What’s Up With Mike Huckabee?

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Conservatives love him, yet the Republican establishment can't seem to stand the guy. And liberal bloggers are strangely drawn to the evangelical politician from Arkansas.

The Huckabee Phenomenon

Of all the motley crew that ran in the 2008 Republican primaries, only two candidates stood out. The first, John McCain, went on to become the eventual nominee.

The second was Mike Huckabee. A former governor with little name recognition and practically no money, Mr. Huckabee rose from a third-tier candidate to the winner of the Iowa caucuses and thereafter consistently overperformed expectations. Days after Senator John McCain dominated Super Tuesday to emerge as the consensus nominee, Mr. Huckabee won both Kansas and Louisiana. The media barely noticed.

Mike Huckabee was also the most telegenic of all the candidates in 2008. Barack Obama can give a far better speech, Hillary Clinton can debate with more skill - but there is nothing in cable news like a pundit caught between Mike Huckabee and the camera. The man is warm, self-deprecating, and extremely funny. I remember his multiple appearances in front of Stephen Colbert, perhaps the most skilled media personality at skewering conservatives. Mr. Colbert did everything he could to make Huckabee say something stupid; the candidate dodged Colbert's traps with ease.

Yet for some reason the Republican establishment simply despises Mike Huckabee. The reason Mr. Huckabee never gained viability in 2008 was because the right-wing machine refused to provide him the money, endorsements, and - most importantly - scent of legitimacy he needed. Even today conservative bloggers blast Huckabee as a fake, a secret liberal pretending to be conservative.

This is strange. On social issues Huckabee is as conservative as they come, a former evangelical preacher who even believes in intelligent design. On economic issues he can sound quite populist; this probably loses him the support of the Republican business community. Yet his actual stands are quite right-wing; for instance, he advocates replacing income taxes with a national sales tax (a terrible idea). As governor of Arkansas, Mr. Huckabee successfully fought the teacher's unions - a favorite target of conservatives.

Interestingly, the opposite holds true for a number of liberal bloggers. While in many regards Huckabee constitutes a male version of Sarah Palin, there does not seem to be much dislike towards the guy. Markos Moulitsas, founder of DailyKos, went to far as to nominate Huckabee for RNC chairman.

While I'm not keen to offer the GOP advice, here's who I think (in a genuine, non-concern-troll way) would be their best candidate: Mike Huckabee. He is exactly the GOP's version of Howard Dean -- a popular governor of a small state, with a huge, energized following who briefly led his party's nomination contest before being kneecapped by his party's establishment. Like Dean, Huckabee isn't an insider, isn't one of them, and as such, isn't bound by their outdated and obsolete conventions. Like Dean, Huckabee offers a different direction from his party. Dean wanted muscular, unapologetic progressivism. Huckabee wants a more compassionate version of conservatism -- not fake "compassion" like Bush's, but the real stuff. "Big government conservatism", as his fiercest detractors charge.

And shit, you see Huckabee speak, and you don't think "he's fucking crazy". You ever see him on the Daily Show? The guy is good. Real good. (I've worried about this guy for years for those very reasons.)

Not just liberal bloggers like Mr. Huckabee; in the primaries (and previous elections) he drew a surprising amount of black support, second (in percentage terms) only to President Barack Obama. Mr. Huckabee's recent Willie Hortonesque scandal might even help him with blacks. Whether this support would hold in a general election is unknown (definitely it wouldn't against Mr. Obama), but it certainly provides an intriguing avenue to explore.

If one were to imagine the winner of the 2016 presidential election, one could easily see Mike Huckabee. The man is talented, charismatic, and extremely good at articulating even the most extreme positions. He is very dangerous for Democrats. I would not vote for him, but many Americans would: in polls against the president, it is Huckabee who performs the best. Why the conservative establishment refuses to support a man of Huckabee's talents remains an enduring mystery.



Exploring the Most Republican Place in America: Part 2

This is the second part of two posts analyzing the Texas panhandle, a rock-hard Republican stronghold. It will focus upon two quite unique counties.

Texas, 2008.

