It is only a little premature to ponder the unthinkable, a Mike Huckabee presidential nomination and, yes, even a Huckabee presidency.
Let's quickly put the latter in the only reassuring context, Huckabee vs. a President Palin or a President — here plug in the name of any other Republican wannabe: Newt Gingrich, Eric Cantor, Mitt Romney, John Thune, Tim Pawlenty, Haley Barbour ... . See, he starts to grow on you.
Is there anyone, Republican or Democrat, who doesn't think Huckabee would have been a better president than George W. Bush? He wouldn't have started a war in Iraq or forked over the national treasury to the rich and the big corporations. God would have told him not to do either.
He might even have passed a universal health-insurance law, as he once said he planned to do in Arkansas.
Mike Huckabee is still only a distant prospect even for the nomination, but he's better placed than he's ever been, better certainly than in 2008, when he finished a distant second by dint of his vanity run. After everyone else folded when John McCain became unbeatable, Huckabee stayed in the race to get the last anti-McCain vote until McCain officially clinched the nomination. If you're old enough to appreciate the analogy, he salvaged the Monroe Schwarzlose vote.
Huckabee and Sarah Palin have led the polling on potential Republican nominees all year although neither does well enough to earn the description "frontrunner." Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, is the only Republican who consistently outpolls President Obama, but it is hard to see him doing any better in the Republican primaries and caucuses than he did in 2008, when he raised $62 million, spent $45 million of his personal fortune and collected only 291 delegates.
Romney is the putative father of Obamacare, the health insurance law so loathed by Republicans everywhere. With a little help from Sen. Edward Kennedy, Romney got the Democratic Massachusetts legislature to pass his universal insurance plan, which was patterned on the Republican plan of the 1990s and the plan pushed 36 years ago by Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
Is it conceivable that Republicans could do something so perverse as to nominate the man who brought to the national stage the idea that the government could cover the uninsured by requiring businesses and individuals to purchase private insurance when Republicans are suing all across the country to stop Washington from doing exactly that?
The big question is whether Huckabee or Palin will run. Republicans will line up to run in the first quarter of the year. Palin and Huckabee won't need to because their Fox News gigs assume they are presidential candidates. The minute they announce, you assume they will lose those jobs, which both of them may want more than the presidency. That, for sure, is the case with Palin, who abandoned the Alaska governorship after only a little more than two years on the job because of ethics investigations, led mainly by Republicans.
If she can't stand the heat in the easiest executive job in the country—running a docile state where the state government's main jobs are to tax energy, send everyone a welfare check and ask national taxpayers to supply its infrastructure needs—how could she handle a job where every act and every utterance has earthshaking consequences?
But Sarah Palin is Huckabee's key to the presidency. Without her as a foil, his path is harder. There aren't enough dumb white guys over 40 to get her the nomination. Huckabee beats her decisively with Republican women, even — especially — Alaskan Republican women.
Huckabee's principal weakness — he says one thing and does the opposite in almost every endeavor — in the end could be his strength in a matchup against Palin or any of the other hard-eyed, inconsiderate conservatives who are apt to make up the field. He takes a back seat to no one in pandering to bigotry and ignorance, but when he was actually invested with power he was the ultimate pragmatist. In 10 years as governor, he embraced practically the entire Democratic program and then claimed it as his own.
He called himself the anti-tax governor but he raised more taxes, ran up more debt and increased the size of government more than any Arkansas governor in history. He now opposes raising taxes on the rich when the economy is in shambles, but when Arkansas was struggling through a long recession in 2003 he called the legislature into special session to raise personal and corporate income taxes to shore up government health programs.
He rails against government-run health care on his TV and radio shows, but government health care was his signal achievement as governor. He began his tenure in 1997 by expanding Medicaid for tens of thousands of children and ended it in 2006 by expanding Medicaid to cover adults working for small businesses.
He talks about building the fence and expelling immigrants, but no governor was friendlier to illegal aliens, mainly their children. He wanted them to have in-state tuition and scholarships.
No governor, not even Michael Dukakis, freed more rapists and murderers to continue their depredations. He thought the Bible required him to be compassionate.
Huckabee will take a hit from the Club for Growth and the Tea Party crowd for much of that record, but remember that in 2008 the party in the end went not with the true believers but the pragmatist, the guy who had changed his position at least once on everything. If that is still the Republican Party in 2012, Mike Huckabee could be its man.