Huck and Sarah

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From this week's New Yorker:

Asked about Sarah Palin, he responded, "She, uh, was an appropriate choice, because she put John McCain back in the game." That was the get-along answer, but a few minutes later the new, aggrieved Huckabee resurfaced. He recalled, "It was funny that all through the primary--I mean literally up until McCain got enough delegates to win--people said, 'You know, Huckabee's really running for Vice-President. Gee, Huckabee would be a great Vice-President.' And from that day forward, when I actually was no longer running for President, nobody ever said, 'Gee, Huckabee would be a great Vice-President.' " Neither was he quite so unperturbed by the Palin pick: "I was scratching my head, saying, 'Hey, wait a minute. She's wonderful, but the only difference was she looks better in stilettos than I do, and she has better hair.' It wasn't so much a gender issue, but it was like they suddenly decided that everything they disliked about me was O.K. . . . She was given a pass by some of the very people who said I wasn't prepared."

Hey, I didn't forget you, Huck! Meanwhile, Allahpundit notes that he has a point:

Er, what is the major difference between her and Huck, aside from the fact that he has much more executive experience than she does? He's impeccably socially conservative; so is she. He's questionable on amnesty; so is she. He's prone to anti-Wall Street rhetoric aimed at pandering to blue-collar voters; so is she. The big rap on him is that he's always seemed a tad too comfortable with regulation for Republican tastes, but he stridently opposed the bailout while she supported some form of intervention to avert another Great Depression. (She's opposed to additional bailouts.) It can't all come down to taxes, can it? The 'Cuda's record isn't spotless there, either.

He goes on to suggest that the big difference is a matter of tone: "Palin's charm rests in her perceived authenticity whereas Huck's guileless nice-guy persona is forever being undercut by sniping at Republican rivals and "innocent" misunderstandings that look suspiciously like sly, nasty attacks." Maybe - but Palin didn't seem to have much trouble working barbed remarks into her "authentic" rhetoric. I'd say the difference has more to do with the fact that Huckabee was running in a primary campaign, when both he and his Republican opponents had an interest in highlighting his deviations from party orthodoxy - in his case, to win favorable press coverage and separate himself from the also-ran pack; in their case, to undercut his appeal among ideological conservatives. Palin, on the other hand, was dropped straight into a general-election campaign, which created a completely different dynamic. Since she was standing in the way of Barack Obama's coronation, she took immediate and constant fire from liberals in a way that Huckabee never did, which endeared her instantly to conservatives who might otherwise have looked askance at her gubernatorial record and occasional campaign-trail deviations from the right-wing line. And whereas Huckabee actively embraced his role as a "new kind of Republican," the McCain campaign quickly gave up on its half-hearted attempts to portray Palin in that light, and instead ran with the narrative that she represented the beau (belle?) ideal of traditional conservatism.

Also, obviously, the personal details made a big difference. Huckabee had a good "up by your bootstraps" personal story, but Palin had a better one. A self-made Alaskan who hunts moose is more appealing/interesting than a self-made Arkansan who fries squirrel; the Down's Syndrome child trumps the weight-loss story; etc. And yes, yes, of course - if Mike Huckabee had been Michelle Huckabee instead, with heels and hair and sex appeal instead of a receding hairline, that would have probably given him a boost as well.

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Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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