The more I think about Mike Huckabee’s stunning 18% showing at the Iowa straw poll the more I’m persuaded that he could be the exciting, unifying conservative standard bearer the GOP base has been craving.
Forget about Fred Thompson--- his long delay in entering the race makes him look increasingly like the Mario Cuomo of the Republican Party. Remember when the New York Governor dithered endlessly about announcing his candidacy in 1992? At the time, he seemed to be trying out a new slogan: “A Mind is a terrible thing…. To make Up.” As an actor, Fred Thompson might like to take a crack at playing Hamlet, but the indecision bit doesn’t work well for a Presidential contender.
Moreover, his wife Jeri (described by the New York Times as his much-younger “trophy wife”) has already won a reputation as a controversial “dragon lady” for firing and intimidating staff on his non-campaign. Her glamorous presence seems to re-enforce Thompson’s Hollywood connections, and that’s not a great thing for a Republican candidate.
Moreover, Thompson’s campaign speeches so far have been distinctly underwhelming in their impact, showing none of the folksiness and force of his TV character Arthur Branch or his brief radio commentaries, for that matter.
I challenge any die hard Fred Heads to watch tape of Thompson addressing a live audience and then to contrast it with tape of Huckabee working a crowd – or performing at one of the televised debates. There’s no comparison: Huckabee spontaneously deploys the warmth, humor, gift of gab, accessibility and kindness that we haven’t seen in a GOP Presidential contender since Reagan. He comes across as a regular guy who cares about other regular guys. He also possesses a rare ability to craft catchy phrases that connect with people. As he told audiences in Iowa, “One of the things I think I’ve brought to the process is unapologetically I’m a conservative – but I’m not mad at anybody over it.”
And it’s tough for anyone, from any faction in the party, to feel mad at Mike Huckabee.