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Huckabee Confounds Elites as Reagan Did

January 7, 2008

It is interesting to note that Democrats are not attacking Mike Huckabee now that he has surged to the top of the Republican polls. Perhaps Howard Dean, the Democratic National Committee and the leading Democrat presidential candidates all believe that Huckabee is a Republican they can easily defeat.

Huckabee's national campaign chairman, Ed Rollins, was typically glib in his comparison of Mike Huckabee, circa 2008, and Ronald Reagan, circa 1980. Rollins, who managed the Gipper's 49-state landslide re-election campaign in 1984, says he remembers Democrats salivating over the prospect of running against the former actor, both in his campaigns for California governor and for president.

"I remember them saying, 'Please, let us run against Reagan,'" Rollins recalled.

The Democrats' silence on Huckabee could be attributed to the usual primary season focus on candidates within their own party. Maybe they simply have been caught off guard by Huckabee's impressive poll numbers. In any case, they don't seem to know whether to ignore him or watch quietly while the Republicans nominate yet another "religious right" candidate.

If Democrats are gleeful at the prospect of running against Huckabee, Republican elites are positively hysterical at the thought of the grassroots selecting a presidential standard-bearer. It reminds one of 1976 and 1980.

When Reagan challenged the hapless, pro-abortion, accidental president, Gerald Ford, for the 1976 Republican presidential nomination, the GOP establishment was furious. This California cowboy was going to destroy the party's chances for maintaining its tenuous, post-Watergate grip on the White House.

When Reagan ran in 1980, the Republican powers that be were again apoplectic over the prospect of nominating this pro-life, pro-family, pro-capitalist, anti-communist actor-turned-politician. Most of them preferred a moderate, pro-choice blueblood named George Herbert Walker Bush. They just didn't get it.

Similarly, they do not get Mike Huckabee. For the media and the Republican establishment, the only suitable choices are Rudy Giuliani, John McCain or Mitt Romney. President Huckabee? Graduate of Ouachita Baptist University with a degree in Religion? Are you kidding me? He didn't even attend Harvard or Yale! He wasn't even a member of Skull and Bones!

National Review editor Rich Lowry, whose publication has endorsed Romney, published a dismissive column last week titled simply "Huckacide," in which he predicts disaster for Republicans if Huckabee is nominated. In a recent radio interview, Lowry frantically predicted that the GOP was headed for a 50-state loss if Huckabee was the party's nominee.

Similarly, former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan recently questioned Huckabee's candidacy and his use of his Christian faith in the campaign. Noonan wrote that "Mike Huckabee flashes 'Christian leader' over his picture in commercials; he asserts his faith is 'mainstream'; his surrogates speak of (Romney's) Mormonism as 'strange' and 'definitely a factor.' Mr. Huckabee said this summer that a candidate's faith is 'subject to question,' 'part of the game.'"

Romney was right in his recent speech on the religion issue to state that it is values, not theology, that should determine whether a candidate is suitable for public office. Conservatives should be much more concerned about Romney being a closet liberal than an open Mormon. But after Romney told Tim Russert on Meet the Press that he would not rule out nominating an atheist to the U.S. Supreme Court, Huckabee's piety seems somehow reassuring.

Huckabee's record should be scrutinized, and his conservatism should be tested and questioned. But there are similarities to our last great Republican president. Both came from humble beginnings. Both rose from unique circumstances to surprise the experts by becoming successful governors. In a campaign season when every GOP candidate is desperately trying to evoke the memory of Ronald Reagan, Mike Huckabee possesses the sincerity, humility, strength of conviction and the optimism to make us believe that America's best days are still ahead. That is vintage Ronald Reagan.

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Copyright ©2008 Doug Patton

Doug Patton describes himself as a recovering political speechwriter who agrees with himself more often than not. His weekly columns are syndicated by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Readers are encouraged to email him at dpatton@cagle.comand/or to follow him on Twitter at @Doug_Patton.