Strange Counties

Two counties are labeled in the above map: Cottle County and King County. This is the case because the two are the sites of several unique and quite inexplicable voting patterns. One example: although the counties are located beside each other, their two patterns can be characterized as polar opposites.

Demographically, however, Cottle and King could not be more similar. Both are extremely thinly populated (King County contains less than 500 hundred residents) and fairly poor. These places literally define the saying “in the middle of nowhere.” In 2008, both Cottle and King were similarly favorable to Republicans: Cottle gave Senator John McCain 72.20% of the vote, while King – well, I’ll get to King in a moment.

Things weren’t always this way, however. For a long, long time Cottle County constituted a bastion of Democratic strength in the middle of nowhere. This was all the more remarkable given its deep-red neighbors compared to the sheer stubborn determination of one Cottle County to vote Democratic. In election after election, as Democrat after Democrat was broken in Texas (and sometimes the nation as well), this little county reliably ended up in the blue county. Most remarkably, the county voted (by a margin numbering less than one percent) for Senator George McGovern, a Democratic candidate so weak that not a single county voted Democratic in 20 states that year. Mr. McGovern was adept at losting Democratic strongholds, many in far more liberal territory than the Texas panhandle – and yet Cottle County still went blue in 1972. In fact, when Cottle County voted for Governor George W. Bush in 2000, this constituted its first time ever voting Republican.

If Cottle County epitomized Democratic strength, King County represents the pillar of modern-day Republicanism. In 2008, it constituted the single most Republican county in the nation; 92.64% cast the ballot for Senator John McCain, 4.91% for President Barack Obama. CNN even ran story about King County’s love affair with Republicans, which mainly seems based upon evangelical faith and traditional small-town conservatism.

In and of itself this is not so strange; the puzzling part comes when one looks to the 2008 Democratic primary. A total of 27 people named one Barack Obama as their choice – yet on November 4th only 8 did so. This means that at least 19 people were motivated enough to endorse Mr. Obama in March and then changed their minds or sat out the election. More cynically, one might read this as a calculated endorsement designed to wreak havoc upon the opposing party – but then why vote for Mr. Obama, when supporting Senator Hillary Clinton would prolong Democratic suffering?

The Panhandle and the Future of Texas Politics

Today, the voters in the Texas panhandle are quite hostile to liberalism in general. They may have supported Democrats in the past, but they will most likely not do so in the forseeable future (and if the Demcoratic Party changes enough to naturally appeal to small-town conservatives in the Texas panhandle, it probably ought to change its name to “Republican.”)

The Texas panhandle may be interesting for analysis, but the future of both parties does not lie there. In total, only two percent of the state’s population resides in the panhandle. Rather, the heart of Texas lies about the great metropolitan areas surrounding its cities – Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. There Democrats are rising, but Republicans still are dominant – the opposite situation from half-a-century ago.



Exploring the Most Republican Place in America: Part 1

This is the first part of two posts examining the Texas panhandle, a rock-hard Republican stronghold. I initially posted this as one entry, but I decided the second part needed a bit more work. The second part can be found here.

The Panhandle

In the Texas panhandle and the empty plains surrounding it, Democrats go to die. There is no place in the country more Republican than this rural region, where conservatism is ingrained bone-deep and from birth. Not even the most Mormon stretches of Utah, or whitest areas of the Deep South, exceed the Republicanism of this part of Texas.

Few political strategists have thought about these places as more than deep-red fly-over territory. If a region votes more than 80% Republican and looks set to continue in that pattern for as long one can forsee, one might think that there is generally little to write about.

In fact, in the vast emptiness of the Texas prairie there are a number of interesting patterns – some of which are quite strange to behold.

Yellow-dog Democrats

Believe it or not, much of the most Republican place in the nation used to be Democratic territory, voting for the blue candidate even when the rest of America did not. Now, of course, the same could be said for the entire American South, which routinely gave badly losing Democratic presidential candidates over 70% (and often 90%) of the vote. Texas was no exception to this rule; President Truman lost a grand total of eight counties during the 1948 election, for instance.

