Mike Huckabee is No Reagan

Ed Rollins has signed on to be Mike Huckabee’s national campaign chairman. Good for him. Coaches coach, actors act and political consultants, well, consult. Rollins is best known as Ronald Reagan’s campaign manager in the Gipper’s historic 49-state sweep in 1984. Rollins will add credibility to a campaign whose primary staff and supporters are virtually unknown.

That being said, Ed is stretching things a little, no a lot, when he says, “Gov. Huckabee has probably inspired me as much as Ronald Reagan did … I was with the old Reagan and I can promise you that this man comes as close as anyone to filling those shoes.”

Oh, puhleeze. Reagan was fond of saying, “Facts are stubborn things.” With all due respect, it’s hard to think of anyone who has less in common with Reagan than Gov. Mike. Can we mention just a few issues? Reagan was a tax cutter; Huckabee has no such instinct. Reagan was a free trader, Huckabee is anything but. Reagan focused on cutting income tax rates, Huckabee has advanced a dreamy notion of a national sales tax as a substitute for all federal taxes. In foreign policy, Reagan fought his entire adult life against the Evil Empire. Gov. Mike’s approach to any foreign policy issue is, Can anyone really say? Reagan’s views in 1980 were formed over a lifetime and were well-known by friend and foe alike. Gov. Mike has a very limited history of discussing national policy and is inventing his views as he goes along.

There is one other seminal difference, namely, how they view religion and public life. Reagan was a Christian and a believer, albeit a quiet one. He was only an occasional churchgoer. His faith informed his views, but he seldom talked openly about it. He was primarily a secular leader focused on real solutions to public policy issues.

Gov. Mike, by contrast, uses religion as his chief qualification for public office. Every speech includes a heavy dose of his religious credentials and his background as a Christian minister, and only then does he wander into a discussion of public issues. In this sense, he is far more similar to moralists like the Rev. Jesse Jackson and turn-of-the-20th-century populist William Jennings Bryan in his approach to public policy. Such an approach is much more divisive and makes political accommodation and legislating, two areas where Reagan excelled, far more difficult to achieve.

All of the Republican candidates are trying to position themselves as the logical successor to the Gipper. Readers of this column know of my support for Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), and I could make a strong case that McCain’s views and qualities are closer than anyone else's to Reagan’s. That’s a subject for another column.

But no one can say for sure. 2008 offers different challenges and opportunities than those of the 1980s and Republicans must realize that to win a tough contest next year against the Democratic nominee, the GOP must do what Reagan instinctively understood and did brilliantly, namely, offer a coherent and optimistic plan to address the FUTURE challenges that America will face.