidacy. But Jeb Bush came out about the same time for an increase in the retirement age, and nearly all the GOP candidates have embraced “entitlement reform” in one form or another, if only via serial endorsements of serial Ryan Budgets.

The thing is, “entitlement reform” is very unpopular, not least among white working class voters. So it is the perfect subject for a would-be “populist” conservative.

Huckabee may have competition for this working man’s wingnut approach, notably from the man who inherited a lot of Huck’s 2008 supporters in 2012: Rick Santorum. Santo’s angle seems to be focused on immigration policy rather than trade and entitlements, however. If Huck continues to cover his flanks on immigration by repudiating his earlier openness to comprehensive reform, I think he’s got the broader and more evocative pitch. Even if it doesn’t elevate him into the top tier along with Bush, Walker and Rubio, it will get their attention, and may very well have an impact on Republican fiscal and economic policy.

I said in a piece in the latest issue of WaMo that Huck had more or less appropriated the savage appeal of Sarah Palin, at least in his pre-campaign book, God, Guns, Grits and Gravy. That book is chock full of anti-elite resentment, and implicitly offers Huck’s campaign as an instrument of vengeance for the same kind of working-class conservative activists who lick envelopes for the anti-choice movement, pay attention to Glenn Beck, laugh at the tired jokes about God not creating “Adam and Steve”–and have to worry about their own jobs and retirements and health care.

I don’t know that there’s enough distinctive appeal there to offset Huck’s other handicaps, and other candidates will poach on the same turf. But I wouldn’t write him off just yet.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 5, 2015

May 6, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

” A Constantly Moving Target”: Mitt Romney’s Foreign Policy Speech Brings More Lies And Reversals In Positions

It would be laughable were it not so completely serious.

As I listened intently to Governor Romney’s foreign policy address delivered this morning at the Virginia Military Institute, I was sure I heard him say that President Obama had not signed so much as one free-trade agreement during the past three years.

The statement struck such a discordant note I pressed the rewind button to make sure I had heard the Governor correctly.

Sure enough, that’s what he said.

Apparently, the Romney campaign did not get the memo—or more likely chose to ignore the facts—that it was on October 23, 2011, not one year ago, when, in a rare moment of bi-partisanship, President Obama signed free-trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia.

Even the Republicans were happy about the event as Speaker of the House, John Boehner, issued a statement saying, “years of perseverance have been rewarded today as American job creators will have new opportunities to expand and hire as they access new markets abroad.”

Why would Romney say such a thing when it is so obviously disprovable?

If you have the answer to that question, maybe you can then tell me why Mr. Romney would also include in his address a bold statement of commitment to a two state solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and the important role he could play in bringing about the same, when we all heard him say precisely the opposite in the now infamous “47 percent” videotape of his speech at a fundraiser in Boca Raton, Florida.

In case you need a reminder, here is what Romney said in that conversation which was intended to be private—

“I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say there’s just no way. So what you do is, you say, you move things along the best way you can. You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem…and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.”

And yet, in today’s speech, Gov. Romney said—

“Finally, I will recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel. On this vital issue, the President has failed, and what should be a negotiation process has devolved into a series of heated disputes at the United Nations. In this old conflict, as in every challenge we face in the Middle East, only a new President will bring the chance to begin anew.”

Not only does Romney completely turn tail on what he expressed in private, he actually blames the President in today’s speech for failing at something Romney is on record as saying is an unsolvable problem.

And maybe someone can tell me why Governor Romney chose to excoriate President Obama for not getting sufficiently involved in the internal skirmishes taking place in various Middle-Eastern countries when Romney went on record, in an April 2011 op-ed he penned for the National Review, and accused the President of being too aggressive in Libya by committing what he called ‘mission creep’?

Of course, it is possible Governor Romney simply forgot his most recent position on Libya given the number of times he changed his stance on that conflict.

In what might be considered a precursor to the now familiar Romney proclivity for “evolving” his stance to reflect what he thinks will best sell at any given moment, the Governor went through such a remarkable evolution during our efforts to assist the Libyans free themselves of the Gadhafi regime.

As Jake Tapper lays out in his October 20, 2011 piece on Romney’s ever changing view of our involvement in Libya, Romney managed to work through three, distinct positions on the topic over a one month period. The first was expressed in March of 2011, when the Governor criticize the Obama administration for being weak and not getting involved more quickly.

The second Romney position was no position at all, illustrated when, just one month following his initial take, Romney failed to even mention Libya during a speech delivered to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas where the Governor criticized Obama’s Middle-East policy. Having strangely omitted to discuss Libya during that speech, reporters sought to get the Governor to respond to questions on the topic. The encounter was described by the Las Vegas Review Journal as follows: “Romney was silent on Libya, the newest and stickiest military and U.S. policy problem as the United States and its NATO allies enforce a no-fly zone to help rebels oust Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. After his speech, Romney refused to take questions from reporters about his position on Libya. Instead, he and his wife, Ann, fled down a hallway and escaped up an escalator at The Venetian, where the event was held. ‘I’ve got a lot of positions on a lot of topics, but walking down the hall probably isn’t the best place to describe all those,’ Romney said, deflecting a Libya query as he walked quickly with half a dozen journalists trailing him.”

