The Iowa caucuses are over, and Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee are the winners. A couple of items are worthy of note after tonight’s results.
First, Obama emerges as the first viable African American candidate for President in the history of the United States. At least he seems viable, and that’s a big deal.
Second, Huckabee, who was outspent 20 to 1 by Mitt Romney, came out of no-wheres-ville and is now a front-runner for the Republican nomination. (I’m wishing I would have taken the trouble to shake his hand when I saw him last summer and snapped this picture.)
How then do I size-up this race? I watched a lot of the coverage tonight on the cable news channels (MSNBC, Fox News, CNN). One thing was very clear to me. The Democrats are salivating at the prospect of a Huckabee candidacy. Apparently, the conventional wisdom among the Democrats is that any of their top 3 candidates would trounce Huckabee in the general election. At this point, I think they may be correct, but not for the reasons they think.
Even after Huckabee’s impressive victory in Iowa, He continues to alienate fiscal conservatives and certain elites of the Republican Party. If Huckabee wins the nomination but fails to win the general election, it will be because he failed to unite social, fiscal, and national security conservatives (a.k.a., the old Reagan coalition). Absent that coalition, he cannot win. As of right now, he still doesn’t have it.
Case in point: Huckabee was hardly out of his victory rally tonight when the opinion writers at the Wall Street Journal and other conservatives started going after him. For instance:
“Mr. Huckabee invokes his faith when advocating greater government involvement in just about every aspect of American life. In doing so, Mr. Huckabee has actually answered the prayers of the religious left. . . No one has articulated the message of the religious left more effectively than Mr. Huckabee.” â€“David J. Sanders
“Iowa Republicans went to the polls yesterday, and . . . Turns out they were taking a mallet to the modern frame of the Grand Old Party.” â€“Kimberley Strassell
“Huckabee’s win in Iowa is a temporary setback for conservatism. Fortunately, the celebratory mood at Huckabee headquarters will likely end soon. Huckabee is a social conservative, but otherwise liberal populist.” â€“Pat Toomey
“Either he must mislead GOP voters into thinking that he is an economic conservative, or those voters must stop caring. Either way, a Huckabee victory would be very bad news for conservatism as we know it.” â€“John Pitney
Expect to hear a lot more of talk like this from conservatives in the coming days. There are many conservatives who are simply opposed to Huckabee’s candidacy. I am thankful for Huckabee’s strong pro-life and pro-family positions, but I still don’t see him as viable in the general.