From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
WASHINGTON -- Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee softened up the
crowd here at the Conservative Political Action Conference with lots of
red meat in the first half of his speech. But he used the capital of
that first part to steamroll conservative critics from the fiscal wing
of the party for most of the rest.
"We didn't lose because of social conservatives," Huckabee said of the
2008 election results. He added that it wasn't because social
conservatives are against putting "babies" in "wastebaskets," it's
because, "We [Republicans] were too tied to people who would spend
$1,400 on a wastebasket, like the clueless John Thain. ...Where I come
from, $1,400 is three courses at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock
and $87,000 is the price of a house."
Thain, the former Merrill Lynch chief executive, reportedly spent more
than $1 million redecorating his office, including $87,000 on a rug.
"The GOP can't be a haven for rich, white guys," Huckabee added. He
called himself "prophetic" for saying during the campaign that the party was too close to
Wall Street. And he lashed out against conservative
critics -- from whom he's still waiting for an "apology," he said --
who criticized his "populist" rhetoric on the campaign trail.
"I'm not a Republican because I grew up rich," Huckabee said, reprising a line, notably from his Republican National Convention speech. "I'm a Republican because I grew up poor and didn't want to sit around waiting for the government to come rescue me."
Huckabee told fiscal conservatives they should embrace -- not criticize -- social conservatives.
"That's wrong," he said, as only about two-thirds of the crowd stood and cheered. "Fiscal conservatives need to realize without strong families," Republicans can't achieve their goals.
Huckabee had a rocky relationship with fiscal conservatives on the campaign trail. The Club for Growth, for example, ran two mocking ads against him in the run up to the Iowa caucuses. They were the only ads, by our count, by an outside Republican group that singled out a particular Republican during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Huckabee, who maintains a strong Christian evangelical base, never got along well with Mitt Romney, a favorite of the fiscal wing, during the 2008 campaign. (Romney, who won the last two years' CPAC presidential preference straw polls, speaks tomorrow.)
The Huckster (Yuk-ster?) returns
Huckabee's speech was also replete with the classic Huckabee one-liners, a trait familiar to reporters who followed candidate Huckabee.
Here's a sampling:
"This year, we might be asking, 'Dude, where's my country?'" …
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is dead, he said, but the "Union of American Socialists is being born." …
"Even Obamaweek, formerly Newsweek said, 'We're all socialists now.'" (He took his shots at MSNBC cable, too.)…
He called Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, "Turbo Tax Tim" and poked fun at Nancy Pelosi -- "…as fast as Nancy Pelosi jumping out of her seat at an Obama speech." …
"They pulled the TARP over our eyes."…
He re-dubbed the stimulus, the "Congressional Recovery Action Plan." He repeated it for emphasis for those who didn't get the acronym the first time -- CRAP. "If it looks like Congressional Recovery Action Plan… and smells like Congressional Recovery Action Plan--."
He called the stimulus an "$800 billion spending spree they call a stimulus." …
If it were a movie, it could be titled, "Confessions of a Shop-a-holic." …
On bailouts, "We should have paid them in Monopoly money…."
"Tyson Foods [an Arkansas company] just lost its claim as the world's largest producer of pork." …
He again called for implementation of the Fair Tax and for a shut down of the IRS. That got his biggest applause, in fact, a sustained standing ovation. One thing that would mean, he said, "We wouldn't have a tax cheat running our tax system."
"The GOP wants a level playing field; Democrats want a level finish line." …
"They are obsessed with slicing bread equally among an even more needy populace."