How The Other Side Lives Matters Too
It will come as no surprise that I'm no fan of Mike Huckabee. Nor that I don't much care for McCain either. And though I can't point to any specific reasons, really, I think on a personal level I always disliked Romney most of all. So it's sort of fitting that pundits are talking about the Republican VP selection field as though it were a contest between Romney and Huckabee. Virginia Postrel links to an article that's about ready to call it for Huckabee. Which, for me like for Postrel, will go in my long column of reasons not to give in to the temptation to vote against Obama by voting for McCain in November.
That said, I think Huckabee is definitely the smarter choice from McCain's point of view. This is mostly because Huckabee's base is, I strongly suspect, more solid. Yes, granted, Romney makes a better appeal to small-government conservatives, arguably the portion of the party that McCain is most alienated from. But there are two reasons why this probably doesn't matter much. First, given what he's likely running against, McCain has a pretty low bar to being the chosen candidate of fiscal conservatives in 2008. Of the two evils running, it's pretty clear he's the lesser. Second, I don't think Romney's support was ever all that solid. Fiscal conservatives didn't like or have any confidence in Romney, they just sorta figured he was the least bad in a pretty bad bunch. So it isn't as though there are disgruntled Romney supporters that McCain has to win back. They'll just transfer their reasoning from Romney to him in the general election automatically. Third and most importantly, there are reasons to believe that there isn't a viable libertarian voting block anyway. Whatever our pull, it seems likely to be less important than the Religious Right's pull. Unlike us, the Religious Right actually can deliver states at general election time. If you take the current Republican primary contest as a feedback generator for VP choice - which I do - then notice that Huckabee, who's officially out, is still doing better than Paul, who remains in. Romney, of course, "suspended" his campaign and so had his name removed - but that says a lot about his own confidence in his voter appeal - which is to say that in classic John Edwards fashion he does't want there to be any public record of his poor performance. He knows that his market value plummets once he's no longer an alternative to McCain in a way that Huckabee's and Paul's don't.
Just to be clear, I'm not at all happy about a McCain/Huckabee ticket, but then I was never happy about a McCain ticket period. I'll be voting Libertarian, as I always do. As Postrel says, choosing Huckabee (or Romney, for that matter) as running mate only makes my "wasted" LP vote that much easier to cast. But there's a point Libertarians should pay attention to here. Letting the Democrats go whole-hog to the left, as they're doing in their primary now, gives the Republicans that much more wiggle room on statism themselves. It enables tickets like McCain/Huckabee. If we're serious about wanting small government solutions, we need to talk to Democrats as well as Republicans, if only because bringing the Democrats closer to the fold means the Republicans have to compete harder on issues we care about to get our attention. Right now, McCain has the luxury of not having to worry about fiscal conservatives and small-government advocates, and that's entirely a function of who his competition is.