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Mike HuckabeeAs Republican voters go to the polls in Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, and Vermont tomorrow, I hope they’ll remember  which candidate wanted to debate for them, and which one chose to serve barbecued ribs to reporters instead.

Mike Huckabee challenged John McCain to a debate before March 4, and the Values Voter coalition came through in the clutch, arranging for a debate hall and inviting both McCain and Huckabee, as well as Rep Ron Paul to participate in a March 3 debate event.

After Governor Huckabee had accepted the invitation, Senator McCain said that he had a prior commitment and begged off.  His prior commitment turned out to be a barbecue dinner for reporters, at which he apparently did nothing more than slop cole slaw and ribs onto the trays of impartial journalists.

It’s true what the Dallas Morning News published in an editorial on Sunday March 2: win or lose, a vote for Mike Huckabee is a good investment in the Republican party’s future.

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Mike Huckabee has been trying to get one more debate with John McCain ever since Mitt Romney quit the Republican presidential contest, and it appears that the moment of truth has arrived. A debate which would be hosted by the Values Voter organization has been scheduled for March 3rd at the Marriott Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas. Invitations have been extended to John McCain, Mike Huckabee, and Ron Paul.  Late yesterday (February 27) Huckabee’s campaign enthusiastically accepted the invitation. Ron Paul will no doubt do the same.

Will John McCain participate? Doing so may hurt him, considering that Huckabee is a magnificent debater while McCain is merely above average. But refusing to do so would reflect badly on a candidate who likes to run on a reputation for honor and forthrightness. McCain finds himself between a rock and a populist place.

There was a moment of passion and authority in last night’s debate when Mike Huckabee was answering a question about the Fair Tax and Tim Russert interrupted to criticize.  Huckabee smacked Russert back down into his chair and made his point.

All in all it was a solid performance by the Huckman, about what we’ve come to expect.  He made himself known with his wit, his humor, and his detailed responses – especially to McCain’s softball question on the Fair Tax.

The next week and a half is crunch time.  After hopefully taking 3rd place and 20% of the vote in Florida, the best guess here is that Huckabee’s team is hoping to lock up no fewer than five states on Super Tuesday, especially including Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.  Even better would be if Huckabee could pick up a northern state or two, and the most likely candidates seem to be Minnesota or North Dakota.

What can a conservative Republican do to help Huckabee?  Right now the campaign’s greatest need is money.  Contributions made at www.huckazoom.com will count toward today’s goal of $400,000.00, otherwise you can go to www.mikehuckabee.com to make a contribution the old fashioned way.

Here are my thoughts on the candidates’ performances in last night’s debate in New Hampshire:

Rudy Giuliani repeatedly underscores his history of public service, pointing out that he knows law enforcement and has been a successful chief executive.  Thank goodness he didn’t dwell on 9/11.  Rudy is a fantastic public speaker, but these debates aren’t great for him because he isn’t good extemporaneously.

Mike Huckabee starts out shaky, the words aren’t coming as easily as they usually do.  Makes points by citing the Declaration of Independence as the foundation of our country and our freedoms.  “Anytime you penalize productivity, it’s counterintuitive to an economy.”  Not exactly a revelation, but try to say it three times fast.  Why should we be energy independent?  Because “every time we swipe a credit card at a gas pump…” we’re supporting foreign terrorists.

John McCain put a dent in Romney by telling him “You can spend your entire fortune on attack ads, that won’t make your attacks true.”  Did well when asked for the philosophical underpinnings that will guide how he governs, recalling the oath he took when he arrived at the Naval Academy at age 17.  This answer accomplishes two things: first, it reminds people of his military service.  Secondly, it points out that almost his entire adult life has been spent as a public servant.  There are questions about McCain’s age, but tonight he seems very vital and it’s easy to forget he’s in his 70s.

Ron Paul may be right about returning to the gold standard – I’m no economist, but it doesn’t sound practical to me.  Paul says he thinks that young people support him because they’re excited about “sensible monetary policy.”  Hmmm.  He has passion, but he lacks the ability to express himself effectively.  And he still quacks.

Mitt Romney was more articulate in spurts, but also combative and obnoxious for extended periods.  Strangely, Romney at one point objected pointedly to criticism of pharmaceutical companies, “don’t make them the bad guys.”  This from a guy worth hundreds of millions of dollars.  Made sour faces, even looked pretty pissed off at McCain and Huckabee.  It was bad form and in doing so he gave away the gains he was making.

