In 2008, Republican Presidential candidates climbed all over one another to compare themselves to Ronald Reagan. It’s a sorry speech to give when the best case you have to convince voters is to try to reduce a dead President (even a great one) to a buzzword. But if Mike Huckabee does find a way to the Republican nomination (and Politico reports the polls look good for him) he would at least be able to draw a comparison between himself and Reagan on their respective political paths.
During his oh-so-close 1976 primary challenge to former President Gerald Ford, Reagan was clearly identified in the mold of Barry Goldwater’s limited government, libertarian-themed brand of conservatism. His 1980 path to victory was made possible by heavy inroads to southern social conservatives – then called the “Moral Majority” and today categorized as “values voters” – and convincing them to abandon favorite son Jimmy Carter. Huckabee’s second-place showing in 2008 came from conservatives uneasy about supporting John McCain (or socially liberal Rudy Giuliani or Mormon Mitt Romney).
After being the voice of social conservatives in 2008, Huckabee’s path to the nomination in 2012 will mean courting the small-government voices – who, like the values voters from 1976-1980, have become more organized and vocal through the tea party movement.
From a policy perspective, that may not be hard for Huckabee. Other candidates (as Politico notes) supported TARP while Huckabee opposed it, and his chief rival Romney has the albatross of his Massachusetts health care plan.
Easy right? Not so fast. For as much hype as the tea party received, the Club for Growth flexed some pretty big muscles in the 2010 thanks to their small-government, anti-establishment message taking a strong foothold among grassroots activists – and the Club is no friend to Huckabee. While the Club as an organization probably couldn’t make or break a Huckabee candidacy, garnering support among Club supporters will be critical if Huckabee wants to have a legitimate comparison between himself and the Great Communicator.