for a while i've been wondering when the republican presidential candidates will start overtly breaking from bush's policies. that is, when the candidates make an effort to distinguish themselves from bush rather than claiming that they're following in his footsteps. until now, ron paul's the only one who has really done it. but now huckabee, one of the front-runners, has as well.
six months ago i thought more would have by now. when a president is this unpopular, following him under these circumstances can only lead off a cliff. what i didn't really understand is the rhetorical trap that the republicans have gotten themselves into. for years they have worked hard to associate loyalty to bush with rationality and patriotism. anyone who questioned his leadership and especially his foreign policy was branded crazy, a traitor, or often both. in that atmosphere there really isn't any room for policy disagreements with the president. which is why romney declared huckabee's criticism "over the line" even though a majority of the american public probably agree with what huckabee said.
it's funny. the republican establishment is freaking out about huckabee's surge because they think he's unelectable. and yet a break with such a broadly unpopular administration is exactly what a candidate has to do to become electable, at least in the general election.
UPDATE: matthew yglesias says huckabee "decided to back down" in the face of romney's criticism. but he doesn't give a link, and i haven't been able to find one myself. on the contrary, this article seems to suggest the opposite when it says, "Huckabee said no apology is necessary and that Romney should read the [Foreign Affairs] article."
UPDATE2: found it, yglesias was apparently referring to the bit that kevin drum quoted when he referred to huck "backing down." but even after reading that, i don't think he backed down completely. huckabee is still saying the president's foreign policy is "arrogant" even if he is now exempting the president personally from that adjective. it still counts as a break from the president's policies.
kevin drum, however, does make a good point:
What's funny about this is that, given the realities of magazine lead times, Huckabee almost certainly wrote his essay at least a month ago, and maybe earlier than that. Back then, like any candidate with no realistic shot at winning, he was occasionally willing to speak out and let the chips fall where they would. But the Republican presidential race has been so volatile that a mere month later Huckabee finds himself with an actual shot at the nomination. So no more truthtelling for the Huck! He's George Bush's biggest supporter now, and don't you dare think otherwise.which raises the question whether huckabee will continue to break with the president, or if the foreign affairs article is just a hail mary pass left over from the days when he wasn't considered to be a serious contender.
This is just another example of why everyone should ignore bold truthtelling from minor candidates. It's easy to take unpopular stands when you have no chance of winning, but not so easy when you're actually trying to scrounge up the votes to put yourself over the top. Huckabee is just the latest victim of this eternal truth.