A Big Night for Huckabee

011008_republicans_debate.jpgDean Barnett at the Weekly Standard captured many of the same thoughts I had on tonight’s South Carolina GOP debate.  Here is an excerpt:

Huckabee deftly parried Thompson’s aggressive and spirited attacks early in the debate. It was a battle on terrain that was unfriendly to Huckabee, and Thompson attacked with skill. And yet Huckabee got out of the exchange unscathed.

The exchange with Thompson came early in the debate, and Huckabee was just getting warmed up. For the first time in this campaign, Huckabee looked like a credible commander in chief when the conversation turned to those Iranian speedboats. His normal joviality vanished, replaced by an appropriate gravity.

Then he got even better. He seized on a characteristic piece of Ron Paul idiocy to give a spirited speech defending America’s commitment to Israel. Again, he looked credible as a commander in chief. But this was also an extremely shrewd piece of politicking. Conservative foreign policy types obviously loved it as did pro-Israel people. But Huckabee’s core audience of conservative Christians, a much larger segment of the society than either of the other two groups, adored it also.

Mike Huckabee’s an exceptional politician whose package of skills is often sold short. He’s a lot more than an affable dispenser of one-liners who only knows how to play to the home crowd. For people who might be inclined to dismiss Huckabee, compare his response to Thompson’s adroit offensive with McCain’s blundering into the climate warming thicket. These two are the likely finalists, and one of them is much better at politics than the other.

Here’s what I said on November 28, the night of the YouTube debate, the night that catapulted Huckabee to his huge lead in Iowa: “Was this a seismic night? I’ll give that one a big yes. Tonight heralded the arrival of Mike Huckabee as a force in this race. Not a spoiler, not a wildcard, but a force.”

Although fewer people watched last evening’s festivities, tonight was even bigger for Huckabee. For the first time, it was not only possible but easy to imagine Huckabee as the leader of 300 million people. He combined this newfound authority with his old standbys of off-the-charts likability and a deft way of tapping into aspirational politics.

In the race for the Republican nomination, Mike Huckabee is going to be tough to beat.

Read the entire article at: http://tinyurl.com/3yhf3s

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11 responses to this post.

  1. It is so nice to have a counter force to the anti Huck National Review crowd

    Reply

  2. Posted by Dave on January 11, 2008 at 6:58 am

    Personally, I came away from last night’s debate with a very different set of impressions, the largest being that the whole “debate” process is a net negative for our political process. Specifically, that they are immediately analyzed on a “who won” basis. What these things really have devolved into is a montage of sound bites and the chief goals for the candidates are (1) avoid stepping on a landmine and (2) plant some doubt about another candidate in voters’ minds. We’ve come a long way (downward) sense the Lincoln-Douglas debates!

    Another, perhaps skewed, impression is that people see in them pretty much what they are looking for–“their” candidate really has to mess up to not win and the candidate(s) they don’t care for have to supremely overacheive to be viewed as being “one of the winners.” Since “scoring” the debates is almost completely subjective, one’s pre-commitments seems to have an inordinate influence on the scoring.

    Hence, no matter what Romney does, for Hugh Hewitt, he was the winnner and Mike Huckabee is the loser. For others, it is just the opposite (or some other set of contrasts). Since I’ve soured on Huckabee, I came away thinking that he didn’t do very well. Sure, he was congenial and made a few good points. But he fumbled more questions than I thought he would and he actually said things that expose what I believe to be his weakness on gov’t policy/role. My point, though, isn’t to go after Huckabee, but to suggest (confess?) that these debates are mainly judged by pre-conceived expectations.

    Even the Thompson jump in the focus group probably was owing more to the fact that he defied expectations more than that he really did well, i.e., people expected him to be passive and he wasn’t so it impressed them–and impressions seem to be everything in this process.

    Sadly, I think we’re in trouble as a nation in part because this is how our political process is advancing. The excessive role that televised forums like this play is acclerating the sad fact that substance is being replaced by style.

    Good thing our hope is not in politics!

    Reply

  3. Posted by j.jones on January 11, 2008 at 9:12 am

    Since religion and Scripture played a part in the debate (Huckabee and the Southern Baptist question), may I take it further ask why you are supporting Huckabee and not fully endorsing Ron Paul? First, a bit of history. I grew up in a dispensationalist background that believes, among other things, that God still has a plan for Israel as a quite literal nation. But I’ve seen a trend lately among fundamentalists to mock that belief (sometimes outright mock, sometimes friendly disagreement) and a belief that anyone who still believes in Israel as having a part in God’s plan as deceived and a moron. It’s almost come to the point that the pendulum has swung so far to the other extreme that if you’re not an outright anti-Semite then you’re not among the new “cool” fundamentalists. By the way, I think it’s an area where good people can disagree amicably and in Christian love.

