When they debated economic issues in Dearborn, Mich., most of the Republican presidential candidates talked about how good the economic statistics look. Mike Huckabee was the candidate who offered sympathy for the public’s anxieties. So it has been throughout the campaign. Huckabee, more than the other Republican candidates, understands that even in a time of economic growth Americans are worried about their health care, their wages, and their country’s future.
He seems to understand his party’s strategic options better than his Republican rivals, too. Since conservative positions on controversial moral issues have helped Republicans, there is no reason to abandon them. But waxing nostalgic, as though the country were ripe for a reprise of the Gingrich revolution, is not a path to a Republican revival either. What Republicans need is a new domestic policy to address today’s concerns.
Unfortunately, what Huckabee offers by way of solutions is a mixture of populism and big-government liberalism; the common theme of his policies is that they are half-baked. If an ill-considered slogan can be used to justify a policy, he is for it. He is a protectionist, because we need to have “fair trade.” He wants to put illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship, because we need them “to do jobs that are going unfilled because nobody here wants to do them.” Energy subsidies and farm subsidies must be increased, because they’re a matter of “national security.”
When he was governor of Arkansas, these instincts led Huckabee to move farther and farther in a statist direction. (Education policy offers a nice example of what happens when his statism and his social conservatism conflict: He opposes meaningful school choice.) The Cato Institute gave him a D on fiscal policy, noting that spending had increased at three times the rate of inflation during his governorship. Not surprisingly, Huckabee is the one Republican candidate who flinched when President Bush vetoed the Democrats’ proposed expansion of S-CHIP. He says he is against socialized medicine, but don’t look for him to resist the drift toward it.
On domestic issues Huckabee makes one major departure from welfare-state liberalism, and it is a doozy. He says he is “running to completely eliminate all federal income and payroll taxes,” by implementing a national sales tax: “When the FairTax becomes law, it will be like waving a magic wand releasing us from pain and unfairness.” This proposal would almost certainly make a presidential nominee unelectable. But even if he got elected, it would be impossible to deliver. To bar the door on the income tax we would need to amend the Constitution. Otherwise we would end up with the income tax and Huckabee’s sales tax. We would call it a pipe dream, if Huckabee weren’t so anti-smoking.
Several of the Republican presidential candidates share Huckabee’s views on abortion and same-sex marriage. On domestic-policy issues, however, he stands alone. Thankfully.