The debate is over, and voters have had a full day to grieve over Jeb Bush’s body, to process Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio’s ascendance, and to listen to vacant D.C. pundits pretend John Kasich is somehow impressive. So now can we talk about how awful Mike Huckabee was?
His moment came in response to a point made by Sen. Rand Paul, who said, “Is there an area for a safety net? Can you have Medicare or Social Security? Yes. But you ought to acknowledge the government doesn’t do a very good job at it.”
“You know how much money we spent on polio last year?” Mr. Huckabee rhetorically asked the crowd during this one of many bullish defenses of the entitlement system.
“We didn’t spend any,” he answered, without prodding.
“You want to fix Medicare? Do what we did on polio. Focus on the diseases that are costing us trillions of dollars: Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Eradicate these and you’ve fixed Medicare.”
Now pause, and take in what was just said: The way to stop government spending on ailments, diseases and disorders is for government to cure all ailments, diseases and disorders.
Mr. Huckabee, by the way, is running for president as a fierce critic of President Barack Obama’s government takeover of medicine.
Pause again. Because this line of attack on Mr. Paul was news.
Does anybody here remember just two years ago when Mr. Huckabee said, “The solution to fixing medicine could lie in the past: Just pay the doctor yourself and get the government out of it”?
Now, does anybody here remember just three nights ago when Mr. Huckabee suggested that the cure to government mismanagement of health care is government curing all disease?
Does anybody here remember when Newt Gingrich said we should go to Mars?
Enough. Back to reality, and to lost opportunities. Because Wednesday offered Mr. Huckabee — a low-polling candidate who has some serious points on American culture and morality — the chance to talk substantively about a Republican cure for Medicare, an entitlement that is playing a major role in government’s insolvency. Here he had a chance to reach beyond his traditional Evangelical base and talk to 14 million people about his views on non-social issues. And as the establishment’s chosen candidate floundered, the man from Arkansas had the chance to connect with Republican voters worried about conservative rhetoric on their entitlements.
But instead, Mr. Huckabee suggested that the solution to Medicare’s ills is Uncle Sam curing the world’s diseases, like some kind of medical neocon on steroids.
It’s too bad, because with Sen. Rick Santorum languishing at 1 percent, Mr. Huckabee is the Republican field’s sole voice focused on societal issues. Over the previous two debates, his raison d’etre has been his will to tackle important but treacherous aspects of the war on tradition, including the president’s support for gender experiments and gay marriage. His presence on the stage can serve as a voice to millions of Christian voters unconcerned with tax rates, regulation and foreign affairs. Or it could serve as an embarrassment.
Granted, Mr. Huckabee has always been an economic liberal; but Wednesday evening marked a departure from reality, and an entrance into some progressive fantasy world. And Mr. Huckabee should not use those fantasies to attack conservatives. It’s bad for the party, it’s bad for the right, and it’s bad for the governor.