The difference with the Texas panhandle, however, was that parts of it continued to vote Democratic even as the Solid South collapsed. In 1956, for instance, President Dwight Eisenhower won re-election by a solid 15.40% and cracked the South. One such crack included Texas, which Mr. Eisenhower won by 11.28%. Mr. Eisenhower carried the state backed mainly by its Republican-leaning cities (an oxymoron nowadays), while much of rural Texas voted for Democrat Adlai Stevenson. This included almost the entire panhandle:

This Democratic-leaning trend continued for some time, even after the 1964 realignment of the South. The panhandle cast a strong ballot for Senator Hubert Humphrey and President Jimmy Carter (both times), while a number of counties voted to Governor Dukakis and even hapless Senator Walter Mondale. As late as 1996, when President Bill Clinton lost Texas by 4.93%, there still remained a flicker of yellow-dog Democratic strength:

It was one President George W. Bush who finally crushed this Democratic tradition; since his time, the panhandle has begun voting uniformly Republican. But for all its current love of Republicans, it must be noted that this phenomenon is relatively recent – although long in coming.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/


How Important Are Mid-term Congressional Elections?

For a while now, the political beltway has had its eye firmly focused on next year’s congressional elections, in which Democrats look poised to lose a number of seats. I have repeatedly opined that this focus is misdirected; nobody will remember the results in – say – 2020.

Nevertheless, an opinion without evidence behind it remains just that. Perhaps I am wrong: devastating congressional loses really do negatively impact presidential administrations. Since President Barack Obama’s primary political concern involves his legacy, I decided to investigate the relationship between congressional losses and presidential legacy.

To do this, I graphed two variables: the number of House seats lost in first-term mid-term elections, and approval ratings at the end of the administration’s term. The latter does not perfectly measure legacy; nevertheless it provides a generally accurate barometer. Presidents with poor legacies generally receive poor end-of-term approval ratings, and vice versa. Under a statistically significant relationship, a graph of the two variables might look something like this:

According to this hypothetical result, presidents with strong legacies have fewer seats lost; those with weak legacies have more lost. Below is a table of the actual results:

This translates into a graph as below:

A quick surface glance reveals no apparent pattern between the two variables. If anything, they appear to be purely random. To be sure, however, I ran a correlation analysis of the results. This indicates the degree to which values in one list are associated with values in another.

I found the correlation coefficient to be 0.066187425 – essentially there was no relationship between mid-term elections and presidential legacy. (A test of the hypothetical graph’s values, in contrast, returned a correlation coefficient of 0.976511251.)

What conclusions can be drawn from this? First-term congressional mid-term losses appear to bear no relationship to presidential legacy; their importance is greatly overstated by the Washington beltway. President Barack Obama should worry less about November 2010: that election will have little political effect on his future legacy. Passing an effective health care bill would be well worth the loss of even a hundred congressional seats, both for the country’s sake and for his own political gain.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Analyzing Swing States: Virginia, Part 1

This is the first part of a series of posts analyzing the swing state Virginia. The second part can be found here.

During the ’08 campaign, the political beltway famously defined Virginia as a Republican stronghold gone Democratic. For ten straight presidential elections, the state had reliably turned up in the Republican column. President Barack Obama, however, promised to change that – and he did.

Virginia indeed is becoming bluer – but not as much as one might think. The state moved Republican sooner than the rest of the South, but never became as deep red as places like Alabama. The actual trend from ’04 to ’08 is less prominent than one might think:

I think this in fact slightly understates Republican strength. Mr. Obama, after all, fit extremely well with Virginia’s Democratic base – blacks and rich NoVa residents. He might have overperformed. In many ways, Virginia still constitutes a purple state, perhaps even a red-leaning one. Democrats must run competent candidates and/or do this in favorable national environments; if both conditions are missing, they may get pummeled ala Creigh Deeds.

This may change in the future. As its wealthy, diverse, and Democratic-leaning NoVa suburbs continue growing; Virginia may soon become more Democratic than even Pennsylvania. This trend was much noted in 2008.

