As Republican primary campaign slogans go, "Endorsed by Frank Rich!" might not be a candidate's strongest play. But for better or worse Mike Huckabee is essentially stuck with it after Rich's NYT's column of yesterday. The ostensible theme of "The Republicans Find Their Obama" is that Republican voters are leaning toward Huckabee for the same reasons that Dems are trending to Obama: that both men are relatively young, speak across racial lines, are witty and avoid hyper-partisanship.
But dig down a bit deeper, and it appears that Huckabee's real appeal for Rich is that, social issues aside, he is the most liberal of the GOP frontrunners. Making his case for Huckabee, Rich goes so far to dabble in Christian theology [emphasis added]:
The real reason for Mr. Huckabee’s ascendance may be that his message is simply more uplifting — and, in the ethical rather than theological sense, more Christian — than that of rivals whose main calling cards of fear, torture and nativism have become more strident with every debate.
Translation: Huckabee has historically been softer on immigration than his rivals, notably in terms of his support for college scholarships for illegal immigrants.
So, is this well-intentioned advice of a suddenly conciliatory Frank Rich who really just wants us to all get along? Or as Douglas MacKinnon suggests today in his column, "Huckabee -- Ulimate Liberal Plant", do liberals favor Huckabee because they consider him the most beatable of the GOP frontrunners? If Republicans were to take Rich's advice and nominate Huckabee, how long would it take the Times columnist and other liberals to turn on the former Arkansas governor? Would they not in a New York minute be lambasting the man they used to love, assailing his positions on everything from abortion, to capital punishment to gay marriage?
Aside: another liberal leitmotif is that Huckabee is the "authentic" candidate among the Republicans, someone who doesn't dodge and weave. A good example of the phenomenon comes from today's Morning Joe, where Mika Brzezinski heaped Huckabee with praise for not reversing his 1994 call to "isolate" people with AIDS. Brzezinski described Huckabee's "strong point" as "dealing with things head on, authentically, not getting around them, not slithering around them trying to find some other explanation."
Maybe so. But I would strongly encourage readers to have a listen to Hugh Hewitt's revealing recent interview of Huckabee, here. Starting 11 minutes in, Huckabee engages in an extended effort to avoid answering Hugh's repeated questions as to whether he would have signed the bill, which Pres. Bush vetoed, broadening the reach of the S-Chip Medicaid program. Another notable former Arkansas governor couldn't have done a better bob-and-weave.