Finally, in the April op-ed Romney posted at, as noted and linked above, Romney wrote that he had, indeed, supported President Obama’s “specific, limited mission” but went on to then criticize Obama for getting further involved in what Romney called “mission creep”.

So, in March, Romney deemed the American response to what was happening in Libya as weak only to evolve his message —just one month later—to one expressing initial support for the administration’s limited mission and then criticized Obama for going too far.


Get used to it. If there is one thing we know for sure, we will continue to have no idea of where Governor Romney really stands on both domestic and foreign issues because where he stands is a constantly moving target.


By: Rick Ungar, Contributing Writer, Forbes, October 9, 2012

October 10, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mitt’s Magical Thinking Foreign Policy”: How Many Wars Is Romney Committing Us To?

Mitt Romney’s hailed foreign policy speech combined magical thinking and mendacity, with promises or threats to maintain, restore, escalate or commence military involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Iran, at minimum. Speaking at the Virginia Military Institute, Romney had to have his audience of cadets wondering how many wars he’d commit them to if elected.

Ironically, in a speech most passionate about making sure there’s no “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel, Romney repeatedly hailed VMI graduate George Marshall, the former secretary of state who famously opposed Harry Truman’s recognizing the state of Israel in 1948.

Romney used the tragic killing of Libyan Ambassador Christopher Stephens Sept. 11 to paint a picture of a region made more dangerous by Obama’s alleged weakness and fecklessness. “Americans are asking how this happened. I’ve come here today to offer a larger perspective on these tragic events,” he pompously proclaimed. But as he hailed “the massive protests in Benghazi” by thousands of Libyans outraged by Stevens’ killing, he seemed not to notice that it was exactly those forces Stevens, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had worked to support and strengthen in their Libyan military and diplomatic policy.

Certainly the administration has to answer questions about and be held accountable for the security problems that led to Stevens’ killing, but Romney seemed not to understand that Stevens died trying to empower the Libyan people who supposedly inspired Romney. He spoke of Stevens as though he were some rogue hero rather than a career diplomat committed to implementing a policy directed by Obama. He accused the president of “not partnership but passivity” in dealing with freedom-loving citizens in Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East, and once again pulled out the “leading from behind” slur as though it was stated presidential policy rather than an offhand, anonymous quote in a New Yorker story from almost a year ago. He didn’t say that the president goes around apologizing for America, though, so that’s something.

But he did tell one big lie, insisting Obama hadn’t signed a single free trade agreement, when in fact he’s signed three, with South Korea, Panama and Colombia. Romney also committed himself to seeing a “peaceful, prosperous Palestine” living side by side in peace with Israel, even though he had earlier dismissed the possibility of a two-state solution at his famous Boca Raton fundraiser. “I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and I say there’s just no way,” he told his wealthy donors.“[S]o what you do is, you say, you move things along the best way you can. You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem … and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.”

CEO Mitt also seemed to think he can order other countries around, insisting he would get our European allies to spend more on defense, complaining that only three of 28 NATO nations spend what they are committed to on the military. Good luck with that. Mitt’s magical thinking was also in evidence as he promised to counter Iran’s military support for Syria’s Assad with … something. “It is essential that we develop influence with those forces in Syria that will one day lead a country that sits at the heart of the Middle East,” he insisted, sounding a little Palinesque.

Just before the speech, a Romney adviser told reporters that the former Massachusetts governor would consider sending combat troops to Libya – a reversal of Obama’s policy as well as his own earlier opposition to direct military involvement there. There were vague hints of more military intervention in Syria. Romney also accused Obama of abandoning Iranian dissidents who protested the 2009 election, but never said what he’d have done to support them. He expressed unhappiness with the exit of American combat troops from Iraq and seemed unsettled about their scheduled departure from Afghanistan, yet he was almost as vague about what he’d do differently as he is when it comes to which tax deductions he’ll eliminate.

Yet it’s possible Romney’s own advisers don’t know any more about his real plans than what he laid out in his speech. The New York Times revealed Monday that several of them say “they have engaged with him so little on issues of national security that they are uncertain what camp he would fall into, and are uncertain themselves about how he would govern.” They aren’t sure he’s even reading his foreign policy papers they write, and one told the Times:

Would he take the lead in bombing Iran if the mullahs were getting too close to a bomb, or just back up the Israelis? Would he push for peace with the Palestinians, or just live with the status quo? He’s left himself a lot of wiggle room.

Perhaps fittingly for a guy who has staffed his foreign policy team with Bush retreads, Romney got high praise from former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who tweeted: “Terrific, comprehensive speech by Gov. Romney at VMI. He knows America’s role in the world should be as a leader not as a spectator.”


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, October 8, 2012

October 9, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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