Alex Massie

Mike Huckabee’s Middle Eastern Hucksterism

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First there was Mitt Romney and his plan to redouble his efforts to appeal to the Republican party's nationalist base; now Mike Huckabee is in Israel doing much the same thing. To wit, Huckabee rejects the idea of a two state solution entirely:

Speaking to a small group of foreign reporters in Jerusalem, Huckabee, seen as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2012, said the international community should consider establishing a Palestinian state some place else.

"The question is should the Palestinians have a place to call their own? Yes, I have no problem with that. Should it be in the middle of the Jewish homeland? That's what I think has to be honestly assessed as virtually unrealistic."

Granted, the prospects for a two-state solution - or any other peace plan for that matter - seems awfully distant right now. Indeed, while it's possible to construct a theoretical or conceptual "road" to a solution, the practicalities of building that road are a different matter entirely. In that limited sense, Huckabee is right that, at present, a two state solution is "unrealistic". Huckabee, however, goes rather further than that. Indeed, he goes further than any American President, of either party and takes a position that, startlingly, puts Netanyahu to Huckabee's left.

Where does Huckabee think a Palestinian state should be? He doesn't say. Uganda perhaps...

Perhaps Huckabee really means this. That's fine. But it's not very clever politics. Huckabee's problem is getting himself to be taken seriously by a party establishment that didn't have very much time for him in 2008. And since Huckabee is no friend to the GOP's corporate or libertarian wings he can't count on much support there either.

You could argue that this leaves him with little option than to maximise his appeal to his own base: the evangelical movement. But evangelicals (in as much as they can be treated as a group and with all the necessary caveats that doing so implies) also like to vote for candidates that they think have a chance of winning. (The same is true for African-American voters: Obama's support amongst black voters rocketed after he'd shown in Iowa that he could get white voters to support him.) That means that if Huckabee wants to maximise his chances, he needs to reassure non-evangelical voters. That doesn't mean he can abandon the religious right, but he can't be seen as the creature of the religious right.

This sort of stunt only increases the perception that Huckabee is not a serious candidate. This kind of "support" for Israel plays well with a certain part of the GOP base, but at the price of diminishing the seriousness with which other parts of the GOP coalition will treat Huckabee. There was a jokey quality to Huck's campaign last time. The way he's going he's not going to be very much more serious this time around either.

So, we still wait for a leading conservative or prospective 2012 candidate to do something other than reassure the base that he (or she) is One of Us. Perhaps giving the base what they want is the smart play right now and perhaps conservatives are right to think that Obama will overplay his hand, creating the opportunity for the GOP to return to power. It's still early days. But at some point some Republican is going to have to venture into the world beyond the base.

Of course, in Huckabee's case in this instance perhaps there's no actual politics involved. Perhaps he really means this. In which case he's still not doing his electoral prospects very much good.

(Just to be clear: there can't be any peace in the middle east until the Palestinian authorities make the first move. However, that doesn't mean that the continuing growth of Israeli settlements is anything other than an exceedingly unhelpful development that makes a proper peace agreement less, not more, probable. Still, the onus is on the Palestinians to produce the first of many "confidence building" measures.)


Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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