Mike Huckabee should feel reassured that he really is in the running -- after all, he has lots of people attacking him. In debate after debate, he has been either the top performer, the guy with the most memorable lines, or both. And yet, his opponents never attacked him because he wasn't a threat, and they didn't want to make him look like one.
Now that the Prince of Darkness himself has weighed in on Huckabee, it is official: some folks are worried.
We'll see how many rank-and-file Republicans are worried. The truth of the matter is that most Republicans, particularly in a state like Montana, are working for a living just like their Democratic counterparts.
And as such, things like this excerpt from an interview Huckabee did with Margaret Warner back in October are going to resonate just as much as any "social conservative" buttons that Huckabee might push:
I'm not an establishment Republican. There are so many people who think of Republican as people who are properly pedigreed within a political system...
Well, you know, my dad for a fireman for the city of Hope, Arkansas, worked as a mechanic on his days off. I was the first male in my family lineage to even graduate high school. I know what it's like to be the first sort of in the whole line to break the cycle of poverty, and go on to high school, college, and end up becoming a governor.
But I think my experience really is far more common to the average American than those folks who have all the right things on their resume. America needs a president who understands what struggle is, because most Americans experience it.
MARGARET WARNER: But why is that paradoxical for a Republican?
HUCKABEE: The perception of many people in America is that a Republican is a wholly owned subsidiary of Wall Street. And, in some cases, it's probably true, that the Republican tends to be more connected to people of great wealth.
Now, I think that that's not always the case. I think rank-and-file Republicans are small-business owners. They're factory workers. They're moms and sometimes single moms and housewives. They're all kinds of people.
But there is this perception that Republican equals privilege. And it certainly isn't the case.
The press seems to like him in spite of itself -- he's even the Rolling Stone's "favorite right-wing nut job." That particular obligatorily profanity-ridden piece was naturally more negative than positive, but the author admits to first being lulled off into thinking that a Huckabee presidency might not be that bad, but...
Then I woke up and did some homework that changed my mind. But I confess: It took a little while. Huckabee is that good.
Huckabee was of course guilty of being a conservative Christian -- an unforgivable Rolling Stone sin. But it still made for an entertaining read.
But coming back to Dick Morris, who had a recent piece entitled "Huckabee is a Fiscal Conservative."
We've never worried that much about the subject, since a little economic populism never hurt anyone, but it is a good reminder that even the supposed "economic liberal" in the race is a wing-nut tax-slasher when compared to the bad guys. While Huckabee is still the most interesting guy in the race, it should be pointed out that the reason he is interesting at all is because no-one who is a "complete package" showed up this election cycle.
And it is hard not to be fascinated by a southern Republican governor who carried nearly 50% of the black vote in Arkansas in his last election. Yes, Rudy would give Hillary a run for the cross-dressing vote, but somehow it just isn't the same.
Morris, of course, as a long-time Clinton advisor turned conservative pundit, has seen Huckabee up close and personal, due to the Arkansas connection. He addresses many of the key charges that Novak and others lay at Huckabee's feet, and puts them into context.
Don't worry, the Club for Growth and the Cato Institute aren't going to read Morris's piece and conclude that Huckabee is their guy. But Morris reminds us of the different circumstances that governors face. Novak criticizes Huckabee because of the rise in total tax burden -- remember that this is a number measured in dollars, so when an economy grows, population grows, etc., the number will rise.
Thus, while the state tax burden rose by 47% under Huckabee, Morris points out that nationwide, the total state tax burden rose by 98%. More useful is to look at individual taxes and individual tax rates:
In Arkansas, the income tax when he took office was 1 percent for the poorest taxpayers and 7 percent for the richest, exactly where it stood when he left the statehouse 11 years later. But, in the interim, he doubled the standard deduction and the child care credit, repealed capital gains taxes for home sales, lowered the capital gains rate, expanded the homestead exemption and set up tax-free savings accounts for medical care and college tuition.
Most impressively, when he had to pass an income tax surcharge amid the drop in revenues after Sept. 11, 2001, he repealed it three years later when he didn't need it any longer.
He raised the sales tax one cent in 11 years and did that only after the courts ordered him to do so. (He also got voter approval for a one-eighth-of-one-cent hike for parks and recreation.)
He wants to repeal the income tax, abolish the IRS and institute a "fair tax" based on consumption, and opposes any tax increase for Social Security.
And every state and every time is different. Think about Montana -- Judy Martz raised some taxes to balance the budget while the current occupant of the governor's mansion has raised no tax rates and has given back money in tax rebates. So which governor would you more trust not to raise taxes? Exactly.
By the time most read this post, we'll know who attacked Gov. Huckabee in the YouTube debate tonight, and along what lines. With the latest Rasmussen Iowa poll showing Huckabee in the lead by 3 points over Romney, one can take a wild stab.
Jay Cost over at the Horse Race Blog notes that the conspicuous absence in the "When Republicans Attack!" wars has been Giuliani attacking Huckabee -- the two have a sort of detente, knowing that they are competing for different voters, and that Giuliani will benefit from a strong Huckabee performance in Iowa while Huckabee will benefit from a strong Giuliani performance in New Hampshire.
If they can each manage to pull off upset wins or near-wins, Romney will be done, and then they can go after each other in South Carolina, which would be quite the contest between two guys who couldn't be more different from each other, except that each is verbally very skilled and each is comfortable in his own skin.
We'd still love to see Fred Thompson come out of hibernation and start performing, but for now, it isn't him who has people popping some buttered corn and turning on the YouTube debate in anticipation of what is going to happen next in the race.
If we can't have a complete and perfect candidate, we should at least be grateful that we have an increasingly interesting race. And we can be assured that whoever emerges from the pack to take the nomination will be battle-hardened and ready to go.