Mike Huckabee’s emergence as a first-tier candidate had much to do with the charm he displayed during early debates and, presumably, on the campaign trail. But now that he’s under fire, something that goes with first-tier territory, Huckabee is also proving himself to be a master of evasion.
The coupling of these two skills — charm and evasion — was very much on display in last night’s debate. During the course of the day, I plan to document the major instances of Huckabee’s charm and evasion last night. Let’s start with his response after Fred Thompson emptied both barrels on him. Here’s what Thompson said:
This is a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party and its future. On the one hand, you have the Reagan revolution. You have the Reagan coalition of limited government and strong national security.
On the other hand, you have the direction that Governor Huckabee would take us in. He would be a Christian leader, but he would also bring about liberal economic policies, liberal foreign policies. He believes we have an arrogant foreign policy and the tradition of, blame America first. He believes that Guantanamo should be closed down and those enemy combatants brought here to the United States to find their way into the court system eventually. He believes in taxpayer-funded programs for illegals, as he did in Arkansas. He has the endorsement of the National Education Association, and the NEA said it was because of his opposition to vouchers. He said he would sign a bill that would ban smoking nationwide. So much for federalism. So much for states’ rights. So much for individual rights.
That’s not the model of the Reagan coalition, that’s the model of the Democratic Party.
Huckabee responded first with charm — “The Air Force has a saying that says that if you’re not catching flak, you’re not over the target. I’m catching the flak, I must be over the target.”
He also asked for extra time to respond because “there were a lot of things on that catalog there.” Again, fair enough.
But Huckabee’s answer addressed exactly none of the items in Thompson’s catalog. See for yourself:
I came into Arkansas as a governor. Put in that position as a lieutenant governor when my predecessor, a Democrat, was forced out of office on a felony conviction. I did something that had not been done in my state in 160 years. I cut taxes, with the legislature working with me, and we continued to do that 94 times. We cut spending. I’ll tell you, the most painful time of my being a governor in 10 and a half years was looking at a budget that 91 percent of which was pretty well fixed on education, Medicaid, and prisons — and cutting 11 percent out of that budget.
Everywhere I went for about a year, I had people protesting me and screaming and yelling and doing demonstrations because I cut government. But I stayed faithful to the things that Ronald Reagan stayed faithful to. You know, if Ronald Reagan were running tonight, there would be ads by the Club for Growth running against him because he raised taxes a billion dollars in his first year as governor of California. It would be $10 billion today.
What I did was I governed. And the people of my state must have liked the way I did it, because they kept re-electing me. [though not as many times as they re-elected Bill Clinton-ed]
Can a stump speech, when delivered by a likeable candidate, serve as a substitute for a substantive response to every point raised by an opponent? I guess we’ll find out.
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