Excuse the disorder of my notes. This should have somewhat more organized thoughts. In some real sense this was my first exposure to Huckabee as a candidate. I had interacted with him previously through the Young Republicans, and I knew that he was doing what he was doing to move his candidacy. But I was never forced to process him in the same way that I did today. So please excuse the structure of this.
The first thing that struck me is that no one that I had heard of was asking questions. Huckabee said that they have 150 "Bloggers for Huckabee," and they are clearly different people. Every question, except mine, started with an expression of support or love. This is not how it works for Rudy Giuliani or John McCain. The people on those calls are high-traffic national blogs focused on politics. The people on the Huckabee call were, at least, local blogs, often focused on things other than politics. At the very least this is a different model than the McCain and Giuliani are taking. It is very possible that it is closer to what Mitt Romney’s campaign is doing online, namely developing a blogger community that talks primarily to supporters. Thompson’s seems some of a hybrid. This is interesting, although I am not sure what to make of it.
Second, I asked a question about Huckabee’s economic populism. The answer is pretty striking, and you aren’t likely to hear it from any other GOP candidate in the field. He attacked CEOs and hedge fund managers. Perhaps the most interesting passage was:
As a Christian, [this is] not just an economic issue, but a moral issue. When you have real success, you share it with the people who helped you. … That’s the difference between capitalism and greed. … A President has to show the moral leadership of the country, not just policy leadership. …
The basic way that the rules have been written to favor a few. … You have a tax policy that encourages boards a huge tax incentive to give a huge salary to the CEO."
This language could have come out of Barack Obama’s or John Edward’s mouths with little trouble. It probably couldn’t come out of Hillary Clinton’s mouth. I don’t think that she does populism like that. Unlike many of the national blogs out there, I think that there is a real openness in the GOP base for this. The Fabrizio poll that examined the base of the party found an awful lot of people who are not economic conservatives or who view a more activist government as a good thing. Mike Huckabee could make a real play to turn Romney into the candidate of the country-club set, if he tried. And I’m not sure how much of the country club set is still Republican.
Third, he is quite serious about health care, and he talks about it differently than Rudy or Romney do. They are talking about tax credits and pools of risk, etc. These are, of course, tremendously important. However, it is hard to relate to that. Huckabee’s language, befitting a preacher, is much more grounded in the reality of a person’s experience. Look at what he said:
Giving people a $500 discount for doing a health risk assessment. … Free quit smoking classes… Free weight-loss classes. … Studies show that health costs are 60% or more, even 80%, lower after they reduce their obesity… Turn this thing toward preventive health…
I might even agree with a lot of this. There’s plenty of evidence that preventative medicine pays back plenty over time. (that’s one of the reason that I have a certain sympathy to the Medicare Part D bill.) It is also notoriously hard to score (no way that the CBO or OMB got it right for Part D, and it is clear that, in some cases, they over-estimated the cost) and would be very difficult to get through in that context if there was real penny-pinching going on.
The way he talks about it also makes health care reform a problem of "helping the person" (especially the person acutely aware of their own problems) not "fixing the system." If I am the candidate, I want to be where he is. But can that be converted into a real plan? We shall see.
This was a very interesting call. I still don’t know what to make of Huckabee. There is a lot that I like about him, although I have a gut aversion to populism, and I think that he is wrong, wrong, wrong about how to deal with globalization. But if he continues to gain, he is by far the most credible social conservative and populist in the field. Those are convertible to victory in Iowa and South Carolina, but probably not in New Hampshire and Florida, and he seems to know that. I wonder where he will go with this.