Huckabee Rips Bush Foreign Policy, Calls It "Arrogant"

It's been interesting to see Huckabee rise in the polls despite the utter contempt in which the corporatist Republican Party establishment holds him. Now he aims to alienate the very serious neocon wing of the party as well.

In an essay in Foreign Affairs Magazine Huckabee rails against Bush's foreign policy, saying, in its most striking passage:

The Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad.

In the extensive piece he calls for modesty when dealing with international affairs, diplomacy when dealing with our enemies and frames energy independence as a national security concern. Nope not very serious at all.

The heat from the right is already coming.

Rightwingnuthouse calls the essay an "embarrassment" and Race42008 uses terms like "dangerous" and "naive" to describe Huckabee. Predictably Fox News got to the real issue behind the right-wing's pushback against this sort of rhetoric: that the attack on Bush sounds like "John Kerry said it during the 2004 campaign" and that it gives "comfort to their political enemies."

Romney repeated this line of argument in his rapid response to the essay today:

"I can't believe he'd say that. I'm afraid he's running from the wrong party," Romney said to a gathering of about 100 supporters in a restaurant here. "I had to look again -- did this come from Barack Obama or from Hillary Clinton? Did it come from John Edwards? No, it was Governor Huckabee."

Romney even went so far as to defend Bush directly.

"I'm the last person to say that this administration is subject to an arrogant, bunker mentality that is counterproductive here and abroad," he said. "The truth of the matter is this president has kept us safe these past six years and that has not been easy to do."

There is great discontent among the Republican Party towards Bush but being a foreign policy hawk isn't why; if anything they're pissed off he hasn't been tougher abroad. So I really don't see what this gets Huckabee except some new rounds of ammunition to be used against him by his rivals. But one thing he's doing here is setting himself up, credibly, as the change candidate of the Republican field. Imagine if he does win the nomination, what a rebuke to the Bush years and to the "serious" and "responsible" conventional wisdom of the Republican establishment this would be.

This is turning out to be a fairly monumental and very entertaining fight for the soul of the Republican Party. Romney is trying to position himself as the defender of the party's more traditional principles, which is appropriate I suppose since neither the party nor Romney seems to really stand for anything at all. Huckabee standing for something, anything, is clearly quite attractive to Republican voters right about now.

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New NH John McCain Ad: War, What War?

For months, the media has been pushing the McCain comeback narrative and as we approach a few weeks out from votes actually being cast, the path to a McCain nomination couldn't be clearer: it goes through New Hampshire. McCain, while refusing to officially bow out of Iowa, has all but given up there to focus on the far more friendly Granite state, a strategy he arguably should have employed officially from the beginning.

But things may be shifting for him just in time. In the latest Suffolk University poll McCain surges into 2nd place with a net gain of 9% on Giuliani since November to within 12% of a falling Romney and Pollster concurs, showing his trend estimate on an upward slope, unlike Giuliani's, which is falling. McCain's latest ad gives us a glimpse into his final push strategy to win or at least finish a strong second in NH, which would be fine for him, as the media has already declared his Iowa finish irrelevant.

This is a very interesting ad in that it completely abandons what McCain had up until now identified as his strength, namely, bona fides on the war in Iraq based in part on his self-proclaimed prescient "opposition to a failed strategy" (yeah, right) and in part on the snuff-film-esque exploitation of his POW status. There is not one mention of the war in this ad (although he certainly tries to shore up his subliminal patriot cred with ten, count 'em 10 separate American flags featured,) but rather it focuses on the idea that McCain is a conservative; the word is spoken earnestly three times and is featured in bold type once. But McCain isn't just any conservative; the ad refers to McCain once as an "economic" conservative and once as a "fiscal" conservative and is primarily about cutting taxes and limiting spending.

