The Democratic National Committee has nicknamed Huckabee “glass jaw.” They’re convinced that he would be “roadkill” in the general election. I agree. But a column by Jim Pinkerton, one of our best political writers, forced me to take a second look at my thinking.
Pinkerton, who worked in the 1980 GOP general election campaign, rightly remembers Democratic “politicos insisting that Reagan was the weakest Republican opponent that Jimmy Carter could face as he sought re-election that year.” Pinkerton also notes that candidates from the landlocked heartland—such as Huckabee of Arkansas—are generally far stronger in November than are candidates from the coasts or Great Lakes states, such as Hillary and Obama. This too is true.
But Jim goes on to argue that Huckabee could carry all the states that Bush won in 2004. And that’s where the case for Huckabee goes awry. The national trends are moving strongly against the Republican Party, which is losing ground with increasingly libertarian younger voters, Latinos, independents, and moderate and fiscally conservative Republicans. In 2004 Bush carried six states—Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico—with 52 percent or less of the electorate, which equaled 73 electoral votes. Add in Virginia, which Bush carried with 54 percent but is currently trending blue, and you get 86 electoral votes. If you add these to the 252 electoral votes Kerry received, none of which are in jeopardy from a Huckabee candidacy, you get an outcome in 2008 in which the Democrats win handily 338 to the Republicans’ 200 electoral votes, taking scores of state and local Republicans down with them.
Or to put it in different terms, a Huckabee candidacy would mean that the GOP had failed to learn the lessons of 2006. In that year, the base came out for the Republicans who lost badly anyway, because swing voters and GOP moderates deserted them in droves. Nothing since then has pushed these voters back into the Republican column. I predict that if the GOP insists on nominating yet another religiously-oriented “compassionate conservative” in 2008, it can expect to turn over a sizable majority of the House and a possibly veto-proof majority in the Senate to the new Democratic President.