    Here’s where I’m going with this, since at the debate all the candidates were just fawing over Israel and talking about how we need to protect them and RP was the only one proposing that we give them the opportunity to solve their own problems because it might be more successful without our intereference, why are you not RUNNING from Huckabee? Wouldn’t all the hip, young fundamentalists want to run from Isreal as fast as they can and run from anyone who fawns all over them?

    Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not in any way, shape or form saying RP is against Israel. He just believes that they are a nation who is strong and can perhaps solve some of their own diplomatic relations more successfully on their own without as much intereference from the US. That’s completely different than being anti-Israel.

    Reply

  4. Dave,

    It’s interesting how different people view events, isn’t it? I thought the last couple debates were not the greatest for Huckabee, but last night I think he hit the ball out of the park. Oh well.

    I agree that Lincoln-Douglas debates are far more helpful for the American public. As the field narrows, we’ll hopefully get closer to that ideal. And, you’re right–television has transformed campaigning into soundbites and appearance points…going all the way back to Kennedy.

    And yes, our hope is NOT in government, ever! Only in the Lord.

    Have a great Lord’s Day.

    Reply

  5. J.Jones,

    I guess I’m not one of the “hip” young fundamentalists you are thinking of. I am a dispensationalist and believe in a future for Israel. Politically, I also believe that we should continue to defend and support Israel as one of our strongest allies in the world.

    Reply

  6. Posted by Jeff on January 11, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    Huckabee may have “deftly parried” Thompson’s attacks but that does not make what Thompson said any less true. Huckabee has shown himself to be slick in style (like that other guy from Hope, Arkansas), but he lacks in substance.

    Huckabee is no true conservative and to say so is to redefine conservatism. He may be socially conservative but he has proven to be liberal on many other issues including his advocacy of big government as the answer to many problems. His assessment of Bush’s foreign policy is naive. His manipulation of Christianity for political purposes has been disappointing.

    Huckabee may be a fine man and a fine Christian but he would be a poor president. Unless you would like to see a Republican hybrid of Carter and Clinton.

    Reply

  7. Jeff,

    Thanks for commenting. I guess we disagree on Huckabee. Believe me, I have heard every criticism of Mike. I have tracked down everything I could to see what Mike’s response has been. I’ve even had the opportunity to ask him myself on a number of issues. So far, I have been very satisfied with his answers.

    Reply

  8. Posted by j.jones on January 12, 2008 at 9:46 am

    “I guess I’m not one of the “hip” young fundamentalists you are thinking of. I am a dispensationalist and believe in a future for Israel. Politically, I also believe that we should continue to defend and support Israel as one of our strongest allies in the world.”

    Thanks, Brian. That explains it. By the way, I too have not abandoned dispensationalism and also believe in a future for Israel. I wasn’t sure where your standing was as far as dispensationalism was concerned. Frankly, I’m surprised at how quickly dispensationalism is losing ground in traditional fundamentalist circles and am disappointed at how there’s almost a haughty spirit that anyone who actually believed that “old” theology is not a true scholar. Again, I think it’s an area where people can disagree amicably and it’s something to “debate over and not divide over,” as one famous teacher would say. But unfortunatly, from my own anecdotal experience, the pendulum has almost swung so much that some non-dispensationalists almost have come to view Israel as an enemy. I suppose all I was wondering was why fundamentalists who are not dispensationalists would still vote for Huckabee.

    Lastly, just so there is no confusion, I am not implying in any way, shape or form that RP is against Israel. I think his position is more of letting them do their own thing without our constant interference. I think the difference is in what is considered “friendship.” What some would call friendship, others would call forcing our own agenda because we have more power. RP I think is just saying that we should have more of a hands-off approach because in the long run they can perhaps solve more issues by themselves than with our interference.

    Reply

  9. I took some time to score each candidate during the debate to see who resonated with me the most. And the top two for me were Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson.

    One thing that Huckabee said that I feel a little uneasy about had to do with when he tried to change the subject from his raising taxes to “raising hope” by building education, health care, and highways. I almost felt like I was listening to Obama. If running a state government is a microcosm of running the federal government, I hope Huckabee would not “raise hope” by raising taxes.

    Quite honestly, I felt like Fred was the more consistent conservative between the two. But my vote would still go to Huckabee. I’m willing to give Huckabee the benefit of the doubt since the context in which he had to govern was pretty heavily controlled by the Democrats.

    Rick

    Reply

  10. Posted by Mark on January 12, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    Speaking as one who recently transplanted to an inner city ministry (Manhattan), I think some of these issues (education, health care, etc.) need to be revisited by Republicans. Huckabee’s approach is one of the big draws for me.

    I spent the first 34 years of my life in the “middle-class” suburbs. The last 3 in the inner city have been an eye opening experience. America can do better, and I like our chances with Huckabee.

    Reply

  11. I agree Mark.

    Reply

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