Against Mike Huckabee:

I may not know who I'm for in the Republican presidential race. But I do know one leading candidate I'm definitely against: newly anointed frontrunner Mike Huckabee.

Conservative UCLA law professor Steve Bainbridge, libertarian Cato Institute scholar Michael Tanner, and libertarian-leaning columnist Deroy Murdock present some excellent reasons why anyone who cares about limiting the power of government has every reason to oppose Huckabee's nomination. In addition, the pro-free market Club for Growth gives a strongly negative review of his record on economic policy as Governor of Arkansas, concluding that he holds "profoundly anti-growth positions on taxes, spending, and government regulation." As Bainbridge points out, the libertarian Cato Institute gave Huckabee an "F" on its fiscal policy report card, a worse record than numerous very liberal Democratic governors.

I don't quite agree with all of Bainbridge, Tanner, and Murdock's points. Like Huckabee and unlike Bainbridge, I support the death penalty; like Huckabee and unlike Murdock, I am skeptical of the need to use waterboarding of prisoners as part of the War on Terror. However, the overall picture of Huckabee that emerges is one that exemplifies the worst elements of "big government conservatism." Huckabee combines a predilection for high levels of government spending and economic regulation with an even stronger commitment to nanny state regulation of personal behavior. The latter is exemplified by such positions as his support for a national smoking ban, his advocacy of government programs to prevent obesity, and his enthusiasm for government enforcement of conservative social mores.

To be sure, as I noted in one of my earlier posts on the presidential race, candidates' records are difficult to interpret because many of the positions they take are produced by the political constraints they face rather than by conviction. Perhaps some of the more objectionable elements of Huckabee's record are products of the vagaries of Arkansas politics. Nonetheless, it is telling that in his years as governor of relatively conservative Arkansas, Huckabee posted a significantly more anti-market record on economic policy than did Romney as governor of liberal Massachusetts and Giuliani as mayor of liberal New York City; indeed, his record was worse than that of many liberal Democratic governors of liberal states. It is also noteworthy that Huckabee endorses not only those forms of social regulation that other conservatives embrace (e.g. - cracking down on pornography), but also many of those usually associated with liberals (e.g. - the smoking ban). The latter can't easily be explained by the constraints Huckabee faced in conservative Arkansas.

I'll end on this note: the real danger posed by Huckabee is not so much his potential impact on specific policies as his impact on the future of the Republican Party. As president, Huckabee's policy initiatives will to some extent be constrained by a Democratic Congress and other factors. However, if he attains a reasonable degree of popularity and political success, a President Huckabee would have a freer hand in reshaping his own party in his image. He might be able to complete the work begun by George W. Bush and his congressional allies: the transformation of the Republican Party into a pro-big government party emphasizing populism and social conservatism. At this point, of course, it is still much more likely that the next president will be a Democrat. However, if things continue to improve in Iraq and the economy doesn't go south, there is some chance of a Republican victory. If it does happen, let's hope the lucky beneficiary won't be Mike Huckabee. One big government conservative administration in the 21st century is more than enough.