What is less noted is the degree to which the media has overstated this change. These demographic shifts are the work of decades, not one election; they occur very gradually. Moreover, even as bluing NoVa expands, Virginia’s western regions continue to redden – especially the once Democratic-leaning panhandle. This blunts the NoVa effect. Virginia may be turning Democratic, but Democrats should not underestimate continued Republican strength.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Analyzing Virginia’s 2009 Gubernatorial Election, Part 1

This is the first part of two posts analyzing Virginia’s 2009 gubernatorial election. The second part can be found here.

(Note: All statistics are derived from http://www.uselectionatlas.org/).

A normal observer might see the above map and naturally conclude that the Democratic candidate lost a landslide election. This is not always the case. In the 1968 presidential election, for instance, the state of New York looked like this:

Although it does not look like it, Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey won the state: 49.76% to 44.30%.

In November 2009, however, State Senator Creigh Deeds did in fact receive a thorough pummeling from Attorney General Bob McDonnell. An unappealing candidate running in a tough national climate, Mr. Deeds lost the race 41.25% to 58.61%.

Creigh Deeds only won two types of counties: his home district and Democratic strongholds. The former include the two blue counties along the state’s eastern border. The latter are populated by two Democratic constituencies: firstly, blacks in Virginia’s 3rd congressional district and secondly, wealthy suburbanites south of Washington (Virginia’s 8th congressional district).

Surprisingly (and disturbingly) Mr. Deeds lost Fairfax County, the key to recent Democratic success in Virginia. Rich, diverse, and heavily populated – Northern Virginia suburban voters were largely responsible for Democratic victories by Governor Tim Kaine, Senator Jim Webb and President Barack Obama.

Mr. McDonnell’s victory in Fairfax indicates one of two things. Either the Democratic Party has not entrenched itself in NoVa – or it is moving back to the Republicans. The latter possibility is highly worrisome and not simply confined to Virginia.

There is little more that the above map indicates – one cannot tell much from a map that just shows red counties. Differentiating the mass of red reveals more:

This image maps the results based on degree of support. It shows a substantial east-west divide hidden in the first map. Western Virginia voted Republican with far more intensity; eastern Virginia tended to be more moderate in its support of Mr. McDonnell.

Notice how intensely Republican the western panhandle is voting. These voters – poor, white, rural Appalachian folk – used to vote Democratic based on economic appeals. This trend subsisted even in fairly recent times: John Kerry won a couple counties; Senator Jim Webb took three. Former president Bill Clinton did even better (he lost the state by 1.96%):

Creigh Deeds, a moderate politician representing an Appalachian district, was supposed to appeal to the rural voters populating western Virginia; as the map makes evident, he failed to do so (outside his home districts). I suspect Barack Obama  may have something to do with this; his poor performance amongst Appalachian voters may be affecting Democratic candidates everywhere. Given the many Democratic politicians elected from Appalachia, this – if true – would definitely be a bad thing.

Finally, it is possible to map the results if Mr. Deeds had tied Mr. McDonnell:

This indicates the relative Democratic or Republican lean of each county – a county may vote Republican but still lean Democratic compared to the overall result, and vice versa. Massachusetts, for example, voted Republican in Ronald Reagan’s 1984 landslide – but nobody would accuse it of being a Republican state. It went red, but relative to the rest of the nation was more Democratic.

The next section will compare this map with similar images derived from previous Democratic coalitions.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

The Fundamental Difference Between Democrats and Republicans

Last year, former governor Sarah Palin famously campaigned on a theme of “real America.” This widely derided message implied that only “real Americans” vote Republican.

Yet there is something to Mrs. Palin’s theory. However unintentionally, it lays bare a fundamental truth of American politics.

Think about how most people picture Americans. In fact, take a moment to imagine an average American: detail everything possible about this person.

Here is how I picture this American – let’s name him Bob Smith. Bob is a happy white male, with a lovely wife (he is straight, of course) and one or two beautiful kids. Bob calls himself a Christian – a Protestant, actually – but goes to church less than he should. Like his American parents and grandparents, Bob lives in a  well-off suburb. Bob went to college but not graduate school; he makes a firmly middle or upper-class income but labels himself middle-class. Bob is the archtypal American, and he loves America very much.

Bob is a Republican.

