Huck the Happy Warrior

Mike Huckabee believes in miracles. But so must Republican nominee-in-waiting John McCain. It would take a political miracle for Huckabee to win the presidential nomination this year. But equally miraculous would be for McCain to unify a conservative Party around his moderate-to-liberal record. 

Sen. McCain has so far made only a half-hearted effort to reach out to conservatives and appears disinterested in doing more. If McCain is to win in November, he has to do not just a little, but a lot more. On Friday, I spoke to Huckabee about several issues, beginning with the question of party unification.

Huckabee is the modern Republican equivalent of the Democrats’ Happy Warrior. As liberal as Huckabee is conservative, Senator and then Vice President Hubert Horatio Humphrey was smart, positive and comfortable in his own skin. And HHH had a tough streak underneath that smiling demeanor. It wasn’t easy to be vice president during the buildup years of the Vietnam War. Huck is another happy warrior in just as tough a time. 

I asked him what Sen. McCain should do to unify the Party. 

Huckabee began, as any social conservative might, with the Republican platform which has, in the past elections, propounded a “human life amendment” to the Constitution. Such an amendment would extend — specifically — the rights to Due Process and Equal Protection to the unborn. Legally, that amendment would make a lot of sense: when a life exists in a mother’s womb, that life is an American citizen. And the Constitution provides that no person’s life can be taken without due process of law.

Huckabee challenged McCain to not only support a Human Life Amendment, but also to champion it, saying “…it would be nice for him to take the stand that he would actually not only support the Human Life Amendment in the Republican platform again, but that he would support it. And seek to lead on it.”

McCain, like a number of the candidates who have already dropped out of the race, has not taken a “no tax increase” pledge. Huckabee says he should. 

Huckabee credited McCain for standing on his principles, even when they are at odds with those of conservatives. On illegal immigration, on stem cell research and a host of other subjects, McCain hasn’t changed. But implicit in the credit to McCain was Huckabee’s criticism.

What if McCain changed his positions? Huckabee said, “I mean, that would be fine, I wish he would. But, frankly, if after all these years if he’s just now doing it, then you have to wonder is he just doing it just to convince us, or because he’s decided that it really is the best thing for the country. I mean, I don’t think he’s the kind of person who does things just to stake out a[n] alternative position.”

Huck is stuck, and so are we. McCain is who he is, and he’s not about to change. That’s one of the reasons Gov. Huckabee is still in the race.

Whether you like his politics or not, you have to admire his grit. Though the sea of delegates would have to part for him to march through to the nomination in September, Mike Huckabee isn’t giving up. 

And why? He makes the obligatory promise to support the Party’s nominee whomever it is. I promised to not ask why he wasn’t dropping out of the race. He chuckled at that, but answered anyway.

“You know, I’m going to support our nominee, and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that person gets elected. I still hope it’s me. But, if it isn’t, than I’m not going to definitely say, ‘well, it’s my way or the highway.’ I’m going to accept the verdict of the voters.”

More than that, Huckabee says he’s hanging in the race because he thinks it’s his duty to those who have supported him. His populist streak came through loud and clear.

“And if people wonder why I’m hanging in there, whether I’m just stubborn or I’m being selfish, well, that’s not it at all. It’s because the people have made great sacrifices for my campaign.”

He added, “You know, the people who wrote me checks are not the people who can write 10 different $2300 checks to 10 different candidates and really not care who gets elected. People who are giving to my campaign are truck drivers, and janitors, and people for whom $120 is a lot of money. They just want a government who’ll leave them alone, let them raise their families. And I owe them a lot more than just to walk off just like the John McCain supporters think I should.”

Hubert Humphrey, in his day, sounded much the same. Vice President Humphrey, the liberal, was catapulted to a presidential nomination when Lyndon Johnson saw he stood no chance at re-election. John McCain won’t step aside to make room for the social conservative Arkansan to run for the top job. 

But by staying in the race, Huckabee can be a force to push the presumptive nominee to do more to unify the fractured Republican coalition.