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Mike Huckabee on how Mitt Romney can help the middle class

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee speaks during the 2011 Republican Leadership Conference on June 16, 2011 in New Orleans, La.

Kai Ryssdal: We had one-time Democratic strategist and present-day Democratic pundit James Carville on the broadcast last week, talking about what he thinks President Obama has to do to hang onto his job.

Today, the other side of the aisle. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee -- himself a GOP hopeful four years ago -- talking about what Mitt Romney ought to be doing. Governor, good to have you here.

Mike Huckabee: Thank you Kai, great to be here.

Ryssdal: What do you think of the idea that the middle class is key to who's going to win this race in November?

Huckabee: I think the middle class is key to who's going to win the race. They're the primary people in this country right now whose future is the most uncertain. People who are in the economic underclass have government to sort of keep them from falling completely beyond the floor. The people in the upper class probably have enough stashed away like squirrels with nuts in the winter, that no matter what the economic conditions, they're going to land on their feet. They may have to make some adjustments, but they're not going to go to the Goodwill and get their clothing. But the people in the middle class are really losing economic empowerment. They're the ones who are working harder than they were two and three and four years ago, but they're not seeing more for that.

Ryssdal: So here's the corollary: Are they getting the attention they are due from the president and from Gov. Romney?

Huckabee: They're getting a lot of political rhetoric, but they're not getting the policy changes that are necessary. And when the president goes out and demonizes business and makes it as if people who have been successful and who have invested and gotten a return, somehow ought to be punished for that -- it just shows a complete, absolute lack of understanding of what does create opportunity for the middle class.

Ryssdal: Come on, the president has no concept of how the economy works and how to resolve things for the middle class?

Huckabee: I don't think he does.

Ryssdal: Come on.

Huckabee: Absolutely not. I mean, nobody with IQ above broccoli is out there saying that they would do better if their taxes went up and if the regulations on them got stronger.

Ryssdal: Help me understand how a middle-class voter looks at Gov. Romney and says, 'This is going to help me.'

Huckabee: I think the key thing they have to realize is if they had $10,000 to invest, they would have to ask themselves, 'If I had $10,000 and entrusted it to either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama to take care of that and get something back above my $10,000, who would I entrust it to? The guy that invested in things like Solyndra and Fisker, that outsourced taxpayer jobs out of the country? Or Romney, who had some failures, but he had an 80 percent success rate in the investments at Bain?'

Ryssdal: If that's the case, sir, then why is it that the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll has Barack Obama up by 12 points on the question of who's going to do more to help the middle class: Gov. Romney or the president?

Huckabee: I think it's a perception issue. But perception isn't reality. You know, if a person goes out there and says long enough and loud enough and often enough that 'I really care about you,' maybe there's some people gullible enough to believe it.

Ryssdal: But they're both doing it, sir, come on.

Huckabee: Well of course they are. But one of them has had his hands on the wheel of the vehicle, and he has not made things better. One thing that I do believe Mitt Romney's got to do -- and this is an area that if I were sitting down with him, I would say: Tell your story, it's a good story, but make sure that the people you talk to understand that you are not oblivious to how hard they work and how little they're getting ahead because of it.

Ryssdal: Do you think he is doing it right now? Is it resonating do you think?

Huckabee: I think there's probably some room for message improvement, but overall, I think his message --

Ryssdal: Oh come on.

Huckabee: No, I'm just saying, I'm just telling you: I think there's always room for that, but do I think that his message is better than that of Barack Obama, who continues to blame everybody but himself? Every speech -- I've not heard Barack Obama give a speech that didn't start with 'I inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression.' That's where I find that this president seems out of touch.

Ryssdal: Last question before I let you go, sir. If he calls you up sometime in the next 10 days, two weeks, and says, 'Mike, I'd like you to run with me as my vice president,' what are you going to say?

Huckabee: Well, I'd picked myself up off the floor, since I haven't had any contact from them at all.

Ryssdal: None at all.

Huckabee: But it would clearly that they have not had any interest up until that last moment. It must be that everybody else on the list had turned them down that they had fully vetted. So it would be quite a surprise if I got the call.

Ryssdal: Gov. Mike Huckabee. He's got his own radio show if you want to hear more, it's called The Mike Huckabee Show. Governor, thanks a lot.

Huckabee: You bet Kai, good to talk to you.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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