Fred Thompson scores with his candid rejection of a “windfall tax” on oil companies.  He vociferously supports diversity in our energy sources, given the international political climate it’s smart to support this position as loudly as possible.  Thompson’s got to shake the “lazy” label, and did a much better job of looking alive tonight.  I think he helped himself more than any other candidate.

Exchange of the night:

Romney: “Don’t try to characterize my position…”

Huckabee: “Which one?”

(audience laughs as Romney glowers)

Big Winner:

Fred Thompson

Finishing order:

Fred Thompson

John McCain

Mike Huckabee

Mitt Romney

Rudy Giuliani

Ron Paul

In light of the odd debate formats and less-than-stellar results we’ve been seeing on the Republican side of this election cycle’s presidential nomination contest, I’ve been thinking about what a perfect debate would look like.

I didn’t like the gimmickry of the CNN/Youtube debate, debates held by specific ethnic or advocacy groups lead to pandering, and Wednesday’s Des Moines Register debate seems to have left everyone cold.

Some people are getting sentimental for an old fashioned Lincoln-Douglas style debate, but not me.  Right now there are too many candidates for a debate in that format.  If nine guys each get two ten minute slots, you’re already at three hours.  Imagine if they each spoke for 45 minutes!  And aside from all that, I’m not sure I could handle 45 minutes from any one candidate right now.

This evening I’ve been brainstorming for a set of rules that might lead to an interesting and illuminating debate, and here are a few ideas that make sense to me.

  1. Trim the roster – there are too many candidates right now for any format to work.  There are a few guys you could lose very easily and few voters would shed a tear.  Hunter, Keyes, and Tancredo are no-hopers, and Ron Paul is barely even a Republican.  He has a bunch of money but he’s never broken 10% in any poll, and he’s going to bolt the party pretty soon anyway.  We’re now down to five candidates.
  2. Do away with the canned questions from pundits and the cutesy questions from the public – the questions should be submitted by the candidates themselves.  Ground rules include: candidates can’t submit questions for themselves/can’t be asked questions that they submitted, questions much be issues-oriented (not personal or personality-oriented), questions must be less than 250 words long, each question must either be asked only once (of one candidate) or must be asked of every candidate in attendance.
  3. Candidates should be allotted five minutes speaking time to answer each question asked of them.  If one candidate says something provocative or negative about another candidate, the other candidate gets a full five minutes to rebut.
  4. No notes are permitted and no podium or lecturn is to be provided.  The candidates will each have only a microphone stand and a chair to sit in between questions.
  5. The debate is to be free of admission, and no tickets will be allotted or distributed to the campaigns.  Seating is first-come, first-served.  This will keep candidates from packing the audience.
  6. The debate will be conducted without commercial breaks and may only be broadcast in its entirety.
  7. Each candidate will be asked the same number of questions, so if anyone fails to get equal face time it’s only because his answers were shorter.

Too many candidates!

What do you think of these rules?  Can you think of any other that you would add?  Reasons to lose any of these seven?  What improvements or innovations would you introduce?

I’m not a psychiatrist, but I think I can diagnose the mental disorder afflicting the non-Huckabee Republicans this December.  It’s called denial.

Huckabee is #1 or #2 in the country, depending on who you believe.  (Personally I believe Rasmussen Reports, which has Huckabee #1)  He’s in first place in Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, and running strong in Arkansas, Florida, Texas, and Wisconsin, as well.

And yet the other Republicans running for the nomination and their supporters are comforting themselves by saying, “This is only a bump, it won’t last.”  “Huckabee is only a blip.”  “He’ll burn out soon.”

I’ll tell you, I am not a seer.  But even I recognize that Huckabee is now a long-term player on the national political stage.  You can make a coherent case that Huckabee won’t win, and some have done so.  But to dismiss his chances completely is just wishful thinking.  Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it’s a case of denial, because denial, in the clinical sense, is “a defense mechanism in which a person is faced with a fact that is too painful to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite … overwhelming evidence.” (Wikipedia)

Maybe that’s why the pack failed to fall on Huckabee today in Des Moines, at the final debate before voting begins.  They must have believed that Huckabee would say something crazy, or have a mental breakdown at the podium.  But that didn’t happen, and now they all have three weeks to think about their mistake.

Maybe it’s hubris, maybe it’s the arrogance with which the political establishment looks at independent thinkers.  Maybe it has more to do with impotence and cognitive dissonance.  It’s not hard to imagine, after all, that the other candidates are either too jealous or too awestruck to think straight.

But I think it’s denial.