An Unscientific Postscript on the Iowa Caucuses

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.” –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.” –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.” –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.” –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.


  • Kyle Barrett

    I agree with you Denny. Being pro-life does not qualify one for office. It can disqualify but it can’t qualify.


  • Ted

    If Huckabee is the Republican candidate in the general election, I will vote for him, but I hope Romney gets the nomination.

    I can’t support Huckabee’s fiscal policies, nor his position on the border and illegal immigration, nor his ignorant criticism of Bush’s foreign policy. On each of these counts, Romney is the better candidate.

    Your analysis is excellent. Let’s see what happens to Huckabee in NH, when he gets into Mitt’s territory, and NC, which you’d think Huckabee easily wins.

  • Don

    As Ted has said, if Huck is there I too will vote for him. Let’s hope that’s not the case. The more his record shows and we {voters} get to know him the more he looks like a liberal. He is trying to play coy but is a fox waiting to get into the henhouse.

  • Nick


    Unfortunately I was unable to watch the post-caucus coverage last night, could you please tell me where you got the notion that, “the conventional wisdom among the Democrats is that any of their top 3 candidates would trounce Huckabee in the general election.”?

    Was this from conservative ‘analysts’? Because that’s the only people I’m hearing that from. And it’s only from these same ‘analysts’ that I’m hearing that Huckabee can’t ‘unite conservatives’. As last nights caucus showed, these ‘analysts’ simply have no clue of what they’re talking about.

    Running a campaign with no money and harly any paid staff to speak of, Huckabee handily took down the Romney machine that VASTLY out spent him. And it’s simply a myth that Huckabee can’t unite “security conservatives” and “fiscal conservatives” – he’s received endorsements from fiscal conservatives as well as the Minuitemen founder…the only reason he hasn’t received more endorsements is because the conservative elite gave him no shot at winning the election. As he continues to build in popularity, more endorsements from all sides will come.

    Just take a look at this CNN entrance poll:

    * In Vote by Ideology he took both “Very Conservative” and “Somewhat Conservative” while McCain and Romney split the “Moderate” vote.

    * On the four top issues listed (illegal immigration, war in Iraq, economy, and terrorism) he had the top percentage.

    * Took 40% of the female vote–more than Giuliani, Hunter, McCain, Paul, and Thompson combined (34%)

    * Took the top percentage in every category on the “Events in Pakistan”

    * Took the top percentage in “Feelings About Bush Administration” in every category except “Angry” (which Paul took, naturally).

    * Took the top percentage in every category “Vote by Income” except “$100,000 or More” (which Romney took, naturally).

    * Took the top percentage in every region of Iowa

    * Took the top percentage in every age category.

  • josh R

    My prediction is this. Huckabee sweeps the bible belt, McCain takes the more secular “Blue states” and we wind up with a Huckabee/McCain or McCain/Huckabee ticket.

    The simple fact is that The bible does not mandate a fiscally conservative government. Most Evangelicals are uncomfortable with the some of the well deserved hatred of the GOP that the GOP has earned with its policies being smeared onto Jesus, and would prefer a candidate who is different. Huckabee is different, and he is in line with evangelicals on the issues that drive evangelicals to the polls.

    Huckabee is the only canidate who will retain the base voters of the GOP. Rudy will lose the social conservatives. Romney would have to work really hard to earn enthusiastic support from the evangelicals based on his past pro-choice positions. Gulianni would be a disaster. McCain would be tolerated but would not likely be enthusiastically supported.

    Huckabee’s message appeals to folks outside of the party. The republicans will not win another 50.3 -49.7 type election. The war is too unpopular. They need to reach new voters to do that.

    He is much more conservative than the negative ads portray him. And much of the legislation he passed in Arkansas was a compromise with a overwhelmingly democratic congress. He is not running as a libertarian. It is more appropriate for State governments to tax and spend on local investments in infrastructure than it is for the federal government to tax and spend on porkbarrel projects. Dogmatic idealism will not move the country forward, only keep it divided. We need a leader who is more pragmatic. Huckabee is that leader.

