“There will be blood.” That’s not just the title of the Oscar-winning 2007 film starring Daniel Day Lewis that I have watched about 20 times on cable. (I’m sorta of obsessed with it.) It’s also what we can expect to see in the 2016 race for the Republican presidential nomination. Same goes for the Democratic presidential race if a well-funded challenger to Hillary Clinton emerges.
Both Mike Huckabee and Jeb Bush wants us to believe, though, that they are better than that and would not stoop to such tactics to win the GOP presidential nomination. These two holier-than-thou guys (especially Huckabee) want to be seen as the living, breathing manifestation of Ronald Reagan’s famous 11th Commandment: “thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.” (FYI Reagan didn’t actually coin that expression, it was first formulated by the chair of the Republican Party in California in 1965, by why let facts get in the way of canonizing Reagan, right? )
First there was Bush, who last week promised that he would not attack his fellow Republicans during the GOP primaries, noting that, "tearing down other people won't help at all.”
And then came Huckabee. While campaigning over the weekend in New Hampshire, the former pastor urged his fellow GOP candidates to not engage in a Cain versus Abel type “fratricide.” He then preached to his fellow GOPers to avoid a “free for all” and “demolition derby” among each other.
I have to give it up for both of them. Not for their sentiment. But given their own respective track records of ripping apart their Republican competitors in primaries that they were able to keep a straight face while making these statements.
Let’s look at the history of these two. Bush’s last contested GOP primary was in 1994 when he was running for governor of Florida as part of a crowded field of candidates. Bush, along with the other top-tier Republicans entries, entered into a “Clean Campaign Pledge” promising no personal attacks, just policy-based ones.
So there’s Bush a month before the September 1994 primary with a sizable lead over the pack. But then Bush “stunned” his fellow Republicans, as The New York Times noted at the time, by unleashing negative campaign ads on his top two GOP rivals. These ads alleged in part that the two other Republicans wanted to raise taxes- a claim they both vehemently disputed. (If you run an ad distorting the policy position of your opponents, you are in essence launching a personal attack—especially over taxes in a Southern GOP primary!)
And then in a sheer display of unabashed elitism, the Bush ad stated that his two opponents “are taking millions of your tax dollars to pay for their political campaigns.” The ad bragged that Bush wasn’t.
Technically Bush was correct: His opponents were taking public financing, and he wasn’t. Why? Well, because Bush was wealthy enough to bankroll his own campaign unlike his rivals.
But these attacks pale in comparison to Huckabee, who is expected to announce his presidential run on May 5. When Huckabee says a person should turn the other cheek, apparently it’s so he can slap both sides.
During Huckabee’s 2008 presidential run, he unloaded a barrage of attacks on his GOP rivals; I’m talking Old Testament, wrath of God stuff. For example a day before the 2008 New Hampshire primary, Huckabee mocked Mitt Romney for being wealthy, saying, “I can’t write a personal check for tens of millions of dollars to impress you with what a great guy I am.” Huckabee then ridiculed Romney for not knowing how to clean a gun.
And in the days before the Iowa caucus, Huckabee, reminiscent of what he’s saying now, tried to remain above the fray by holding a press conference to announce he would not run a campaign ad that called Romney “dishonest.” Of course, Huckabee knew by holding a press event it would still get the barb out there anyway.
But worse, the Huckabee campaign then aired that very ad at least 10 times in various Iowa TV markets after publicly promising not to. When Huckabee’s campaign was asked why, the response was, “the campaign gave their best effort to pull the ad. Perhaps they held a prayer circle and asked God to keep the ads off the air because a simple phone call to the TV stations would have presumably done the trick.
And after John McCain beat Huckabee in the South Carolina primary, Huckabee stood next to his pal Chuck Norris as Norris alleged that McCain was too old to be president. I may not be an expert on Jesus like Huckabee, but I’m pretty sure I know what Jesus would not do, and that’s let Chuck Norris do his dirty work for him.
Look, there’s no need for Bush and Huckabee to insult our intelligence by pretending to better than they are on the issue of negative campaigning. We all know this will be a vicious, bare knuckles brawl to the GOP nomination. And given Bush and Huckabees’ own history of attacking fellow Republicans, the question is not: Will there be blood? The only question is: How much Republican blood will they spill?