In contrast to the drama unfolding in the Democratic presidential race, the Republican contest has been reduced to one mild amusement: What is Mike Huckabee doing? He has already established himself as a brilliant natural campaigner with a strong base of support within the party. He will be a GOP force in years to come, and just may make another run for the White House. But for 2008 he has been mathematically eliminated, his quip about miracles notwithstanding. So why continue? If he really wants to serve his country and his party, while consolidating support for the long-term and advancing his policy ideas, Mike Huckabee should step out of the presidential contest immediately and put his energy into a run for the United States Senate.
Huckabee denied any interest in such a run last week, saying he would more likely “get tattooed and go out on the town with Amy Winehouse” than try for the Senate. It’s a funny line, but Huckabee should reconsider.
On a wide range of policy issues, from tax hikes to union-card-check legislation, the balance in the U.S. Senate could shift in the 2008 election, with big-government-leaning senators in both parties nearing the magical number of 60 needed to pass controversial measures. The core policy objectives of the Huckabee presidential run would be buried if that happened.
The March 10 filing deadline in Arkansas for the U.S. Senate race is fast approaching. There is presently no Republican in the race, with only Green party candidate Rebekah Kennedy challenging incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor. Political handicappers are already calling this race an easy reelect for Pryor. And if Huckabee’s not interested, the GOP is unlikely to find a credible candidate.
That’s bad news for pro-growth conservatives.
Mark Pryor’s moderate-Democrat image is largely undeserved. I learned this first hand when I spent 2006 focused on the effort to repeal the federal death tax. After encouraging talks on the issue with Pryor’s staff, I thought his support for repeal was assured when he posted this message on his official Senate website: “I support the permanent repeal of an estate tax that harms small businesses and family farms.” He then went to the Senate floor, broke with Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, and obliged Senate majority leader Harry Reid to vote against repeal.
Huckabee, in contrast, has been a staunch supporter of death-tax repeal throughout his campaign. But his low-tax agenda goes further. He has campaigned on the fundamental tax reform known as the FairTax, a bold proposal to repeal not just the death tax, but also the income tax, the payroll tax, and every other tax presently levied by the federal government, replacing all these with a national retail sales tax. The plan is considered a long shot to ever become the law of the land. But it is a starting point for a meaningful discussion of fundamental tax reform that has, unfortunately, been moribund since the report of President Bush’s tax-reform panel landed with a thud.
By emphasizing the FairTax’s territoriality — our current system double taxes our exports and un-taxes imports, which is one reason why manufacturing has clamored for, and received, a weak and weakening dollar — a Senator Huckabee could help pave the way to a border-adjustable tax system that would place American manufacturers on a level playing field with the rest of the world without the persistent need to devalue the currency.
Huckabee also offers an important contrast to Pryor on spending. Pryor has been aggressively arguing in favor of the corrupt practice of congressional earmarking, recently saying, “I was elected by the people of my state to get the funding we need for projects like that.” In other words, Pryor sees it as his job to secure as much pork as possible. Huckabee, on the other hand, urged President Bush to veto earmarks and to ignore them when constitutionally possible. He also has stood for the complete transparency of every dollar in federal spending, to the detriment of waste, fraud, and abuse.
Many fiscal conservatives are wary of Huckabee’s record as governor of Arkansas, which included tax hikes. But he has since taken the Americans for Tax Reform no-tax-hike pledge, and his ardent support for the FairTax shows that he is channeling his economic populism into pro-growth, smaller-government policies. Moreover, Huckabee’s critics are unlikely to be great fans of Sen. Mark Pryor, and in politics everything is relative.
For the sake of his country, his party, and his career, Mike Huckabee should run for the United States Senate.
– Phil Kerpen is a policy analyst in Washington.