Usually, when a probable presidential candidate goes to the trouble of writing a book during the run up to their campaign going live, the content typically finds its way into their announcement speech and early campaign. But Mike Huckabee didn’t deploy “God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy” as a first salvo at yesterday’s launch of his presidential campaign in his hometown of Hope, Arkansas. Instead, he dusted off his 2007 book, “From Hope to Higher Ground,” to establish the narrative of his second presidential campaign launch.
Could it be the “two-America” message of “God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy” (and of John Edwards before him in 2004) didn’t play as well as he’d hoped? Perhaps. Sales were anemic – some 53,000 since its January 2015 release – and the early media book tour could be graded as less than enthusiastic.
But U.S. Presidents aren’t chosen by book sales and I think Mike Huckabee’s intuitive political instincts sensed the need for a different position. As the others declare and carve out their turf, Huckabee has returned to a familiar theme that can well define him as the “Anti-Obama.” And from the full text of his announcement speech he’s also well positioned as the “Anti-Clinton” and “Anti-Bush.”
The event had all the trappings of a High School assembly. But I think that was the point. There was no grand pageantry or slick staging. An aging but enthusiastic (and off-key) Tony Orlando warmed up the crowd for Huckabee’s friend and political mentor, Governor Asa Hutchinson. Boy Scouts presented the colors, and a wholesome high school duet sang the Star Spangled Banner. Janet Huckabee gave a warm testimony that was more about the man she married than their political life. This was as hometown as a political rally gets.
Folks, it is a long way from a little brick rent house on Second Street in Hope, Arkansas to the White House. But here in this small town called Hope, I was raised to believe that where a person started didn’t mean that’s where he had to stop. I always believed that a kid could go from Hope…to higher ground.
And then the folksy ‘aw shucks’ candidate who stunned the political establishment in 2008 was off and running for 2016. Only this time, the down home persona came with an edge, a passion and a sense of purpose that had only been teased out in his earlier run. Here was where ‘hope and higher ground’ met ‘hope and change,’ and the deliberate comparison was drawn in stark terms:
You know, it was eight years ago that a young, untested, inexperienced and virtually unknown Freshman Senator made great speeches about hope and change. But eight years later our debt’s more than doubled, America’s leadership in the world has completely evaporated, and the country is more polarized than ever in my lifetime.
Huckabee was warming to what is clearly one of his central themes, the economy:
Ninety-three million Americans don’t have jobs. And many of them who do have seen their full time job with benefits they once had become two part-time jobs with no benefits at all. We were promised hope, but it was just talk.
And the contrast of Huckabee’s expectant ‘higher ground’ with Obama’s lost hope continued through a litany of issues, from veterans to wages to home ownership, to social security and healthcare:
Veterans who kept their promises to America…now wait for months for our country to keep its promise to veterans for basic health care and assistance to cope with the scars of the very wars we’ve sent them to fight. Our veterans should be getting the first fruits of our treasury, not the leftovers.
The war on poverty hasn’t ended poverty, it’s prolonged it.
My friend, you were forced to pay for Social Security and Medicare for fifty years. The Government grabs the money from our paychecks and says it’ll be waiting for us when we turn 55. If Congress wants to take away someone’s retirement, let them end their own congressional pensions, not your social security.
Then, presaging a potential line of attack against the probability of a Hillary Clinton candidacy:
As President I promise you will get what you paid for. Because how can anyone trust government again if the steal from us, and lie to us?
One of Mike Huckabee’s well-developed advantages against his political opponents is the ability to draw complex issues in accessible terms, then find a platform statement that’s memorable and that very often shifts the paradigm on an issue. An announcement speech is only useful for topline policy positions, but these new perspectives (and a few zingers) will give the GOP field much to debate.
Real healthcare reform is going to focus on prevention and cures rather than costly intervention.
As President I will launch a curative approach to healthcare and save money and lives and not just a bunch of government programs.
…we put more pressure on our ally Israel to cease building bedrooms for their families in Judea and Samariathan we do on Iran for building a bomb.
Dealing with radicals who chant ‘death to America’ and who fund bombs and rockets to murder civilians in Israel is nonsense. When I hear our current President say he wants Christians to get off their high horse so we can make nice with radical jihadists, I wonder…if he can watch a Western from the Fifties and be able to figure out who the good guys and the bad guys really are.
As President I promise you that we will no longer merely try to contain jihadism…we will conquer it.
On Moral Clarity:
But we’ve lost our way morally. We’ve witnessed the slaughter of over 55 million babies in the name of choice and we are now threatening the foundation of religious liberty by criminalizing Christianity and demanding that we abandon Biblical principles of natural marriage.
Many politicians have surrendered to the false God of judicial supremacy. My friends, the Supreme Court is not the supreme Being and they cannot overturn the laws of nature or of nature’s God.
On Public Service:
Government in Washington is dysfunctional because it’s become the Roach Motel. People go in but they never come out.
As President I’ll fight for term limits on all three branches of government. That would help return us to the Founders’ dream that serving the public service should be a temporary duty, not a lucrative career with generous pensions and paychecks that aren’t available to the very people who pay for them.
There are some things being done at the Federal level that should have been left in the hands of the states or, even better, the families. There is no Constitutional authority to dictate Education from the Federal government. Why even have a Federal Department of Education? They flunked, and it needs to be expelled. Education policy ought to be set by states, local school boards, and best of all…by the moms and dads of the children.
Yes, we need to address the immigration issue, but not with amnesty. But we need to start with taking control of our securing our borders. But as Americans we ought to get on our knees and thank God every night that we still live in a country that people are trying to break into rather trying to break out of.
On the Economy:
I’m running for President because I know there is a difference between making a speech and making government accountable to the people who have to pay for it. You can’t spend money you don’t have. You can’t borrow money you can’t afford to pay back. And the Federal government ought to live by the rules that you have to live by, and they should function under a balanced budget.
We can never create prosperity for working people; never grow our economy out of the bottomless pit of debt; never be able to move America back to the greatest economy on earth if we continue to punish productivity and subsidize reckless irresponsibility.
It’s not that our tax system is punishing the richest people in America, they can afford accountants and lawyers who’ll find a way to protect them. It’s the people working for wages who can’t get ahead if the government penalizes…for trying to do better. As President I’ll work to pass the Fair Tax.
…we would finally rid ourselves of the biggest bully in America, the IRS. The IRS would disappear and April 15 would be just another beautiful Spring day.
On the Minimum Wage:
It’s a race to the bottom to figure out what the government determines is the least you can make. We need to be promoting the Maximum Wage, which is set for the worker who is willing to avail himself or herself of training for a job that pays a maximum amount.
We will never break the cycle of poverty by pushing people to their minimum wage. Only by empowering them to reach their maximum wage. That’s how we take people from hope to higher ground.
This country’s got to do three thing to remain free: feed itself, fuel itself, and fight for itself.
The challenge for Mike Huckabee will never be to clarify issues, or to find fresh and unique policy solutions. Those seem to come naturally for him. His demeanor is disarming. His oratory is without peer. And his perspective on practical governance is, perhaps, more developed than any currently in the race.
Huckabee’s challenge, his higher ground, will be to use his immense political and rhetorical skills to break through an already crowded field and to do so in a way that creates more than a point or two of distance from the others. Another test will be his ability to secure a significant share of lunch pail and neighborhood social conservatives (his announcement speech was a great start), with a commensurate share of moderate and younger Republicans. The polls don’t yet show it, but now that he’s all in, we’ll know soon if voters will listen more closely.
Clint Cline is the president of Design4, a messaging and media firm with offices in Florida and Washington, D.C.