Saturday, August 11, 2007

Why is this man smiling?

Uh, oh. The GOP primary race just got shaken up a little.

As expected, Mitt Romney came in first in the Ames, Iowa Straw Poll. He was never going to not come in first, having spent millions of dollars on the contest. Frankly, his first-place finish is almost a non-event, considering how crazily he outspent the rest of the field on advertising, bus transportation, delegate tickets, and campaign "walking around money."

But, who came in second? It was a candidate who spent practically nothing compared to Romney - former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

He had no buses. He has not run any ads in Iowa. His tent was the least impressive of the bunch. He spent between $125,000 and $150,000 on the event, according to his campaign manager. And he only bought 1,850 tickets. Yet in the end, he got 2,587 votes. That means about 700 people either paid for their own ticket, had a ticket paid for by a third-party group or fooled another campaign into thinking they would vote for him. [Huckabee was supported, along with other candidates, by Fair Tax, an organization that wants to replace the federal income tax with a national sales tax.]

By any measure, this is a huge win for Huckabee, and a confirmation of his grassroots support in Iowa. He still has a long way to go, and no one knows what will happen when Fred Thompson jumps in the race, but this silver medal could finally bring some real money into his tiny campaign war chest. Stay tuned.
Huckabee's come-from-behind silver medal in Ames is the kind of story journalists love. I wouldn't be surprised if the next week finds Romney completely overshadowed, with Huckabee celebrated as the de facto winner - David, to Romney's Goliath.

The big loser this weekend was somebody who didn't show up in Iowa, and in fact hasn't even bothered to show up in the race yet - Fred Thompson.

By the time Freddie K-Street finally ambles into the race, if he ever does, he might find that there's a new heartthrob in town. All the Republicans are looking for is somebody with a better-than-snowball's chance at beating Obama or Hillary next year. The sole reason so many of them have projected their hopes onto a cipher like Thompson was their disgust at the prospect of being stuck with Giuliani, Romney, or McCain. Now, arguably, they have a credible alternative, and one who actually seems to want the job.

Thompson's candidacy always sounded like a joke to me, but if he was serious, it looks like he played it coy just a little longer than he should have.

Huckabee could fizzle, but I suspect he won't. For religious conservatives, Huckabee, a Baptist Minister, is the real deal. For pragmatic Republicans, the second-place finish in Iowa gives him some "electability" street cred. It would not surprise me to see a whole bunch of people who barely knew his name on Friday jumping onto the back of Mike Huckabee's campaign bus in the weeks and months ahead.


Ian said...

Huckabee is a very adroit public speaker. He communcates his message in life-like, cogent terms, with compelling examples like the story he told (at the Ames Straw Poll) of what his then-11-yo daughter entered into the "Comments" section of a Visitors Book after visiting the Yad Vashem holocaust museum: “Couldn't somebody do something?”


Huckabee puts listeners at ease, and reassures them through clear concepts and a natural, integrated manner of communication (no doubt something well-cultivated as a pastor). He’s not demanding, like a Ron Paul, nor is he as “well-scripted” as Romney, nor as mechanical-squinty like Brownback.

Most importantly, Huckabee convinces many that he is ONE with the FairTax grassroots movement. While many - like Romney, and others, who are invested in the current income tax system - seek to demagog the well-researched FairTax plan, its acceptance in the professional / academic community continues to grow. Failure to enact the FairTax - choosing instead to try to "flatten" a NON-FLATTENABLE income tax system - will result in an irrevocable economic meltdown!

Just take a look at the WEAK response Romney followed Huckabee with on last weekend’s “This Week with Geo. Stephanopoulos.”

Here is why the FairTax MUST replace the income tax. It's:

• SIMPLE, easy to understand
• EFFICIENT, inexpensive to comply with and doesn't cause less-than-optimal business decisions for tax minimization purposes
• FAIR, loophole free and everyone pays their share
• LOW TAX RATE, achieved by broad base with no exclusions
• PREDICTABLE, doesn't change, so financial planning is possible
• UNINTRUSIVE, doesn't intrude into our personal affairs or limit our liberty
• VISIBLE, not hidden from the public in tax-inflated prices or otherwise
• PRODUCTIVE, rewards, rather than penalizes, work and productivity

Its benefits are as follows:

• No more tax on income - make as much as you wish
• You receive your full paycheck - no more deductions
• You pay the tax when you buy "at retail" - not "used"
• No more double taxation (e.g. like on current Capital Gains)
• Reduction of "pre-FairTaxed" retail prices by 20%-30%
• Adding back 29.9% FairTax maintains current price levels
• FairTax would constitute 23% portion of new prices
• Every household receives a monthly check, or "pre-bate"
• "Prebate" is "advance payback" for monthly consumption to poverty level
• FairTax's "prebate" ensures progressivity, poverty protection
• Finally, citizens are knowledgeable of what their tax IS
• Elimination of "parasitic" Income Tax industry
• Those possessing illicit forms of income will ALSO pay the FairTax
• Households have more disposable income to purchase goods
• Savings is bolstered with reduction of interest rates

• Corporate income and payroll taxes revoked under FairTax
• Business compensated for collecting tax at "cash register"
• No more tax-related lawyers, lobbyists on company payrolls
• No more embedded (hidden) income/payroll taxes in prices
• Reduced costs. Competition - not tax policy - drives prices
• Off-shore "tax haven" headquarters can now return to U.S
• No more "favors" from politicians at expense of taxpayers
• Resources go to R&D and study of competition - not taxes
• Marketplace distortions eliminated for fair competition
• US exports increase their share of foreign markets

• 7% - 13% economic growth projected in the first year of the FairTax
• Jobs return to the U.S.
• Foreign corporations "set up shop" in the U.S.
• Tax system trends are corrected to "enlarge the pie"
• Larger economic "pie," means thinner tax rate "slices"
• Initial 23% portion of price is pressured downward as "pie"
• No more "closed door" tax deals by politicians and business
• FairTax sets new global standard. Other countries will follow

UncommonSense said...

Which brings me to why Huckabee will not be president.

A fundamental, all-at-once overhaul of this nation's tax structure is a non-starter in the current political environment. The tax code, while always of interest to one degree or another, is simply not where the passions of Americans lie right now. At this moment in history, the American imagination is consumed with one issue: national security.

Maybe in a world where people are not literally afraid of being blown up today, tomorrow, or the next day, there would be enough room in the national consciousness for a debate about the tax structure. But if Steve Forbes couldn't make Americans feel invested in the idea of a flat tax in 1996, during the peace and prosperity of the Clinton years, Mike Huckabee cannot sell it in 2008. Frankly, he would do just as well to base his campaign on a return to the gold standard.

If Huckabee really wants to capture the national imagination with a Big Idea, he should try energy indpendence - something which relates directly to national security, and which one could reasonably present as a relief to the omnipresent dread of terrorism that George W. Bush has spent six years cultivating.

If Barack Obama's campaign of Hope succeeds in lifting the fog of fear from the American mind, FairTax advocates could find people at least willing to discuss the issue in 2012. The pragmatic, reassuring competence of a President Hillary Clinton could make Americans receptive to such a debate as well.

But there are only so many Big Ideas that Americans have the energy to care about, and at this particular moment, a complete overhaul of the tax code will have to stand in line and wait its turn. If Huckabee wants to be seen as a credible candidate for the presidency, rather than as a one-issue sideshow, he will accept that fact sooner rather than later.