For surging Huck, a rough road ahead

A triumphant Mike Huckabee is the first victor in his party in the first contest in the '08 presidential race. He has come from nowhere to surf an underfunded and unprecedented wave and topple a wealthy front-runner who had spent more than a year campaigning in Iowa. But can he make it farther than the snowy plains? Something tells me no, now that the charming preacher man is gone, having been replaced by the too-cute Huckabee who isn't quite ready to discuss Pakistan. I believe a battle with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in New Hampshire is likely to turn the Huck-a-buzz into a Huck-a-bomb in no time.
 
Establishment Republicans, from 1996 GOP nominee Sen. Bob Dole (Kan.) to the staff of the National Review to the Club for Growth, have criticized Huckabee on everything from taxes to foreign policy to immigration and they have been attempting to quietly mobilize against him. Huckabee pitched in to help them this week with his foot-shooting, cheap political stunt of trying to “pull” a negative ad he just had to air first for the media, suggesting to those who pointed out his hypocrisy that they were “cynical.” Huckabee aides told the press the candidate was driven by his anger toward Mitt Romney before changing his mind at the last minute.
 
Please note I am a humble Word Eater, happy to choke on my column from two months ago when I joined the “I Heart Huckabee” movement, wondering why leaders of the conservative Christian Coalition had ignored this man who, as of Oct. 25, was free of any glaring political liability. I was joined by many smart and very well-known journalists in the Huckabee conga line — but that, as they say, was then. The Mike Huckabee we thought we knew didn't have to use cynical political tactics to win polling points; he rose on his affable manner and popular message. He was humble and humorous. Huckabee got people to listen because he was likable, which in politics, as in life, is something money can't buy.
 
Once the spotlight switched on, Huckabee withered in the heat. He tried the usual gimmicks, like pheasant hunting to make fun of Romney's flip-flops on things big and small: his history with hunting as well as abortion policy. Huckabee wore his orange hunter hat and hung on to a few dead birds while telling the press, “See, that's what happens when you get in my way.” But Huckabee went further, gaming the discomfiting issue of Romney's Mormon religion, and those hoping the Baptist minister would step up and stand against religious intolerance were sorely disappointed. Huckabee played it like an instrument, asking a New York Times reporter, who inquired whether Mormonism can be considered a real religion, whether Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers. He had to apologize to Romney for it in person. In one television ad Huckabee referred to himself as a Christian leader. In the next he wore his red sweater and wished everyone a “magnificent Christmas” as a cross slid by to the tune of “Silent Night.” The ad may not have said it all, but it said a lot.
 
When Huckabee recently penned an essay for Foreign Affairs magazine under the name Michael D. Huckabee, he criticized Bush's “arrogant bunker mentality,” and of the United States and its standing across the globe, he wrote: “much like a top high school student, if it is modest about its abilities and achievements, if it is generous in helping others, it is loved. But if it attempts to dominate others, it is despised.”
 
The Boston Globe reported this week that Huckabee gave a little-noticed speech in September suggesting the United States consider restoring diplomatic relations with Iran. He said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “I know we can't live with al Qaeda, but there's a chance that we can live with a domesticated Iran.” Huckabee makes it sound as easy as training a pet.
 
But there is more. Those Huckabee has named as experts and from whom he seeks counsel on foreign affairs have either repudiated his statements or denied having spoken with him.
   
Against the backdrop of these less-than-impressive moments, the death of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto also abruptly interrupted the Huckabee honeymoon. His opportunity to hold forth on the hornet's nest of Pakistan came and went when he tried turning her assassination into a talking point on immigration, pointing out, incorrectly, how many Pakistanis are pouring illegally across our borders. He later attempted to tackle terrorism breeding grounds in the Middle East and confused which side of the country borders Afghanistan.
   
Sure, Huckabee has exceeded expectations and has rocketed out of Iowa with a wide lead over Romney. But the road ahead — through New Hampshire and beyond — will be filled with roadblocks. Republicans will see to that. Just as Sen. McCain was stopped in South Carolina after his 18-point victory in New Hampshire in 2000, Huckabee can be stopped outside of Iowa.
 
Republican primary voters aren't likely to choose a foreign policy lightweight, and after Huckabee's petty political stunt they will have to ask themselves just what kind of leader he would be. Maybe if he had followed the high school student model he is fond of, and been modest and generous, he would have been loved. His attempts to dominate may not leave Mike Huckabee despised, but I imagine they will leave him far short of enough delegates to be his party's nominee.