Why has he made this shift from one leg of the so-called "conservative stool" (national security) to another (taxes and spending?) For a couple of reasons, but mainly because he sees a void he thinks he can fill. As The Weekly Standard's Matt Continetti wisely observed on Hardball yesterday, once George Allen dropped out of presidential contention last year, he left no viable social conservative in the race so Romney shifted his focus as a candidate from the CEO/turnaround economic conservative guy to the social conservative guy, a role that never really fit comfortably on him. Now that Huckabee is rising and is challenging Romney among social conservatives, it's also leaving economic conservatives who despise Huckabee, out in the cold and while Continetti thinks this is the perfect opportunity for Romney to return to his econo-con roots, McCain has attempted to fill that void and intends to ride it to victory on January 8th.

There's another factor here as to why McCain would begin to focus on economic issues: he clearly buys into the David Brooks theory from his latest column that we have entered a "post-war period":

The first obvious feature of a postwar election is that domestic issues matter more. The two candidates who have been surging, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mike Huckabee, have almost no foreign policy experience between them.

But the more comprehensive difference between a wartime election and a postwar election is that there is a shift in values. In wartime, leadership traits like courage, steadfastness and ruthlessness are prized. Voters are willing to vote for candidates they distrust so long as they seem tough and effective (Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani).

There's something to this in that, while I'd question the core of Brooks's premise, I've tracked the rise in importance of domestic issues to voters, particularly the economy, and believe it to be real and am frankly surprised to see McCain not only acknowledge it but also shift the entire tone of his campaign to actually run on it. A strong second place finish out of Hew Hampshire would certainly give McCain a "ticket" out of the state, it's whether or not this new persona will play outside of New Hampshire and enable him to slow the Huckabee onslaught or the growing sense that Romney represents enough of the legs of that Republican stool metaphor to be the consensus conservative choice.

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Huckabee Going After Romney's Faith

OK, it is on now. As if to say, "nope, we're actually not done talking about your faith, Mitt," in an article to be published in Sunday's New York Times Magazine, Mike Huckabee asks oh so innocently:

"Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?"

The best thing about the question is that Huckabee apparently just threw it out there out of nowhere and couched it in intellectual curiosity about Mormonism.

The article...says Huckabee asked the question after saying he believes Mormonism is a religion but doesn't know much about it.

Helpfully, The AP seeks out some answers.

The authoritative Encyclopedia of Mormonism, published in 1992, does not refer to Jesus and Satan as brothers. It speaks of Jesus as the son of God and of Satan as a fallen angel, which is a Biblical account.

So where does this concept of Christ and Satan as brothers come from? Lightplanet's About Mormons section is helpful in providing context:

First, Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten Son of God the Father (and is therefore divine) and the mortal virgin Mary. Satan, a malignant spirit, does not share this parental heritage of Jesus, and cannot be considered divine in any respect. Therefore, in the usual way that we speak of brothers and sisters, Jesus and Satan are not brothers.

Would that it were that simple...

However, Latter-day Saints believe that God is our Father in Heaven. Before we came to this world, we all lived as spirits under his care and guidance. We believe that God begat or created the spirits of Jesus, Lucifer, and all of the human family as his children.

D'oh!

This is precisely the game Romney does not want to get into, explaining away specific tenets or teachings of the Mormon Church, and indeed he has not responded to a request for comment on this story. In the past, when asked about specific aspects of Mormonism, Romney's said something to the effect of "I'll let the experts explain..." and after last week's speech, as Chris Cillizza posits, Romney is clearly hoping he can get by with  a "That's old news and I've already addressed it." Looks to me like Huckabee has no intention of allowing Romney to retreat quite so easily from explanations of Mormonism. Frankly I'm a little surprised to see Huckabee doing the dirty work himself rather than have a surrogate do it, especially considering the live and let live attitude he's adopted when asked about other candidates' beliefs. To the extent that this is perceived to be a betrayal of that sentiment, I suppose this could backfire on Huckabee, but he knows the audience he's going after with this stunt better than anyone and he knows exactly the message he's sending merely by raising the question.

Governor Romney, it's your move.

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Romney v. Huckabee On Immigration

In an article covering Sunday's GOP Univision Spanish language debate, The AP couched Mike Huckabee's recent compassionate immigration rhetoric as the model for the other candidates' less aggressive approach to the subject during the debate and even suggested that Huckabee's rise in the polls would teach the candidates a lesson about not only how to speak to hispanics about immigration, but also about how they might better address the subject with the GOP electorate at large. In other words, contrary to popular belief about Republican primary voters, perhaps a hardline on immigration was the wrong way to go.

