Mike Littwin: Did someone say Huckabee?
May 14, 2015
Four years ago at around this time, I wrote that none of the candidates in the race could possibly win the Republican nomination, even though I, and everyone else, knew Mitt Romney would.
Still, it made sense. How could Republicans possibly nominate the guy who invented Romneycare to run against the guy they couldn’t stand for inventing Obamacare? They couldn’t — and yet they did. Well, in the end, it was him or Rick Santorum. That was 2012.
This year is different. It seems as if every candidate — and there are approximately two dozen — could win, although, in truth, only about a dozen could.
By only a dozen, I mean every Republican you ever heard of not named Romney. And why not? There’s no incumbent. There’s the eight-year itch (only once has a party won three in a row since FDR-Truman). And the betting favorite — Jeb Bush — is, at last check, part of the Bush family, meaning Jeb is saying he, too, would have invaded Iraq. Now I’m worried he’d also pick Dick Cheney to be his running mate.
If it’s me, I take the field. The question isn’t who has a chance, but who doesn’t (I mean, besides Ben Carson).
Which brings us to Mike Huckabee, who you also figure has no chance. I’ll just put it out there. Until very recently, Huckabee spent his time between Fox News gigs hawking cinnamon pills that, he said, would cure diabetes. Forget the “Uncle Sugar” stuff or the gay-marriage stuff. All you have to know that someone who would be president tells the sick and poor that cinnamon pills will cure them. Welcome to Huckacare.
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And yet, the Washington Post’s Fix — the ultimate inside-Washington political gamer — has him ranked No. 4 in the GOP field. National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar writes that Huckabee’s economic populism is “as formidable as Jeb Bush’s money.” Is the Republican bench not quite as deep as we thought?
I met Huckabee in 2007 in New Hampshire when he was an obscure former Republican governor of Arkansas who was known, where he was known at all, for three things: 1) Being the second Arkansas governor to have been born in Hope; 2) Having lost 110 pounds in what seemed like some kind of speed-diet contest; 3) Playing a hot rock guitar (in contrast to Bill Clinton’s cool sax).
He had a folksy charm, but no Fox gig and no name recognition. He was obscure enough that one day on the trail it was just Huckabee, his campaign manager and me. As we went from one small town to the next, he cracked his folksy jokes and warned me that his wife had warned him that his sense of humor would get him in trouble. It didn’t that day, but his tendency (not always funny) to drop culture-war bombs (like ripping the Obamas for letting their daughters listen to, yes, Beyonce) would make him a religious-right favorite — a reasonable place to be if you’re running in a GOP primary.
He won me over when he dropped me off at a supporter’s office while he did a radio show back home, and the supporter, who owned a string of New England music stores, gave me his card. I’ve still got it. It had embedded in it a sliver of a pink Cadillac once owned, I swear, by Elvis, whose music was a little more controversial in the early thin-Elvis days than Beyonce’s ever has been.
Huckabee later won over Iowa, to no small surprise, but then came a bigger surprise to anyone who thought he might become a serious contender — he had no money, little organization and no means to acquire either. And so John McCain won in a rout.
But here’s the strange part. Now Huck’s back. He still doesn’t have much money or organization. He may rip Beyonce and the Obamas, but he plays Cat Scratch Fever with his pal Ted Nugent. And he pushes cinnamon pills on the unsuspecting poor who have diabetes.
Is the race really that wide open?
Let’s check the field. The establishment wants Bush III vs. Clinton II. I see that as a gift to the Clintons and an embarrassment to the rest of us. Scott Walker jumped off to a big start, but, after a series of gaffes, is now being tutored on how to run for president. Lesson No. 1, taught by Larry Mizel: Go to Israel, where he is now. Marco Rubio is my choice, if Republicans want someone with a minority background who can run on generational change and immigration reform. It’s worked before. Ted Cruz? Spend 30 minutes — no, 30 seconds — with the guy and see if you still think so. Rand Paul may not be his father, but he’s not going to bomb Iran either and isn’t that an automatic disqualifier? John Kasich? Maybe when he is recognized by someone outside Michigan, we’ll talk. Chris Christie’s $82,000 food bill for Giants and Jets games that he put on his state credit card ought to end the story, if not the jokes. But now we learn that the New Jersey GOP has picked up Christie’s tab, which is also pretty funny. Rick Perry? Give him this: At least he’s not jumping on the Jade Helm bandwagon.
I don’t know, but I do know this: We’ll always have Elvis.