It is the Bob Smiths of this country that compose the core of the Republican Party. American to their bones, they are fully assimilated into the country and happy with the way it is. Bob has never encountered resentment or hostility because of who he is, and he never will. People like him define the soul of the United States. They vote conservatively – for things to remain much the same as they are today – because they are content with the status quo.

The Democratic Party is composed of persons who have cause of complaint. They are not Bob – they do not have the luck of being  white, male, and middle-class. Their last names are not like Smith – they are names like Zai, Contreras, Chakicherla, Alazzeh, and Obama. Many do not call themselves Protestants, or even Christians. Some live in immigrant communities; others in inner-city ghettos. Nearly all have – or believe they have – been treated unfairly by America’s institutions. These folk want things to be different, and so they vote for liberalism (which, distilled to its purest essence, constitutes change of the status quo).

That is the fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans. It constitutes the defining chasm in American politics, even more than race.

So next election, when an agency like CNN pops out its exit polls of how this group voted and how that group voted, one doesn’t need complex statistical models to understand why one group voted Democratic and the other Republican. One merely needs to ask this simple question:

Which group would Bob Smith belong to?

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

The Real Reason Behind Increased Global Warming Skepticism Hotlist

American concern for global warming appears to have reached a nadir. Poll after poll indicates that Americans are more skeptical of global warming; meanwhile the Senate cap and trade bill appears to be going nowhere fast. As with so many other liberal issues nowadays, the news is grim.

Most pundits attribute this skepticism to partisan politics. The theory goes something like this: with partisan bickering at an all-time high, Republicans are tending to reflexively oppose any Democratic proposal, and vice versa. Because preventing climate change has become associated with liberals, Republican voters are now automatically treading against it. This <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/cwire/2009/12/03/03climatewire-rising-partisanship-sharply-erodes-us-public-47381.html">Times</a>. article exemplifies the strain of thought; it is titled “Rising Partisanship Sharply Erodes U.S. Public’s Belief in Global Warming.”

There is only one problem with this theory: it is not true.

On the surface, there is a certain credence to this claim. Most would agree that partisanship is “rising.” Belief in global warming is also undeniably falling. Add consistent conservative disbelief of global warming, and everything links together.

In fact, increased skepticism over global warming is not confined to the United States – as would be the case under the “Republicans v. Democrats” explanation. In Australia, for example, an October <a href="http://www.lowyinstitute.org/Publication.asp?pid=1148">Lowy Poll</a> indicated that only 56% considered tackling climate change a “very important issue” – a 19% drop from two years ago. More globally, an online <a href="http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/global-climate-change-survey.pdf">Nielsen poll</a> revealed concern about climate change falling in 37 out of 45 countries, compared to October 2007.

There is only one thing has affected the entire world since October 2007: global economic recession.

As the picture above shows, it is this shift which holds responsibility for climate change skepticism – not partisan bickering in the United States or leaked e-mails of scientific lapses. (Also note the graph’s previous decline, which took place in the midst of the technology bust.) When people’s pocketbooks suffer, the environment automatically lessens in priority. The immediate disaster takes precedence over the disaster that will come in fifty years. Or, if one is a climate skeptic, it may never come.

To give conservatives credit for increased global warming skepticism, therefore, would be akin (warning: bad sports analogy incoming) to claiming Pau Gasol single handedly brought the Lakers last year’s championship ring.  It is to miss the elephant in the room: the economy, stupid.

-- Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/


Looking Forward to the Debate on Financial Reform

Today the House passed a far-reaching bill to reform the financial industry, a useful and much-needed endeavor.

Out of all the possible things Congress can do, making life tougher for Wall Street probably constitutes a can't-go wrong effort. One would expect this bill to pass with a soaring bipartisan vote, a pledge of unity that would make everybody - Democrats, Republicans, the president, and the government itself - look good. Who would be against punishing those who initiated the economic crisis?

175 Republicans and 26 conservative Democrats (plus Dennis Kucinich), it turns out.

This opposition is puzzling, to say the least. The reforms, to be fair, probably are not tough enough. A vote against the bill as too weak would constitute a legitimate critique.

