Jewish World Review March 5, 2008 / 28 Adar I 5768
Even in defeat, Mike Huckabee thinks he’s a stronger candidate than McCain
By Roger Simon
"I may be in a position like the pitcher who goes to the bullpen," Huckabee told me Tuesday. "He is not on the mound, but should something happen, he is ready to come in for relief."
Should something happen? As in, should something happen to a 71-year-old presumptive nominee named McCain?
Even though most Republican voters have not gone along with him and there was faint hope of a Huckabee upset in Tuesday's results Huckabee believes he is simply a stronger candidate than McCain.
"There are some serious questions whether Sen. McCain will be able to spend any money between now and the convention," Huckabee said. "He will basically sit at home between now and September and not be able to spend a dime. And maybe the party will be wishing for a candidate without those restrictions, a candidate who can campaign full-time."
While some Huckabee supporters were hoping that he might get a vice presidential nod this year, Huckabee says they should forget it. "We have been given every signal that is not going to be considered," Huckabee said.
In fact, Huckabee has not been guaranteed even what losing candidates are often guaranteed: a speech at the party's convention. "It would be amazing if I was disinvited there," Huckabee said. "If this were the NCAA and the Final Four two Democrats, two Republicans I would be in it."
But politics is neither beanbag nor basketball, and many in the party are angry that Huckabee has stayed in the race this long.
And you know what? Huckabee doesn't care. And you know why? Because he remembers that in 1976, Ronald Reagan hung in all the way to the Republican convention. And even though Reagan lost the nomination to Gerald Ford, Reagan spent the next four years building a new Republican Party and a new coalition that eventually would carry him to victory.
These days, Huckabee is thinking all about coalitions. Here is how he described his supporters to me: "They are the disenfranchised Republicans, the invisible Republicans, the truck drivers, the flight attendants, the baggage handlers, the machine shop workers and union members. These are not members of the swankiest country clubs and not people whose kids are going on a legacy to Yale. They work hard to get their kids to community college. But they are conservative."
But Huckabee said his support goes beyond the evangelical base that people usually mention when talking about him.
"Some of my strongest support comes from Catholics, and some of those who support me are not social conservatives at all but are motivated by my FairTax support," Huckabee said. "Others feel I am the only Republican whose message reaches all aspects of the economic spectrum and not just those at the top."
And because he does believe he speaks for those people, he is in no hurry to shut up, even though many party elders want him to.
"The establishment types want me to disappear," he said. "But what is the big stinking hurry? We are six months from the convention, eight months from the election and only eight weeks into voting."
And, he says, the eight contests he has won Iowa, West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana and Kansas are impressive.
"Look at where I won delegates," Huckabee said. "John McCain won a lot of delegates in states that are not factors [for Republicans] in November: New York, New Jersey, California, Connecticut. They are not going to settle the election. I won states that are quite red. I won in states where Republicans had better win or there is no chance of a Republican becoming president." (McCain, it should be pointed out, also won the very red state of South Carolina, as well as the important swing state of Florida.)
Huckabee knows that none of this will convince the party establishment of his value, but that does not bother him. Again, he goes back to Ronald Reagan to explain why.
"Ronald Reagan was not the guy the Republican establishment wanted," Huckabee said. "They had the same kind of dismissive attitude towards him: He couldn't win, he had no experience, and they said he should disappear. What they didn't understand is that people liked him."
Huckabee went on: "People forget what a pariah Ronald Reagan was. Now he is the gold standard of the party. But in 1976, people were so angry not only that he was running for the nomination but that he was challenging a sitting president."
A good point. So if McCain gets the nomination and wins the presidency this time, would Huckabee consider challenging him in 2012?
"I am not thinking about that," Huckabee said. "Today."
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© 2008, Creators Syndicate