Yeah, the candidates aren't buying it either.

Mitt Romney has launched an ad in Iowa that is getting a lot of attention because it's the first to "go negative." Not wanting to offend attack-averse Iowa voters, the ad is a mild contrast piece that wisely begins by making the case that Romney and Huckabee are both equally awesome! on values issues, but on immigration, it's a whole different story.

Message: I'm just like Mike except with extra immigrant bashing goodness.

Romney's not the only one who sees immigration as a vulnerability for Huckabee, clearly his own campaign is well aware he needs to shore up his nativist bona fides, and so today has trotted out Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman Project, as his latest endorsement.

Interestingly, the endorsement press conference was characterized by a more reserved tone starkly at odds with the Minutemen Project's reputation. For example, check out how Gilchrist described the organization.

In today's news conference Mr. Gilchrist seemed to try to moderate his group's profile by describing it as a "multi-ethnic multi-racial law enforcement advocacy group." He said "We believe in legal immigration of prescribed number of legal immigrants" who will contribute to national prosperity and who are "people with integrity and character."

And to his credit, Huckabee even distanced himself from Gilchrist even as he embraced the endorsement.

Mr. Huckabee said, I don't agree with all of Jim's positions on every issue, but that is the great thing about America."He added, "What we're agreeing on is that the problem needs to be fixed."

But the dogwhistle message was loud and clear to the anti-immigrant right: Mike is one of us.

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm intrigued by the fact that, despite Huckabee's rise in the polls not only in Iowa, but also in South Carolina and even nationally, the markets are not convinced. Today, InTrade has the likelihood of Huckabee winning the GOP nomination dropping 2%, while Giuliani is on a slightly upward track, this a day after two polls showed Huckabee rising to a tie for first with Giuliani  nationally. I suspect Huckabee's less than harsh rhetoric on immigration plus his problematic (for the GOP electorate, that is) record as governor probably have at least something to do with this and is a sign that Huckabee has some work to do seeming viable, polls be damned. Gilchrist's endorsement can only help this. Do I see another Chuck Norris ad in our future?

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CNN: Huckabee And Giuliani Tied Nationally

Following up on Jonathan's post on CNN's poll of the Democratic race, their latest Republican national primary poll (337 RVs, 12/6-9, MOE +/- 5%) shows what has been evident in the Rasmussen Daily tracking for about a week: that Giuliani and Huckabee are tied nationally.

Dec. 6-9Nov. 2-4RCP 5-poll Ave.
Giuliani242824.4
Huckabee221018.4
Romney161112.4
McCain131612.6
Thompson101912.2
Paul654.4
Hunter24
Tancredo13
No Opinion65

Note that as Huckabee rises, so does Mitt Romney, as he appears to have gotten a bump out of the media coverage of his speech on Thursday (this poll was in the field the day of the speech and the three days following.) This is somewhat interesting since an either/or dynamic between Romney and Huckabee has developed in Iowa. Nationally, in addition to Giuliani, Huckabee's rise comes at the expense of Thompson (who is just cratering) and McCain who are passed here by both Romney and Huckabee, relegated to 4th and 5th places respectively. One of the things that always kept Thompson and McCain in the running even as their early state strength diminished was their strong national standing. It's clear that that is rapidly eroding.

While CNN and Rasmussen tracking have Huckabee tied for first place nationally, it's interesting to note that the InTrade prediction market is lagging a bit. While Huckabee has risen sharply over the past 2 weeks from about 8% likelihood to win the GOP nomination to 18-20%, Giuliani has only fallen 5% to about 40% likelihood. Despite the fact that Giuliani's path to the nomination becomes more and more murky as early state poll after early state poll is released, the markets are not convinced, certainly not by Huckabee whose recent press has largely portrayed him as well outside the mainstream. But the more we continue to see results such as the latest SurveyUSA poll out of South Carolina, which shows Huckabee surging into 1st with 30% and Giuliani dropping to 4th with 13%, the more likely we are to see the markets follow suit.

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