Huckabee Is Toast

Over Thanksgiving, Sarah Palin participated in a mini-marathon in the eastern part of Washington state. That is conservative country out there, with ranchers and farmers and small towns and rugged individualists. Little did she know that just 300 miles west, in the liberal part of the state near Seattle, that an event soon would occur that could profoundly affect a possible Palin White House bid in 2012.


On Sunday, November 29, the last day of the Thanksgiving weekend, a black male named Maurice Clemmons shot and killed four white police officers in Lakewood, Washington in an ambush. Clemmons had a long history of violence and criminal activity, including five felony convictions from his youth in Arkansas, where governor Mike Huckabee in 2000 commuted a 108-year prison sentence for Clemmons over the strong objections of prosecutors. This made Clemmons eligible for parole, which he got and was set free.


Huckabee, a Republican presidential candidate in 2008 and the man considered in some polls to actually be the leading candidate for 2012, granted more than 1,000 pardons and commutations as governor and already was considered by some in the GOP as too liberal. Huckabee also is an ordained Baptist minister.


Many in the conservative blogosphere are saying that the Clemmons incident sinks Huckabee’s chances for 2012 in an era when America is more crime-conscious than ever. Because first and foremost, Huckabee’s Republican primary opponents would use the incident against him.


No Republican should feel bad for Huckabee. He is not misunderstood, and he did what he did because that is what he believed in. Whether it was in the spirit of Christian redemption and forgiveness, or misplaced hopefulness, he now he must suffer the consequences.


And to see what may be in store for him, all Huckabee need do is to look back to the presidential election of 1988. In that contest, George H. W. Bush – the father of our recent president George W. Bush – was running against liberal Democrat Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis. And there was another Clemmons-type of character involved who became a leading actor in that race, a black male and convicted murderer named Willie Horton who at one point was released from a Massachusetts prison on a weekend furlough in a program supported by Dukakis.


Horton did not return from his furlough and committed armed robbery and rape.  And after a briefly-shown political ad about the incident aired by an independent group with Horton’s menacing mug shot included, public opinion hammered Dukakis and, like the Swift Boat ad against John Kerry in 2004, the Horton ad took on a life of its own. Immediately Willie Horton not only became the poster boy for liberal permissiveness, but also a synonym for damaging associations. Today his name is still often mentioned by the talking heads when discussing political liability.


Ultimately Bush won that election by a large margin and Horton was called a defining factor in the race, along with a mealy-mouthed debate response by Dukakis over how he would respond to someone who theoretically assaulted his wife. All in all, Dukakis frightened many Americans with his detached judgment and lack of passion.


Now the GOP is atwitter about Huckabee’s commutation for Clemmons and what it means for 2012. And while Huck is an appealing persona and now has his own Saturday evening show on Fox News, this incident really puts his future in jeopardy. Another Arkansas official said after the Washington police murders that he was dreading the day that Clemmons did something like this because it would reflect poorly on his state.


What does this incident do for Sarah Palin?


It strengthens her hand greatly and may encourage her even more to enter the 2012 race. Because candidates act on political instincts shaped by political events. Huckabee always has polled well among Christian conservatives since he is a minister. And since conservatives and Christian activists are those most likely to show up for a GOP primary vote, Huckabee potentially would have been splitting up a big lot of Christian primary votes with Sarah Palin if she ran in 2012. Because Palin is the only other strongly Christian candidate being currently considered for that race.


But with Huckabee possibly gone, it would pave the road for Palin to win big among those Christian voters and get a huge advantage in the primary. And that sets up the Republicans for another fight over the soul of the party going forward. And it just may prove what conservatives have been saying all along – that a Republican who acts like a Democrat (Huckabee) is highly vulnerable on principle, and won’t get elected president, particularly after Obama’s increasingly poor showing among independent voters.


While some centrists in the GOP may be uneasy about a newly-resurgent Palin, president Obama actually has a problem much like Huckabee’s, his own Maurice Clemmons to contend with, a Muslim one. His name is Nidal Malik Hasan and he murdered 13 people in a terrorist attack at Fort Hood, Texas.


And while there certainly will be those who will protest that Obama cannot track every lone-wolf attack against America, a potential GOP/Palin ad could claim quite the opposite and highlight Democrat political correctness that allowed Hasan to go unscrutinized; Obama’s weakness on terrorism in general, even refusing to use the words “war on terror”; Obama’s bizarre press conference about the Fort Hood attack in which he spent a full two minutes talking about Indian tribal business before he even addressed the murders; or Obama’s decision to try accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in civilian court in New York City.


All in all the Clemmons incident does huge damage to Mike Huckabee and already is changing the face of the GOP race for 2012. There are many turns in the road ahead, however. But this one is a sharp curve where one candidate just went over the guardrail, potentially never to be heard from again.  


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