Mike Huckabee is a conservative. In fact, he’s the most genuinely appealing conservative — the best communicator, the warmest personality — in the upper echelons of the Republican Party.
It is easy to see why those who have not followed the decay of the conservative wing of the Grand Old Party wanted Huckabee to take up the banner of Barry Goldwater-John Ashbrook-Ronald Reagan conservatism and carry it into a new presidential race.
But Huckabee well recognizes that the idealism of old has given way to a crude win-at-any-cost calculation that makes little attempt to promote conservative ideals — focusing instead on fear, smear and attack to keep the party viable.
That’s an ugly calculus. And Huckabee has never embraced it. Indeed, in 2008, he frequently counseled fellow Republicans that it would be a "fatal mistake" to try and stir up opposition to Barack Obama based on his race. "When people are really hurting – and they are right now – they’re not looking at a person’s race," Huckabee explained.
And he was right.
The former governor — who I have interviewed numerous times over the years and who I have always regarded as a rare maverick on a generally predictable political scene — was the most genuinely Reagan-esque of the potential contenders for the party’s nomination to challenge President Obama.
Unfortunately for Huckabee, his party and his country, today’s GOP no longer approves of or even makes much attempt to emulate the conservatism that Goldwater, Reagan and their kind brought into the American political mainstream.
This was a problem for Huckabee. While he polled well with grassroots Republicans, who approved of his homey, upbeat, outside-the-beltway and slightly off-message approach, he was never a favorite of the money men or the DC-based strategists who run the show via faked up groups such as Americans for Prosperity and Crossroads GPS.
Why? To a far greater extent than most contemporary Republicans, the former governor of Arkansas has remained a true believer in the values (and the stylistic approach) of the optimistic “new right” of the 1960s and 1970s – a right that marched into the middle of the Grand Old Party, shoved aside the liberal “Rockefeller Republicans” and the Middle-American pragmatists and cleared the way for Reagan’s nomination and election to the presidency in 1980.
But, because Huckabee is a true son of the oddly upbeat movement that was characterized as “the new right,” he recognized that his way to the 2012 GOP nomination was anything but clear.