Thursday, February 14, 2008
As Montana Headlines pointed out early last December, once Republicans accepted the fact that all of our candidates were flawed in one way or another, Sen. John McCain stood alone as someone who could unite the party and win in the general election. To quote ourselves at the time:
Taking a cold, hard look at the field, it is hard to escape the notion that there may be only one guy who can credibly pull the coalition together for the general election next year. And, amazingly, it may be John McCain.
And indeed, it seems that the Republican electorate came to the same conclusion. The conservative pundits disagreed, grasping onto Mitt Romney as the best "anybody but McCain" candidate they could find ready to hand. That, of course, didn't go very far. One hopes that Romney's decision to endorse McCain (something he should have done the day he decided to stop campaigning) will now make all of the anti-McCain forces stop and take a deep breath. He is, unquestionably, the best candidate for the general election, and it is a pretty narrow definition of conservative that would exclude him from the fold.
So now, all that remains is for Huckabee to find a graceful time to withdraw. He has the money to continue through the Texas primary, after which he was expected to withdraw, but perhaps Romney's move will prompt him to do so sooner. He and Romney are jostling for positioning within the party, and Romney's move (a smart one on his part) should force Huckabee's hand.
And so that favorite parlor-game of "who will be the VP" is already well under way. Yes, we realize that the Vice-Presidency isn't worth a warm bucket of spit in and of itself. But in the GOP, this is pretty serious business, because of our penchant for giving former VP's or former VP nominees the nod to be our Presidential nominee later. That was what made the selection of Cheney by Bush so significant in 2000: no heir-apparent for 2008.
Quin Hillyer, writing in the American Spectator, has compiled an excellent summary of what McCain needs in a running mate. He summarizes:
McCain needs a solidly "full-spectrum" conservative, reformist, youngish, cool (MH: as opposed to hot-tempered,) well-rounded, brainy, all-media-respected, articulate, telegenic, border-state/constituency-challenging, non-party-weakening, executive-experienced, running mate who can handle the presidency at a moment's notice.
He is saving the specific names for a later column, but only one name jumps to mind based on his article: Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota.
We also need to keep in mind that if McCain is to remain true to form, he will pick whoever he wants, and not someone out of a conservative wish-list. So we may see a maverick choice. But on the other hand, he's not stupid, and with Pawlenty, McCain would get both a long-time supporter and political ally and someone whom the conservative movement basically trusts -- and who fits all of the other nice criteria Hallyer lists.
One thing that we have to hope McCain doesn't do, and that is to succumb to the Condolezza Rice theory (she's black and a woman, and so will trump either Obama or Hillary.) Throwing someone into a national campaign who hasn't run for so much as state legislature would be simply suicidal. Running for office isn't as easy as it looks, and McCain will need someone who has at least one or two major (and winning) statewide races under his belt.
He surely knows that he will be the VP choice only when hades freezes over, due to the vitriol that was hurled at him early in the campaign. Even though he is winning the "very conservative" vote by huge margins, we must remember that he is a liberal, according to all of the reliable pundits and talk-show hosts.
This is really too bad, since Huckabee would be a tireless, battle-tested campaigner who could lock down the greater South for McCain while McCain concentrated on winning swing states and putting the fear of God into Democrats by running hard at them in states like Michigan and Pennsylvania. If the job of a Veep is to be an outstanding campaign surrogate, it would be hard to find someone who would be more proven at that than Huckabee. But it won't happen.
Prior to his winning Iowa, he was widely touted as a likeable conservative southern governor with impeccable social conservative credentials who was an almost inevitable Veep for Giuliani, McCain, Romney -- basically for anyone but another southerner like Thompson.
But then the Huckaboom happened, and the Romney machine,the Club for Growth, and the conservative establishment started their takedown.
So again, why is he staying in the race? Byron York explains:
The main reasons are that Huckabee can afford to keep going, he thinks he can do well in Texas, and that, as the sole recipient of votes from conservatives unhappy with McCain, his support has actually increased.
Mitt Romney pulled out of the race because did not see the purpose in keeping his extremely expensive campaign going in the face of terrible odds; it would have been impossible to imagine a greatly scaled-down Romney operation, going into primaries on a shoestring.
Huckabee, on the other hand, has always operated on a shoestring. In fact, as McCain’s last major opponent, he is positively living large, compared to the campaign’s earliest days.
Part of that is because his campaign has displayed a genius for stretching a dollar. Huckabee won Georgia even though he couldn’t afford to purchase TV ads in Atlanta; instead, he bought time in places like Macon.
He won Alabama without spending much in Birmingham, opting instead for the less expensive Huntsville. And the campaign just loved twofers. “If we could find a media market that covered two states, we were all over it,” the Huckabee aide told me. “Chattanooga, Fort Smith, Joplin – it’s called bang for your buck.”
Now when you compare Huckabee's ability to stretch a dollar, live off the land (so to speak,) and wage a protracted guerilla war for delegates that will almost certainly leave him with more delegates than Romney by the time he is done -- and compare that to the profligacy of the Romney campaign, you have to wonder which one really is the instinctive fiscal conservative. You have to wonder just which one would use tax dollars more efficiently.
Montana Headlines has never questioned the facts of Huckabee's record as governor that made him anathema to a certain type of conservative. No, he didn't see tax cuts as the solution to every problem Arkansas faced, and yes, he was ready to spend money on infrastructure.
But when it comes right down to it, there has always been the sense that Huckabee, at his most basic gut-level, is deeply conservative, across the board. And the votes that have been cast throughout the most conservative swaths of the country by the most conservative voters there confirm that gut-check. While he has been left with evangelicals as his most loyal core supporters, there is a lot more to him than that, and always has been.
While Huckabee has been a gentleman about it, his goal throughout the rest of this campaign has to be to prove that he is able to gather in the votes of conservative voters, even in the face of an inevitable nominee, that he can do it with a fraction of the resources that other candidates have dedicated to the process, and that he can move McCain to the right on a number of issues without hurting McCain or the party. No small feats, and rest assured that he will accomplish them.
He has shown himself to be the most gifted campaigner and communicator in the entire Republican field -- everyone else is a pale and/or stiff imitation. He will be a force in conservative and Republican politics for years to come, and he is solidifying his position. Will he be the next conservative heir-apparent? One can make the case with little difficulty that he certainly has more claim to the title than anyone else.
And it isn't just because he was the only one foolish or deluded enough to stay in. He was, as York points out, the only one who actually could stay in. The only one with the political ability and resources (and ability to manage resources -- Huckabee has apparently long been stashing cash away to be ready for the big media buys that have long been his biggest "must-haves" -- the big Texas markets.)
Whenever he goes, Huckabee will leave with a stature far higher than when he began the race. He is now a national figure in GOP politics, widely admired as the best natural campaigner in the 2008 field. Good, and perhaps even greater, things await. And it is unlikely that Huckabee wants to do anything in the last days of his campaign to diminish all the gains he has made.
He is now a national figure in GOP politics, widely admired as the best natural campaigner in the 2008 field.
Good, and perhaps even greater, things await. And it is unlikely that Huckabee wants to do anything in the last days of his campaign to diminish all the gains he has made.
Indeed, and that is why Huckabee started the race running a positive campaign and not engaging in personal attacks, and why he will be the last "opponent" of McCain standing -- ending it on the same positive note, with warm words of respect spoken about him by Sen. McCain. He may even provoke some reconsiderations by those who decided early and quickly to hate him.