In the wake of Tuesday's elections, what's the future of the Republican Party – big tent or conservative enclave?
Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and Republican presidential candidate in 2008, says there's room in the party even for people like Dede Scozzafava, the liberal Republican who was effectively run out of her House race in New York's 23rd District by conservatives. The Democrat ended up beating the Conservative candidate there.
"Oh, I think it's fine to have them in the Republican Party," Mr. Huckabee told reporters Wednesday at a Monitor breakfast. "It doesn't mean I have to support all of them equally."
"The tent could be big, but it shouldn't have holes in the ceiling and let the rain come through," he continued. "What we have to be careful of is, we don't have a party that says, it has to be just like me and nothing but. Can there be people who don't have my view on the sanctity of life in the Republican Party? Of course. People who have a different view of marriage than I do? Sure they can.
"Can they be Republican? Yes. Will they get my support? No."
Ms. Scozzafava, a state assemblywoman who was selected by local party chairs as the Republican nominee, supports abortion rights and gay marriage and enjoyed union backing in the campaign. Unlike many other nationally known conservatives, Huckabee did not declare a preference in the race, he said, as a courtesy to conservatives in Syracuse, where he was giving a talk. He endorsed the Conservative, Doug Hoffman, after Scozzafava dropped out.
"I thought the process by which she was selected was in fact the train wreck," he said. "It was truly boneheaded to pick someone who had ACORN/union backing, was pro-abortion, pro-same-sex marriage, pro-Obama healthcare. There were just so many things that she was just at odds not just with the mainstream of the party, but she was more liberal than most of the Democrats in Congress."
Still, Huckabee is against third-party candidates. More often than not, he says, they end up throwing the race to the candidate voters like least. He was surprised that Republican Chris Christie defeated incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine (D) in New Jersey, despite the presence of an independent candidate in the race.
"I continually remind people, if you really don't like what either of the parties are doing – and there are a lot of people who don't – pick one that you like a little more than you like the other, that you hate the least, get involved in it, and change it," Huckabee said.
In Florida, a hot GOP primary race is developing for the US Senate between moderate former Gov. Charlie Crist and conservative former state House Speaker Marco Rubio. Huckabee is backing Mr. Rubio, who is Cuban American. "He's the face and future of the Republican Party," Huckabee says.
Huckabee called the primary process healthy. "It helps us sort out who we are," he says.
Since his presidential campaign, which caught fire for a while – he won the Iowa caucuses – Huckabee has been a weekend talk show host on Fox, on the lecture circuit, and writing. He came to the breakfast to hawk his new book, "A Simple Christmas: Twelve Stories that Celebrate the True Holiday Spirit."
But as he prepares to embark on a 64-city tour to promote the book, which he calls nonpolitical, isn't it possible that he's setting the stage for another presidential run in 2012? "That's really not the case," he said, adding that he won't focus on his political future until 2010 is over. "It's ridiculous to speculate about 2012 now."
In the meantime, he's happy to share his political views. He was thrilled by the result of Tuesday's referendum in Maine, which overturned a state law legalizing same-sex marriage.
"It just goes to show that even in a very, very liberal state like Maine, where the governor himself and the legislature came out and supported it, when the people have the chance to affirm traditional marriage, they do it," Huckabee says. "Thirty-one out of 31 states. It's a batting average there that has no equal."
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