The Republicans opposing the bill, however, do not appear to have such grievances. Their complaints, rather, appear to run along two paths.

First, financial reform hurts the banks too much. According to Republicans, "the measure would tighten credit, cost jobs and give the government too much power over private enterprise." All these constitute consequences of overregulation - "too much power over private enterprise," for instance, is a common critique of government regulation.

Second, financial reform helps the banks too much. Republicans also complain that "the creation of a new $150 billion fund to dissolve failing businesses would mean a continuation of the bailouts." Representative Scott Garrett notes, for instance, that "continuing a situation where you have bailouts, continuing a situation where you hurt jobs and expand the authority of government entities...is not the way to do it."

That in one breathe Mr. Garrett can criticize financial reform as too strong and too weak hints that Republican concerns are not truly philosophical in content. It appears, rather, that Representative Eric Cantor and the Republican caucus made a conscious decision to oppose financial reform, in order to weaken the leader of this country and win congressional elections. They then sought a reason - any reason - to criticize the regulations.  If Democrats took out the "$150 billion fund" (a good, practical idea) Republicans would merely latch onto another aspect of the bill to criticize. Not a single one would change his or her vote.

It constitutes the same strategy Mr. Cantor used with the stimulus; when the president offered a bill with 37% in tax cuts, Mr. Cantor and the Republicans said that a $288 billion tax cut wasn't good enough. Instead, every single house Republican voted for an alternative package containing almost 100% tax cuts - a proposal probably not meant to be taken seriously.

In the following months, as financial reform becomes a top priority of the administration, Democrats and Republicans will open a debate into the merits of financial reform. Republicans will oppose the bill, hoping to lower support for this nation's leader. Democrats will do the opposite.

On the surface, Democrats appear to have the stronger case. Reforming Wall Street constitutes a vital necessity; strengthening federal regulations will help prevent another financial crisis (which came about in part due to inadequate regulation). Doing this, moreover, would be an initiative extremely popular with the public.

But Republicans are extremely good at making implausible criticisms sound logical through sheer repetition (this is what Fox News does every night). They are simply better than Democrats at the spin-game, at appealing to emotion and using populist nonsense. They won against Vice President Al Gore and Senator John Kerry, while hobbling President Bill Clinton's presidency. They were winning against President Barack Obama, until Wall Street imploded. They did damage to the stimulus, to the cap-and-trade bill (a Republican idea, in fact, adapted by Democrats), and to health care reform.

They may do it again to financial reform. How such a politically popular and necessary reform can get derailed seems quite impossible at first glance. But if anybody can do it, the right-wing machine can. One has to admire it, sometimes.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Conversations with a Disinterested Obama Supporter

It can be easy to become immersed in Beltway politics, in which names like Tim Pawlenty, John Ensign, and Harry Reid are instantly recognizable – or debates over the Stupak Amendment can rage on for hours.

One wonders how much of this filters down to the average voter. Does he or she really know what the public option constitutes?  How important, really, are the 2010 congressional elections to the normal citizen?

Several days ago, some political comments made by a non-politically-obsessed friend provided me some insight into how “normal” people think. This person, quite coincidentally, typified one component of the Obama coalition: she was a black college student, very intelligent, but no addict of Beltway politics.

On President Barack Obama’s main endeavor – health care – my friend was supportive enough. Health care obviously needed to be reformed, and it annoyed her that Republicans were opposing it to mostly to weaken Mr. Obama. But as for the 2010 congressional elections, my friend really didn’t give a damn. Last year we had gone to elect Obama, which was obviously important. Congressional elections, on the other hand – that didn’t exactly arouse intense passion. “What’s the worst that can happen; we lose control of Congress? So what?”

To me, this indifference provided a stark – and refreshing – contrast to the politics I read every day. This average voter considered next year’s ultimate political event relatively uninteresting, even insignificant. For pundits on MSNBC and liberal bloggers, losing control of Congress sometimes seems like the end of the world. It really isn’t – whether health care reform succeeds will influence Obama’s legacy far more than congressional elections nobody ever recalls. Sometimes the political world forgets that.

Which still doesn’t stop me from worrying over 2010.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/



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