  • adam

    Denny, I think Nick makes a good point that it’s the same folks who never gave Huckabee a chance in the first place that are suddenly now supposed to tell us who does or doesn’t have the ability to unite conservatives. One thing last night does show is that whatever Romney is selling ordinary GOP voters aren’t buying. He appears to be the GOP version of John Kerry. Whatever position he thought he needed to take to win the GOP primary he simply switched to it. That seemed to fly with the establishment types, but it looks like it isn’t working too well with actual voters.

    Fwiw, in the end I think John McCain will get the GOP slot and that should be good news for prolife voters.

  • Carlito

    McCain, Huck, or Romney – I’d be happy with any of those 3. I just hope Rudy doesn’t gain too much momentum in the Northeast…

  • Paul

    again, any Republican that doesn’t support Ron Paul has no business calling themselves conservative. I mean, I know that poseur doesn’t sound so hot, but if the shoe fits…

  • Paul

    Nick —

    I actually disagree with the pundits who say that Huckabee can’t take down any of the top three dems. I’m regurgitating comments that I’ve made before, but let’s face it, this country is too racist to elect Obama (and if he does get the nod, expect every republican to be downright ignorant and refer to him as either Osama or B. Hussein Obama) and Hillary is too divisive. That leaves only John Edwards, who just won’t get the nod. And with practically the rest of the Dem field dropping out last night, that doesn’t really leave me with hopes too high of the dems taking back the white house this year. With all of that in mind, the only republican candidate that really stands a chance of getting whooped by either a black man or the most hated woman in America is Romney. And why? Because he’s a bad candidate? Nope, because he’s a mormon.

    And wow, Josh, you kinda nailed it. If more republicans thought like you, I might actually be one.

  • rach

    do you really think that republicans will vote for obama, hilary, or edwards because their candidate nominee is not as socially conservative as they would like-are not those three even worse?
    from your post “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.


  • Matt Svoboda


    I might be completely wrong, but I feel like you are just missing the big picture on this topic! I know that you are more intelligent than myself and probably know politics better, although I love politics.

    With that being said… Romney is the one who does not have a chance, not Huckabee. The guy spends 20 times the amount of money as Huckabee and yet still can’t beat him in Iowa!!!! This is a big deal and yet you still think America would pick Romney over Huckabee? it doesn’t add up. He had complete advantage over Huckabee and still lost! Romney has no convictions… It is clear to everyone that he changes his views to get the votes. To win in Mass he was pro-choice and pro-gay marriage, to win the Republican Nomination he changes to pro-life, against gay marraige, America is not that dumb, they see this for what it is…

    Huckabee will win the Republican Nomination and then he will win the general election..

    Obama is the only candidate that could beat him. Clinton and Edwards have no chance, but I must admit Obama does. But when it comes down to the day of the final vote, people will vote for Mike Huckabee and here is why…

    First, both are fresh new politicians and America clearly wants change and they will get it with Huckabee and Obama. But there is one main reason why Huckabee will win.

    Security… He will win the Evangelical vote, Bible belt, and Midwest. But even those who disagree with him on religion and his morals they still feel safe and secure with a president who is Bible believing. America is a fearful country and they want the person to be in charge who they will feel safest under… Is that Huckabee or Obama? I think Huckabee.

    Safety and Security will win the voters who are on the fence and that is why Huckabee will win the election.

  • Brad G

    I continue to be astounded. Why is it that we Evangelicals continue to trounce Huckabee because, as I keep reading, he is not a real fiscal conservative. Does anyone think Romney is a real social conservative? I don’t. He’s more of the same – a politician who flops when the moment requires it. I guess we are going to have to decide this time which is our priority. If we continue to work to support a Romney or Rudy, we are saying once again to the GOP that we are a voting block that is satisfied with lip-service and can be taken for granted.

  • josh R

    I agree with Matt. Obama has the best chance to beat him. In a head to head match up, I think it will come to experience. Huckabee has 10 1/2 years of experience running a government. Obama is a freshman senator.

    I found Huckabee’s “endorsement” of Obama on Leno the other night quite interesting. Both Republicans and Democrats can rally behind “unity” and “vertical politics”

    Huckabee and Obama are putting their momentum behind a revolution of sorts. They help each other out by putting these ideas at the center of their appeal.

