David Sirota’s HuffPo article “Dems Beware: An Economic Populist Is Rising In the GOP” about the possible elevation of Mike Huckabee to the first tier of the GOP field merits a read from Dem oppo researchers. Whether or not Huckabee gets any more traction beyond his 2nd place finish in the Iowa straw poll, his particular brand of “populist” rhetoric with no policies behind it may catch on with Republicans, on the theory that you can indeed fool some of the people some of the time.
Sirota points out that Huckabee did sign legislation raising the minimum wage and limiting public smoking in Arkansas, both unpopular with the corporate crowd. Huckabee, arguably the cleverest purveyor of one-liners among all the presidential candidates has mastered the folksy delivery that works well with his bogus populist pitch. Sirota quotes some lines from Huckabee speeches Ralph Nader could agree with, but cautions:
I think a lot of Huckabee’s rhetoric is just that: Rhetoric. I say that because while he shows courage in actually talking about these issues that many other Republicans (and some Democrats) refuse to talk about, he supported many typical regressive Republican policies in Arkansas and on the campaign trail today he reverts back to failed right-wing ideologies when he talks about “solutions,” offering up proposals that would actually make things far worse. As just one of many examples, notice that the Atlantic reports that his Iowa operation is being fueled by a group whose single goal is replacing the mildly progressive income tax with one flat national sales tax – a proposal that Huckabee supports even though experts (including top Reagan administration economic officials) admit would result in a massive tax increase on the middle-class and a massive tax cut for those CEO rip-off artists Huckabee rails against.
In his “Huckabee Who?” post at the AFL-CIO Now Blog, Seth Michaels agrees with Sirota about Huckabee’s track record:
Huckabee’s record as governor of Arkansas is far from a good fit for working families, even though he signed legislation to raise the state’s minimum wage and authorize ARKids First, a program that offers health benefits for low-income children…In fact as a presidential candidate, his primary domestic agenda item is a national sales tax that would hit poor and middle-income families the hardest, and he’s spoken favorably about privatized Social Security accounts.
At this point it may seem doubtful that Huckabee could derail Romney’s gilt-edged juggernaut. But Huckabee stands out in the GOP pack, and that’s just the sort of profile New Hampshire voters have often found appealing. Dems should not be caught unprepared by a GOP candidacy fueled by faux populism.