Huckabee: On The Sidelines, In The Game
WASHINGTON - Sometimes staying out of a fight is the smartest path in politics.
Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, two 2008 Republican presidential primary foes who may go at it again in 2012, didn't jump into the GOP debacle in New York's 23rd District earlier this month. Republicans lost a seat they had held for more than a century because of an internal fight between conservatives and moderates.
The congressional race in an out-of-the-way rural area of New York could be seen as the first de facto primary of the 2012 presidential campaign.
Newt Gingrich, pondering a run, endorsed the GOP nominee, Dede Scozzafava. Her support of abortion rights and gay rights, union organizing, taxes and other issues made her more liberal than not only her own party's platform, but also many Democrats in Congress. Scozzafava dropped out after falling in the polls and suffering a backlash from national conservatives.
Potential GOP 2012 contenders Sarah Palin, the ex-governor of Alaska, and Tim Pawlenty, the current governor of Minnesota, endorsed the Conservative Party candidate, Doug Hoffman.
He eventually lost to Democrat Bill Owens.
By staying out, Romney and Huckabee risked being seen as too cautious in a proxy fight for the GOP's soul. But any criticism of either man is overshadowed by the criticism being directed at people who took sides.
Gingrich took heat from Rush Limbaugh and others for backing a candidate so at odds with the party's platform.
Some criticized Pawlenty for jumping on the bandwagon of a losing candidate who fractured the GOP's attempts to hold onto a Republican seat in Congress.
Romney stayed out, he said, because he does not back candidates who hold so many positions that differ from his own.
Huckabee agreed but took his explanation further. If he does run again, and that seems probable but not certain, he is already positioning himself as a bridge builder.
Huckabee has defended Gingrich while saying that he, himself, could not have voted for Scozzafava.
"I thought it was a little bit unfortunate that people were just tearing (Gingrich) alive," Huckabee said at a recent Christian Science Monitor breakfast. "He was doing it ... more from a standpoint of political practitioner. He recognized that as flawed as the process was, it was instrumental in getting to two candidates, and then people could have their choice."
Huckabee looks a lot more relaxed these days than when he dropped out of the 2008 primaries some 18 months ago. He hosts a talk show on Fox News, has written his seventh book, "A Simple Christmas," and says he won't seriously consider whether to run again for another year.
But he has jumped into some fights. He backs Marco Rubio, a conservative challenger to Gov. Charlie Crist in the Florida Senate primary, and has criticized national Republican officials for initially backing Crist. He is urging candidates who may want to challenge incumbent Republicans to do so in primaries, not as third-party candidates.
Huckabee has been among the GOP's fiercest critics of the government's bailouts of banks and automakers. Along with the eventual nominee, John McCain, and Libertarian Ron Paul, Huckabee tried to make spending and debt a moral and generational issue in the 2008 primaries. McCain won't be back in 2012, and Paul will be 77 years old. If Huckabee runs again and if worries over spending and deficits persist, he may find a more receptive audience in 2012.
"They said Lehman Brothers dies, Bank of America lives," Huckabee said of last fall's emergency bailouts. "Who ever gave the government that responsibility?"
"The biggest problem I had with (the bailouts) was the precedent it created, which is now what we are seeing," Huckabee said. "That any time a business or enterprise gets in trouble, they run to the government and say, 'Help, Uncle Sugar, you got to bail me out.' "
Huckabee equates the nation's escalating debt with a child with a broken arm. Any parent, he said, would take the pain on themselves to keep the child from having it.
"But what we are doing governmentally is essentially, 'I don't want a broken arm. I want to break both of my kid's arms for his future.' Because we are setting up an indebtedness situation, and a deficit, that is going to be untenable."