Politics & Policy

Identifying a Problem

Hoekstra on short-term and long-term concerns.

Michigan congressman Pete Hoekstra is “scared.”

He’s not scared so much that his candidate — Mitt Romney, whom he advises on foreign policy — won’t pull out a victory in Tuesday’s Michigan primary as he is worried about what another candidate is doing to the Republican party.

Republicans “need to stick up for our principles,” Hoekstra told National Review Online on Monday afternoon. We’re about “freedom and opportunity” — we don’t exclude people based on such things as race or gender, class or religion. But Hoekstra sees the Huckabee campaign as a divisive vessel of religious and class warfare.

In response to Huckabee’s line that Americans want to elect as president someone who looks like “the guy they work with, not the guy who laid them off,” Hoekstra insists “the right Republican response is that we shouldn’t be judging people based on what they look like. We should be judging people on whether they have the qualifications . . . the ability to get the job done. I’d like a guy who has the skills of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.” Hoekstra says he wants to elect a president who is “someone who knows how to create jobs. . . . Republicans know that if [Gates or Jobs] gets rich, it is good for Americans.” To suggest otherwise, in the populist tone Huckabee has, is “scary,” Hoekstra says: “Huckabee is scary for the Republican party.”

And what’s especially frightening to Hoekstra is the identity-politics character of Huckabee’s religious appeal. Hoekstra, himself a Christian social conservative, says evangelicals are an essential part of the Republican party: They have helped raise the level of importance of social issues, and have turned them into winning issues for the GOP. But for Hoekstra, to insist that the “standard-bearer” of your party be chosen on the basis of identity politics is a dangerous and un-Republican thing — and that’s what he sees coming from Huckabee and his supporters. “We can’t become the Evangelical Christian party,” says Hoekstra. “We’ve got a broad spectrum of religious faiths” in the GOP; to promote one over the others would be detrimental for the party.

Hoekstra says his office has gotten calls from folks “furious” that the congressman would support a Mormon. As it happens, the Mormon he supports, Hoekstra says, has the “management and leadership capability” needed in a president. On foreign policy, Hoekstra pitches Romney as one who “recognizes the threat from radical jihadists” and talks about it “better than the president. He doesn’t call it a war on terror.” Romney names the enemy much more directly and consistently: Islamic radicals.

As for what will happen Tuesday and what it will mean for Mitt Romney, Hoekstra says wait and see. Being realistic, he says: “I think that if we had an active Democratic primary, we’d be in great shape.” As for what happens if Romney loses in Michigan, Hoekstra says the answers will lie in the numbers, saying the exit polls are key to decision-making. “Mitt could be the clear-cut winner among Republicans here” and still lose because of Democratic voting in the Republican primary. Such a result, Hoekstra says, would “call into question the validity of the primary.” But he adds optimistically: “We expect to do very well with Republicans.”

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