U.S. forces are making "significant progress" in Iraq, but even a military victory wouldn't necessarily lead to a Western-style democracy there, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee says.
Huckabee's fledgling campaign got a boost last weekend when he came in second in the Iowa Straw Poll. Huckabee served 10 years as governor of Arkansas. As a presidential candidate, he's focused on opposing abortion and same-sex marriage, and supporting a national sales tax.
He says the GOP will need to make some changes if it is going to hold on to the White House in 2008.
"People are clearly frustrated with government at all levels," he tells Renee Montagne. "We saw its collapse after Katrina, and that's one of the reasons that I think the elections turned so dramatically last year. It wasn't just Iraq. It was what was perceived as really incompetence in government. Republicans spending as much as Democrats were, coming across as a wholly owned subsidiary of Wall Street. All of those things added up to a disastrous year for Republicans."
In an interview with Montagne, Huckabee discusses his stances on Iraq, health care and overhauling the tax system.
Let's talk about the issues. Iraq is clearly on many voters' minds. You are on record as supporting this buildup of troops. What do you see as the long-term role for the U.S. in Iraq and its obligation to that country, if any?
Well, long term, once we find a way to remove ourselves from a day-to-day operation, I hope that we'd leave them alone. But for the time being, we certainly have to make sure that we don't leave it in a bigger mess than it was already in.
The good news for us, even though some members of Congress don't seem to want to be able to take yes for an answer, the initial reports are that there is significant progress that is being made.
Though when you're saying there's progress, there is military progress, and even Democratic leaders are saying that right now. That's an entirely different thing from saying we're winning this war. In fact, politically, there are some real problems.
Well, if we talk about winning the war, that is a military victory and that's what we're speaking of. Does it mean that Iraq is going to be a perfectly wonderful and delightful place where we'll take our kids on vacation? I doubt it. Our goal is not to make it a vacation spot. Our goal is simply to allow them to have some self-determination. And I don't think their government will ever look like the kind of democracy that we're used to seeing in the West. I'm not sure that it's functional within their culture.
Another entirely different but equally important issue to Americans is health coverage. You've called this country's health care system broken.
You don't want to see the federal government dictate changes. So what changes would you push for and who would pay?
I want to make clear the federal government has a role in making the changes. I just don't want to see them become the sole-source payer and the owner of your health care or mine. One of the things that has to happen in our health care system is to change the focus from a sick care system, which is what we have now, to a true health care system. And then focus on prevention rather than intervention.
I'll give you some examples. When I was governor of Arkansas, we eliminated co-pays and deductibles for colonoscopies, mammograms, prostate cancer exams. We started covering such things as weight-loss programs because the cost of weight-loss programs are far less expensive than the incredible expense that's involved with people who are significantly overweight and develop Type 2 diabetes.
You speak from a rather hard experience.
Absolutely. I had to lose 110 pounds to regain my own personal health about five years ago. And I know right now I'm costing a whole lot less than I did five years ago.
Let's talk about spending federal dollars. Groups like the Conservative Club for Growth accuse you of being a tax-and-spend liberal, just like your fellow Arkansas, now former, Gov. Bill Clinton. Will you be able to appeal to fiscal conservatives in a primary or general election?
Absolutely. I support the complete change of a tax system from what we currently have, which is a tax system that penalizes productivity, going to a complete consumption tax.
Basically, it's a national sales tax.
Exactly. It's a consumption tax. You only pay tax when you purchase something.
And this national sales tax is combined with no income tax.
No income tax. The IRS disappears, and we end the underground economy. Prostitutes, pimps gamblers, illegals — people who are living in the underground economy — would start paying taxes like the rest of us.
Once considered more a curiosity than a bona fide contender, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is now the chief remaining rival to front-runner Sen. John McCain of Arizona for the Republican presidential nomination.
But the math is against Huckabee, who trails far behind McCain in the count of delegates to the Republican National Convention. Huckabee has said he will remain in the race until either he or McCain secure the total number of delegates needed to officially clinch the Republican nomination.
Huckabee's support lies in large part with evangelical conservatives, who make up a sizable portion of the GOP base. It was these voters that helped catapult him to victory in Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses on Jan. 3. Huckabee swept the Southern states on Super Tuesday, but he has won just one contest — in Kansas — since then.
Also on Huckabee's side is a high likability factor: The ordained Baptist minister is also an accomplished bass guitarist, and on the campaign trail, he often wins laughs from audiences with his off-the-cuff quips. Among his vocal supporters is action-movie star Chuck Norris, whose visibility on the campaign trail has helped raise Huckabee's profile among younger voters.
Huckabee first gained a small national profile in 2004 — not for his accomplishments as governor, but for his dramatic weight loss.
Huckabee dropped 110 pounds after he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. He then pushed for programs to encourage Arkansans to quit smoking, exercise more and eat better. He did the same nationwide, when he promoted his book Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork.
Huckabee was lieutenant governor in 1996, when Democratic Gov. Jim Guy Tucker resigned after being convicted of a felony in the Whitewater investigation. After serving out Tucker's term, Huckabee went on to win two four-year terms of his own.
Huckabee has described himself as a "paradoxical Republican" for advocating some policies not usually associated with conservatives, such as extending health coverage to uninsured Arkansas children. He has also been criticized by many on the right for his tax and immigration policies while governor.
But he's right in step with conservatives on other issues. Huckabee has backed the war in Iraq. He opposes abortion rights, same-sex marriage and civil unions. And during a GOP debate in May 2007, he indicated that he didn't believe in evolution. He later clarified his position, saying he does believe evolution should be taught in schools.