During his announcement, we noted new Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s economic populism and strong defense of Social Security and Medicare — it’s clearly popular among a subset of the GOP base, voters who conceptually hate government programs but don’t want anyone messing with the ones they depend on. The problem for Huckabee is that the Republican Party has tax cuts for the rich as its organizing principle, a platform only possible via cutting benefits for entitlement programs. The New York Times dives in to Huck’s apostasy on fiscal policy, which has earned him the scorn of groups like the Club for Growth:
But his pledge to fend off any tinkering with the popular Social Security and Medicare programs put him at odds with his Republican opponents, exposing growing fault lines in the party over an issue that has long been considered a political third rail.
At the core of Republican concerns about the programs is a traditional distrust of big-government largess, coupled with growing fears about their long-term insolvency. Yet the party’s base of white — and often older — voters includes many blue-collar conservatives who mistrust the government but depend on its programs for older Americans.
In defending the programs, Mr. Huckabee used fiery language more commonly aligned with the populist sentiments of Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts. Washington, he said in a video announcing his candidacy, “has done enough lying and stealing. I’ll never rob seniors of what our government promised them and even forced them to pay for.”
My guess is that deep-pocked GOP insiders have enough power to make a campaign like Huckabee’s doomed. Still, if his message resonates it may put pressure on the Republican party to eventually cater to a base that is increasingly dominated by the elderly. U.S. Rep. Tom Cole is quoted in the Times article saying that Huckabee is telling people they can have their cake and eat it too. I predict that this will precisely be the strategy that the Republican party arrives at: cutting taxes and protecting entitlement programs that benefit the middle class and the elderly. In short, a return to the George W. Bush model of ignoring deficits.