  • D. Taylor Benton

    I have considered this race long and hard, I can honestly say Huckabee would get my vote over all. But His electability is not something that is very strong, and IF he continues on this run of winning it would probably force a McCain Presidency which honestly is almost as scary as Rudy. the reason is McCain takes his cues from no one, including his conservative base. He comes down on issues based on what he thinks and not what the people that elected him think, in some ways that is good, in most ways that is way bad. That being said, I would have to say that Huckabee taking a secondary role (maybe a VP?) would be better for our country and the outcome of the elections in general for the Republican party.

    So you may ask, who should get the proverbial presidential nod?
    I would say it has to be Romney. I am a bit apprehensive on the genuineness of his stances, but on economy, he would do great things I believe for this country (especially with Huck being VP pushing the fair tax)

  • D. Taylor Benton

    I say all that to say, unless Huck can really unite the “Coalition”, what was previously posted would be the best route to go…

  • Matt Privett

    I agree with the conservative pundits. A Huckabee nomination would be horrible for the Republican Party and another nail in the coffin of conservatism, which seems to be dying a slow, painful death. Evangelicals are flocking to Huckabee because they are so desperate for a social conservative that they are willing to overlook Huckabee’s record on matter of economics or his view of the government’s role in everyday life (neither of which are conservative).

    Personally, I still see no viable Republican candidate to support.

  • Paul

    Matt, DTB and others:

    who says that Conservatism and Christianity are linked at the hip?

    Or maybe Huckabee is the ultimate proof that they’re not.

    This is why I fall into the camp of trying to mix religion and politics as little as possible.

    Of course, this will be ignored by all…

  • Brad G

    I would say that perhaps Huckabee proves that the average Evangelical considers social conservatism a moral and biblical issue, whereas economic conservatism is not.

  • Matt Svoboda


    I agree with you. I think religion and politics should be mixed as little as posible. I wrote a blog on this called, “It’s time for a divorce.” You should read it!

  • D. Taylor Benton


    I would agree with you as well, I wouldn’t be voting for Huck merely for the fact that he is an evangelical, I would be voting on his positions. and I would also second Brad G in restating his point that most EV’s are moral and not necessarily economic conservatives. However I would put myself in almost the Libertarian camp when it comes to economics, that is why I like Huck’s Fair Tax policy. I say let the Capitalist free market roam and leave the government to defense and civil issues.

  • Nick


    Do you think Susan Estrich speaks for the Democratic party or a select few? If so or if not, what does it matter whom the Democrats think they can beat? The Republican establishment and the media elite have been underestimating Mike Huckabee for the better part of a year and they continue in this now. The main reason they’re doing this (I believe), is because he takes a strong stand on social issues and the media just isn’t interested in social issues and then projects this view on the American people as if we don’t either. Then folks like Susan Esrich and others get on TV saying that Mike Huckabee can’t win and they usually never even make a case as to why he can’t….”he just can’t!”, they declare.

    But as Iowa showed and other states are currently showing, these social issues are still very important to the American people. And in a head-to-head race against Barak Obama, I’m convinced that only Mike Huckabee could beat him. Of course, the polical landscape is always changing, but Obama is quite a powerhouse right now – he’s destroying the other Democrats because people want change in politics and Obama has made that his main talking point. Similarly, Mike Huckabee is seen as a “main street” guy who stands for change and is a stark contrast to the Washington elite. Any other repulican candidate will be seen as part of the “old” Washington, not part of a changing political atmosphere – that’s why I think only Mike Huckabee could beat Obama.

    Did you see the CNN entrance poll I linked to? Huckabee let the Male AND Female votes, he led ALL age categories and led in every singe income except the $100,000+ crowd! I’m going to continue to monitor these stats in other states, but if anyone can unite the party, pull in independants and win the Presidency, I’m convinced it’s Mike Huckabee and I’ll be supporting him all the way!

    In closing, I leave you with this excerpt from Bill Kristol’s article in the New York times:

    “Some Democrats are licking their chops at the prospect of a Huckabee nomination. They shouldn’t be. For one thing, Michael Bloomberg would be tempted to run in the event of an Obama-Huckabee race — and he would most likely take votes primarily from Obama. But whatever Bloomberg does, the fact is that the Republican establishment spent 2007 underestimating Mike Huckabee. If Huckabee does win the nomination, it would be amusing if Democrats made the same mistake in 2008.”

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