Matt Yglesias thinks that Mike Huckabee’s “Mau Mau” comment about Obama was a mere gaffe, and therefore unimportant in considering his chances of winning a general election in 2012 or 2016. My reading of the situation is that Huckabee’s problem is more profound than that.
Huckabee’s latest comments seem to support my side of that argument.
Huckabee has been trying, with some success up to now, to sound very conservative (as defined by the Teahadis) but sane (as defined by the median voter). If that works, he might be able both to get the nomination and to win in November.
His problem – the problem of anyone trying to be elected as a Republican – is that the Teahadi worldview is somewhat severed from consensus reality. For example, the Teahadis really, really, really hate the President. They think he’s an alien in thought and perhaps in fact, a socialist, maybe a Muslim. The median voter believes none of that mishegas. And neither does the conventional-wisdom political reporter. So a candidate who flirts with birtherism is going to be treated – properly – as a loon. (Yes, much of the standard Republican economic mantra is also insane by any objective standard, but neither the median voter nor the CW reporter knows that.)
Huckabee understands the situation. So, when he talks to the mainstream media, he laughs at birthers. But he thought he could get away with saying something different to winger talk-show hosts.
That was probably true when he was running for Governor. The thing is, the Intertubes are making such a market-segmentation approach harder and harder. At the Presidential level, it’s virtually impossible.
That brings us to the latest incident. Asked on another winger talk show (Bryan Fischer of American Family Radio) about the previous flap, Huckabee admitted that Indonesia wasn’t actually in East Africa but stressed the Obama-as-alien theme: “Most of us grew up going to Boy Scout meetings and, you know, our communities were filled with Rotary Clubs, not madrassas.” That’s just not going to play well in Peoria.
If anyone could have pulled off the requisite trick, it would have been Huckabee. Not only is he smart and self-controlled, he also has major religious-right chops as a Baptist preacher. His accent alone makes it clear that he’s not an elitist cosmopolitan like Romney. So he might have gotten away with not reciting all the nonsense and still gotten the True Believer vote in the primaries.
But the fact that Huckabee has now doubled down suggests to me that he doesn’t think he can make that work. He can’t run for the Republican nomination for President without appearing on winger radio, and he can’t appear on winger radio and sound sane to the rest of the world.
Maybe this really is a just a book tour, and Huckabee has decided to sit out 2012. But it’s hard to see how Romney or Pawlenty or Daniels gets the nomination without mouthing some of the same slogans, or how anyone who says obviously insane things can escape being labeled a nutcase. And what he’s saying now is going to come back to haunt Huckabee if he runs in 2016, unless something happens to make the outgoing President Obama as hated as the outgoing President Bush was in 2008.
That’s why I say that the Tea Party, as useful as it was to them this past November, has created a major structural problem for the Republicans in contending for the White House.
I’ve been known to be unduly optimistic about politics, so take this with a grain of salt. But it’s hard for me to see how anyone manages to thread this needle.