The 2016 Republican candidates run from the truly scary to the thoughtful. But, after all, we live in a democracy and voters will decide who is the nominee. That's the problem. The GOP primary voter is a red-meat, no compromise, rear-end-kicking, hard right-winger. The candidates in 2016 are being forced to the hard right, no matter what that does to their general election chances. Just like Romney in 2012.
None of them have quite figured out how to win the nomination without alienating swing voters.
Comes now Mike Huckabee. This is one smart cookie. He has always been able to find ways to keep the hard conservatives happy, and yet speak to the concerns of a much broader swath of voters. It's what made him a successful governor in Arkansas.
Keeping the base happy comes first. Huckabee has a history of very strong positions on Republican social issues, particularly abortion and same-sex marriage. On those, and other parts of the right-wing catechism, he is the favorite of a lot of Republican primary voters, particularly the evangelical Christian wing of the party. That's as much as 25 percent of the electorate. He's been clear, uncompromising and focused on their issues. They love it.
That's given him an electoral base, but it's also limited his appeal to a more moderate brand of Republican voter. And it is certainly not enough to win the nomination.
Huckabee understands all this. His response this week was striking and potent. Unlike almost every other Republican, Mick Huckabee came out for entitlements: "I'll never rob seniors of what our government promised them and even forced them to pay for."
Say what? No means test for Social Security and Medicare? No benefit cuts? No "makers" and "takers"?
The Republican establishment has talked themselves into the view that America's real problem is programs that protect the economic security of seniors and average citizens. It's not only false, it's politically toxic.
Most of the other candidates need the Republican banker/corporate/Koch cash cow, to build a credible voter base. And those guys don't like Huckabee one bit: "It seems to me like campaign opportunism or demagogy," said David McIntosh, the president of the Club for Growth about the Huckabee promise.
Who cares what they think. Not Huckabee. "People are looking for a presidential candidate who reminds them of the guy they work with rather than the guy who laid them off." Bam, game on.
If Huckabee can rely on evangelicals to keep him in the high teens in the polls, then his pivot toward economic populism and the needs of the middle class will add to his voter base. Hmmm.
It's the first sign that one of the Republican candidates is trying to find a way out of the box that ultimately crippled Romney's ability to make a case against Obama. It's much too soon to predict success or failure. But if you want to draw a Republican roadmap that takes you to the White House, hire Mike Huckabee.