Saturday, April 23, 2011

Feud with Glenn Beck Highlights Huckabee's Vulnerability

In the last few days, a feud has developed between Huckabee and Glenn Beck. Beck's website discusses the matter here.

Summary: Beck said that he did not want Huckabee to win the nomination because while Huckabee is a social conservative, Huckabee is a "progressive" on other issues. Huckabee took exception to the label, noting Beck's hatred of progressives, and criticized Beck for using hyperbole. Beck replied with a broadside attack against Huckabee's record as governor of Arkansas. Beck listed the reasons why he does not believe Huckabee has a conservative record.

Analysis: As explained in the Elephant Watcher Profile Page, Huckabee's main weakness is that his credentials as an economic conservative have often come under attack. Beck's attacks went further, criticizing Huckabee's excessive use of pardons as governor, and suggesting Huckabee is only conservative on social (religious) issues. Incidentally, these attacks were related to Huckabee's second and third weaknesses as listed in his Profile.

Beck's attacks are reminiscent of the attacks made by Fred Thompson against Huckabee just before the South Carolina primary in 2008. Huckabee narrowly lost in South Carolina, leading to John McCain's victory there and ultimately the nomination.

Perhaps most troubling for Huckabee is that these criticisms are coming from Beck, who is associated with the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, rather than from the establishment. Huckabee runs the risk of being attacked by both flanks of the Party, narrowing his constituency considerably.

Beck also said that Huckabee is likely to be an early favorite for the nomination. Elephant Watcher concurs with this assessment, ranking Huckabee second (behind Christie, who will be a late entrant to the race). Huckabee's status as a quasi-frontrunner will make him the target of more attacks. In a future post, we will discuss Huckabee's position compared to the last time he ran.

There is one bright spot for Huckabee: Talk radio hosts and other commentators do not have as much influence on the nomination as one might expect. After all, John McCain won the nomination in 2008 despite widespread criticism from powerful conservatives like Rush Limbaugh. This is because the voters in early primary states tend to investigate the candidates personally: meeting the candidates, watching their debate performances, attending their townhalls, etc. They then make up their mind for themselves, rather than relying on the opinions of political commentators.

Even so, making enemies of Tea Party leaders--especially when already dismissed by the Republican establishment--is the last thing Huckabee needs.