This week, new GOP co-frontrunner (hard to say who is in front over there) Mike Huckabee has been taking a lot of flak from Republicans. Of course this is to be expected when it is from other candidates, who are competing for the same prize he is (and they have certainly gone after him, especially Mitt Romney, who has seen Huckabee come out of nowhere to suddenly be on the verge of snatching Iowa from Mitt.) One Romney commercial attacked Huckabee's record on pardons as Governor of Arkansas, saying "Huckabee granted more pardons than the previous three Governors of Arkansas combined." Them's fightin' words in a Republican primary, because they well know who one of those former Governors of Arkansas was. And Huckabee probably earned the barbs from Romney after making an anti-Mormon comment during an interview for the New York Times magazine.
What is really different though is that Huckabee has been getting a lot of flak from 'establishment' Republicans, such as Condi Rice (part of the Bush administration) and Rush Limbaugh, who usually either praise or say nothing about candidates in Republican primaries. While Rice was responding to a comment by Huckabee critical of the Bush policy in Iraq to be sure, some of the Bush administration's policies have come in for much harsher criticism during the campaign by other candidates and the administration has chosen to turn the other cheek, so the comment by Rice represents a change from how they've treated other candidates.
It is clear to me why they are suddenly treating Huckabee like a cat in a dog pound.
The truth is, that the GOP establishment has patronized the religious right and their millons of votes sort of like patronizing a crazy old uncle, but they have been careful not to let religious conservatives get too close to the tiller, afraid they will run the party onto the rocks. They promise them the moon, and give them enough bones to make them happy.
Originally the Republican establishment wanted John McCain. He was the early front-runner, and with his traditional appeal to independents they calculated he was the Republican most likely to hold the White House for the GOP. But then McCain ran his campaign into the ground, creating an organization that required more money than he was able to raise. "Mr. fiscal conservative" was embarrassed out of the lead, and dropped into the second tier during the summer as his campaign seemed to fly apart and was deep in debt. So then Rudy Giuliani jumped up as the apparent choice of the Republican establishment. As a social liberal with a base in the northeast, they figured he could be the one who could challenge the Democrats, on their home turf. They even tried hard to sell Rudy to social conservatives as a guy who 'could win,' and Rudy, the pro-choice Republican, promised to only appoint 'strict constructionist' judges. But social conservatives never warmed to Rudy (selling a guy with Rudy's positions and his personal history to the religious right is a little like trying to sell a package of ground beef to a vegetarian.) So then they brought out former Senator and lobbyist (about as 'establishment' as it gets) Fred Thompson to try and appeal to religious conservatives, but the former actor had all the appeal of one of those zombies from, "Night of the living dead." So they went back to trying to sell them on Rudy, even convincing social conservative Godfather Pat Robertson to endorse Giuliani.
But a string of recent scandals has soured many Republicans, not just members of the religious right on Giuliani. So now, McCain (remember him) who has been hanging around on the edges of the race has re-emerged as the apparent choice of the 'establishment.' They don't want Mitt Romney, though they will get behind him if he muscles his way into the nomination (and being worth a quarter of a billion dollars and having shown himself willing to spend freely on his own campaign, Romney has the muscles, at least financially.)
But Huckabee is the guy who scares them to death. He puts exactly the face on the Republican party that they don't want. An ordained Baptist minister, he is wildly popular with social conservatives, but many of his positions (such as wanting to teach creationism in schools) are viewed with skepticism (to put it mildly) by the majority of Americans. Even on areas where he tends to the center he becomes less electable. I personally admire Huckabee for being willing to actually seriously consider his authority as a Governor to exercise pardons (he still did deny 90% of them) even when he runs the risk of what happened, that one of the many people he pardoned subsequently went to Missouri and committed a brutal murder. But it's a very risky position politically, because people will remember (or be reminded of, a la Willie Horton) the one failure and not of the dozens of people who turned their second chance into something good for themselves, their families and society. His record on taxes and spending irks fiscal conservatives (the reason his success elsewhere has not been mirrored in New Hampshire, a state where fiscal, not social conservatives dominate the Republican primary.) Unfortunately for the GOP, fiscal conservatives make the most inviting target for Democrats to appeal for crossover votes. Most national Democrats are diametrically opposed to the position of social conservatives on abortion, gay rights, creationism and other hot-button issues, but it is possible for a Democrat to be nominated who preaches or has a record of fiscal responsibility at least as good as that pushed by most Republicans. Fiscal conservatives are in many cases disillusioned by the Bush administration and GOP Congress that actually accelerated the rate of increase in Federal spending and ran up huge deficits in the process. A Huckabee nomination would make them ripe for the picking if a Democrat was ready to capitalize on this concern, and GOP insiders know it.
For these reasons, they fear Huckabee, or rather they fear that if he is the nominee he could well lead the GOP to a historic landslide defeat. Given that Congress is already firmly in control of the Democrats, and that Democrats will likely gain Senate seats this year, Republicans fear most that there could be a Democratic Presidential landslide, electing a President who had a lot of political capital to push for something like, say, national health care and who would sign all of the bills that Congress has been frustrated with this year, everything from a timetable for Iraq withdrawl to comprehensive immigration reform. There is even an outside chance (though they'd pretty much have to run the table in terms of winnable open seats and knocking off vulnerable GOP incumbents) that Democrats could next year win a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. This is very unlikely but would become more likely if the GOP suffered a crushing landslide defeat in the Presidential race.
So Huckabee in fact scares the GOP establishment. That is why they tried to establish him early on as 'second tier.' And now that he is clearly up with the raft of candidates they've been pitching to the GOP faithful, they will do anything they can to try and prevent him from actually winning the nomination.
The only candidate that would scare the GOP establishment more than Mike Huckabee if he wins the nomination, is Ron Paul.