Former Gov. Mike Huckabee–who is also a host on Fox News–previewed a likely 2016 presidential campaign in his speech at CPAC. He balanced Republican base priorities and general election topics with a style and delivery that suggests other 2016 hopefuls cannot dismiss this man who won the Iowa Caucuses in 2008, if he jumps into the fray.
Huckabee’s points all began with, “I know,” a form of confessional creed of Christian and conservative Republican beliefs, including those that get the most traction with middle voters in a general election campaign. Huckabee showcased the skills he gained from more than a decade of being governor of a Democratic-leaning swing state (which only years before had elected Bill Clinton to multiple terms as governor), polished by several years of being a national television and radio host.
The former Southern Baptist pastor started by appealing to that part of the GOP base, proclaiming, “I know there’s a God, and I know that this nation would not exist if he had not been the midwife of its birth. And I know that this nation exists by the providence of his hand….”
He no doubt antagonized the secular-dominated national media by quoting Ruth Bell Graham, the well-known late wife of Billy Graham, who once spoke of “fiery judgment” and referenced Sodom and Gomorrah if America forsakes God to embrace a national culture that rejects biblical truth. “A nation that remembers him is a nation that will be remembered by him,” Huckabee promised.
He tapped into the growing fears and frustrations of his fellow Evangelicals, who have been terminated from jobs and/or their businesses sanctioned for expressing Christian beliefs. “I hope that’s something that Americans are never ashamed of, and never afraid to speak,” Huckabee said. He also took a veiled swipe at the national media, saying that such sentiments are derided by many who control what to put on the national airwaves. “But in the hearts of most Americans, deep down, we know it to be true.”
The governor hit domestic policy, beginning with an issue that is red-hot among Republicans but is almost certain to be a winning general-election issue as well: healthcare. He decried that many Americans under Obamacare could not keep their doctor or their insurance plans, and that costs were increasing, instead of President Obama’s promise to decrease family costs by $2,500 per year.
Huckabee tied Obamacare to the broadest general-election topic: jobs. “All the part-time workers stay part-time, full-time workers become part-time, and people who used to try to grow their businesses past 50 now do everything they can to keep their businesses under 50. That’s not how to build a healthy economy.”
The Fox News host then bounced back to social issues. “I know that mothers and fathers raise better children than government ever will.” He says those who have the children should be the ones who raise those children. He elaborated by saying that parents–not government–should decide issues such as where to go to school and what the school should serve on its menu, an oblique criticism of First Lady Michelle Obama’s efforts for a federal takeover of school nutrition.
He also touched upon the story that Breitbart News reported on Feb. 28, of a 15-year-old girl who had been taken from her family for 13 months and given to a children’s hospital: “There’s something wrong when government kidnaps children from their own families.” (Days after reporting by Breitbart News and Fox News, the family court in Massachusetts returned the girl to her family.)
Huckabee then shifted to foreign policy, going directly after Hillary Clinton and highlighting what would be a key part of his general election campaign if he should win the GOP nomination and face the likely Democratic standard-bearer. “Four Americans died in Benghazi and our government lied to us about what happened.” He stated, “With all due respect to Hillary Clinton, it does makes a difference why they died, and who did it.”
Then he ping-ponged back to domestic policy, tapping into Tea Party frustration by leveling the accusation, “I know that the IRS is a criminal enterprise,” one that is targeting conservative groups. He says the solution is to completely abandon federal income taxes on both individuals and corporations, replacing it with the “Fair Tax,” which would be a tax added to purchases nationwide. This would enable America to abolish the IRS, he explained.
The governor then returned to social issues with a pro-life message, proclaiming, “I know that life begins at conception, and that a society that sacrifices its own children is no better than the ancient Philistines.” He said all people are created equal, and have intrinsic value. “We all have value. And none of us are disposable, and none of us is expendable. And every life should be treated with dignity and respect.”
He then shifted to veterans. “This nation must make sure that the first-fruits of its treasury” go to give veterans the care they need, Huckabee said, and set forth a policy priority by adding that all other Americans “must stand behind them before we get anything from this government.”
From there, Huckabee broadly addressed security both foreign and domestic. “I know that freedom is better than tyranny.” He added a quick domestic focus referencing how the Obama administration is using the National Security Agency’s surveillance program and possibly other government monitoring, saying, “I also believe that a government that spies on its people and lies to its people is taking us on a trajectory toward tyranny, and must be changed now.”
He then shifted the security focus to foreign policy and what would be a another theme in his campaign. Earlier in his speech, he lamented without elaborating that there is “no country where we have a better relationship than five years ago.”
Now he returned to that foreign-relations theme, warning, “No one trusts us, no one listens to us, no one respects us, and no one fears us.” He specifically faulted Obama for his mistreatment of Israel, and coddling Iran. “That, my friends, is insanity. And I know it. And you know it as well.” He spoke of the need for military readiness, and condemned Obama’s announced plans to enact deep cuts into the size and funding of the U.S. armed forces.
Huckabee headed into the home stretch by addressing the Constitution directly, specifically the two provisions in the Bill of Rights conservatives regard as most under assault by the Obama administration. He declared, “And I know this: I know that the First Amendment guarantees the right of free speech, … and that it guarantees religious liberty for every person.” He added that when massive government programs (such as Obamacare) coerce Americans into violating their conscience, he announced, “it’s time for the government to scale back, not for people of faith to scale back. Religious liberty should be unimpeded in this nation.”
The other Bill of Rights provision he referenced was the right to keep and bear arms, not only in its self-defense aspect, but also its historical purpose of enabling the American people to resist tyranny if any future president would one day seek to hold onto power through oppressing the American people with military might. “I know that the Second Amendment is the only last resort we have in this country to protect all of the other freedoms that we enjoy, and God help us if we ever forget that.”
The governor finished with a call for party unity, implicitly criticizing Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and possibly Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) as well, but careful not to mention names and to end on a positive and inclusive note. “Conservatives need to focus on how we will lead this country, not how we will bleed each other.”
Gov. Huckabee has frequently mentioned over the years that Bill Clinton was also from his small town of Hope, Arkansas. Last week’s CPAC speech strongly suggests that there is another man from Hope, Arkansas, with his eye on the White House.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal analyst for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.