Here's another one for the pile of liberal commentary
on the curiosity that is Mike Huckabee's strategically populist positioning on economic issues: In the New Republic
, Brian Beutler argues that Huckabee is "angling not only for the evangelical vote, but for the old person vote in general" with his singular union of social conservatism and explicit promises to safeguard Social Security and Medicare.
This contradicts the vision of entitlement reform that has long been a plank of the GOP's plan to pare back federal spending. Sure, Republicans have always peddled talk about protecting entitlement programs for seniors while making plans to do just the opposite — remember the classic "get your government hands off my Medicare" rant back in 2009
— but the interesting thing is that Huckabee is using this message so early on in the GOP primary. He's using the issue to define himself against those other, less compassionate conservatives crowding the 2016 field.
This matters, Beutler writes, not because it represents any sort of groundswell of actual ideological change within the Republican Party, but because of the primary season fireworks it threatens to create.
If Huckabee continues to double-down on this rhetoric, he'll "place his rivals in the exquisitely awkward position of having to explain themselves" to the older voters who comprise the bulk of likely GOP primary turnout:
Remember that the GOP owes its political livelihood to the elderly. To pursue conservative goals, without obliterating their coalition, Republicans must twist themselves into pretzels. They must detest spending, but only on those other people. Their rhetorical commitments are impossible to square with their ideological and substantive ones, though, and the agenda they’ve promised to pursue when they control the government again would not exempt retirees and near retirees in any meaningful way. At the end of the day they can only keep their promises to one interest group, and it’s not going to be the elderly.
It's all a cynical gambit, Beutler says:
What he didn’t mention is that his proposed “Fair Tax”—a hefty tax on consumption—would disproportionately increase costs for fixed-income seniors, who spend most of their money, and thus operate in effect much like a Social Security benefit cut.
But for political purposes, it doesn’t really matter that Huckabee isn’t acting out of compassion for the elderly or the poor. What matters is that he’s motivated enough to pull back the curtain on the party’s double dealing.
Indeed. But in the interest of fairness, it should also be noted that as Arkansas governor, Huckabee's nods towards populism sometimes ran a bit more than skin deep. He's hated by the Club for Growth
for his record more than his rhetoric. Which is to say — once upon a time, at least, Mike Huckabee occasionally treated government as a tool to solve problems, rather than a boil to be lanced.