Huckabee's Southern Strategy?

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Jan 18, 2008 5:00 PM

As CNN reported yesterday, Mike Huckabee had this to say about the Confederate flag:

You don't like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag," Huckabee said at a Myrtle Beach campaign event. "In fact, if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell them what to do with the pole, that's what we'd do."

Aside from the clever and humorous remark, it is clear that Mike Huckabee is intentionally injecting a controversial and passionate issue into the political mix, just days before the vitally important South Carolina primary.

Why is he doing this?  Anyone who is surprised that Mike Huckabee is taking a strong stance in favor of the "3rd rail" of South Carolina politics -- the flag -- probably isn't paying attention to who is advising Huckabee in South Carolina.

His top advisor in the state is none other than former South Carolina Governor David Beasley.  And if anyone knows how important the flag is to South Carolina voters, it's Beasley.

When he was first elected Governor, Beasley promised to leave the flag alone.  But once in office, he reversed his position, and suffered greatly for it, and ultimately, lost his seat.  According to the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation:

(Beasley's) reversal on the flag stunned fellow Republicans and generated an angry backlash among his conservative political base. Bumper stickers soon sprouted around the state, blaring, "Keep the flag, dump Beasley!" The South Carolina legislature rejected his proposal. Political observers believe bitterness over the Confederate flag was one factor that shrank turnout ...

But raising this issue doesn't just help Huckabee with South Carolina Republican voters -- it also hurts his primary opponent in the state, Sen. John McCain.  Keep in mind; also, that eight years ago, McCain said whether or not to keep the flag was an issue that should be left up to South Carolina. 

But he later recanted, expressing regret that he had pushed principle aside in favor of politics...

By raising the Confederate flag issue, Mike Huckabee shrewdly is taking a direct shot at the man he is running neck and neck with:  John McCain.  This issue is hurtful to McCain on two fronts:  Obviously, it shows he is out-of-touch with most South Carolina Republicans (on this issue).  But this also highlights one example where John McCain didn't exercise "straight talk" ...