I've got a couple more things to talk with y'all about before it's time to bid Ezra's blog farewell, and one is Mike Huckabee, who's now leading the GOP Iowa polls. He's a good bet to win the state -- his straw poll success was a good test of his organization, and he has the most appeal to Iowa religious conservatives. For a long time, I've regarded him as the most dangerous general election opponent. Like most Democrats, I remember how easily a red-state Republican cast himself as a 'compassionate conservative' in 2000, and I'm worried about seeing it again.
But the more I think about Huckabee, the less I worry. I think people underestimate the extent to which his brand of social conservatism is a real liability in a general election. Bush's success doesn't have any positive implications for Huckabee, as Bush always blurred the lines on social issues before elections. For example, here he is in October 2004, saying that civil unions are okay if states want them. And we all remember Bush's cryptic "Dred Scott" reference in the debate. That's the kind of dog-whistle politics you engage in when you're afraid to come out and say that you want to overturn Roe.
Having made his religious views such a big part of his public image, I doubt that Huckabee will be able to hide himself nearly as well. He's stuck with extreme positions like opposition to civil unions even in states that want them and support for a Constitutional Amendment banning abortion. And if you want to see something really crazy, take a look at this, from 1996:
Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas today refused to authorize a Medicaid payment for an abortion for a 15-year-old girl whose stepfather has been charged with incest, despite a Federal judge's order that such payments were required by Federal law.
Yeah. He blocked federal Medicaid funds so that an incest victim would have to bear her stepfather's child. Maybe Scott Lemieux or somebody can weigh in on the legal reasoning that Huckabee cites in the article, but it looks really thin to me. In any case, the dude is nuts.
We've seen Republican presidential candidates get stung by right-wing social views before -- think of Pat Buchanan's 1992 speech at the GOP convention, which hurt the elder Bush's re-election campaign. The main reason that social issues are regarded as difficult for Democrats today is that the younger Bush managed to triangulate away from our wedge issues. But if the focus returns to birth control, Constitutional Amendments to ban abortion, and civil unions, we're back in favorable territory.
It's a lot like it is on foreign policy -- if Democrats just show the same kind of confidence on social issues that they do on economic issues, they can come up with a way to defend progressive positions and win. Rather than making a big deal about extreme they aren't, they need to show how extreme their opponents are. It was hard to do that with Bush, because he was very effective at blurring the lines. Huckabee is going to be a lot easier.