McCain-Huckabee (or Huckabee-McCain)?

Peter Augustine Lawler

December 1, 2007

I really think I degraded myself by watching most of the YouTube debate. The questions were aggressive yet rather trivial, and the candidates were on the defensive most of the time. They didn’t have the opportunity to criticize the Democrats, and Huckabee really had to reach even to mention Hillary’s name (in the context of who might lead our mission to Mars). They shouldn’t have to give their views on Biblical interpretation or have the gay general (who apparently is working for Hillary) pop up from the audience.

But we did learn something: McCain and Huckabee scored very, very high on the authenticity meter, and the other candidates didn’t. Those guys seem to be saying what they really think in a natural, authoritative, and, in Huck’s case, witty way. Huck was the only candidate to handle the Bible and gay-general questions well, because his answers were both thoughtful and genuine. They were emphatically not fundamentalist answers, and the Biblical principles he embraced are those shared by American believers and nonbelievers alike. And his good joke that Jesus was too smart to run for office was an implicit criticism of the impertinence of asking about our Savior’s view of the death penalty. Huck can really, really think on his feet.

McCain, meanwhile, is clearly for victory in Iraq (and even victory in Vietnam) and against torture, and on those two foundations he’s a friendly critic of the President’s incompetence as our commander-in-chief. He more or less acknowledged his own relative incompetence on domestic issues. He explained that the reason the current president has relied so much on his vice-president is that he was, in fact, ill-prepared himself for the post-9/11 challenge. President McCain would be fully ready to lead in foreign policy, but he might need similar help from his vice-president in other areas. He caused me to remember that President Huckabee would probably have the same weakness—and so the same neediness—as President Bush. He would really need Vice-President McCain.

I really do think that Huckabee’s and McCain’s positions are too extreme to prevail in November. Huck’s life-begins-at-conception approach to abortion is not shared by a majority of Americans, and it would be easy for, say, Hillary to pummel him for turning freely choosing women into murderers. He is, in fact, not focused on reversing Roe and returning the issue to the American people. And, in general, Huckabee probably is just too religious and, in his way, too “compassionate” to win the votes of the more libertarian or “moderate” parts of the Reagan coalition.

McCain, on Iraq, knows perfectly well that he’s not in touch with the view of a majority of Americans. The Republicans can’t win an election focused on the conduct of that war. Their long-shot possibility depends on developing popular positions on the social and economic issues.

A ticket headed by McCain or Huckabee would probably suffer a relatively admirable but decisive defeat. Maybe a way to cushion the blow is to consider a McCain-Huckabee or Huckabee-McCain ticket. One is obviously strong whether the other is weak. And having two authentic and eloquent men of principle traveling the country might produce rather unprecedented electoral advantages that don’t show up in studies of recent elections.

I’m not sure about any of this, and I’m not endorsing anyone. I’m just speaking as a political scientist observing the phenomena.

Peter Augustine Lawler is an adjunct fellow of the Ashbrook Center and the Dana Professor of Government at Berry College.