Huckabee: The Candidate We’d Love Not to Hate
Well, “hate” is a bit strong; “suspect” would be better.
A few things I read yesterday jointly bring into focus the feeling that a large segment of the political right likely has about Mike Huckabee. The good comes from Mark Steyn:
Because Mike Huckabee mentioned “the birth of Christ”, he liberated the equivocal tentative finger-in-the-windy candidates and enabled them to utter the dread words “Merry Christmas.” Save, that is, for Senator Clinton, whose message ends with “Happy Holidays.” Thus, in a small way, the Governor shifted the goalposts. I can’t say I care for the Huckster policy-wise, but his instincts are very shrewd. There’s a big demographic out there (and certainly not confined to evangelical Protestants, or even believing Christians) that’s sick of the insipid generalities of the liberal establishment’s offensively inoffensive pseudo-religion. By declining to defer to it and suffering no ill effects, Huck demonstrated how weedy and insubstantial it is. A lot of cultural warriors will be heartened by that. And Huckabee’s insouciance — it ad-libbed his Christmas greeting in two takes — helps explain why so many of the better funded, supposed front-runners this campaign season are lying in the snowbank with a stunned look while the soundtrack plays “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.”
The frustration is that Huckabee’s uplift doesn’t come without some strings — chains, one might say. Kathryn Lopez sums it up:
Speaking like a man seeking to be president of evangelical America, not president of the United States, Huckabee told Meredith Vieira earlier this week: “There’s a sense in which all these years the evangelicals have been treated very kindly by the Republican party. They wanted us to be a part of it, and then one day, one of us actually runs and they say, ‘Oh, my gosh! Now they’re serious.'”
Huckabee, meanwhile, is leaving some non-evangelical conservatives wondering, “Oh, my gosh. Maybe they never wanted to be allied with us.” Huckabee is working right now, intentionally or not, on breaking down a winning coalition of religious conservatives.
When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, some of the most moving statements coming out of congressional offices were from evangelical conservatives who viewed him as an important leader in defending the sanctity of human life. Many of them had adopted his “culture of life” language and thinking. They saw him as an ally and were inspired by his leadership. They joined him, despite theological differences, in important cultural and political fights. It was and is a natural pairing. Mike Huckabee, who is not a conservative on all things, but is on social issues, should know that and treasure and protect and foster these alliances. He’s a riveting speaker who could rally social conservatives, at least to whip them up to fight another day. Instead, he’s executing a divide-and-conquer strategy.
Peggy Noonan gives some context:
This is some of Mr. Huckabee’s power. There’s the fact that he’s new, and the fact that Americans are in a funny historic moment: The lives they lead are good, and comfortable, but they sense deep down that the infrastructure of our good fortune is in many ways frail, that Citi may fall and Korea go crazy and some nut go kaboom. In such circumstances some would think a leader radically different–an outsider, a minister, a self proclaimed non-establishment type–might be an answer. …
Mr. Huckabee is clever. He puts forth his policies, such as they are, based on a faith-based understanding of public policy, and if you disagree with his policies, or take a hard shot at them, or at him, he suggests the reason is that you look down on evangelicals. This creates a new fissure in a party already riven by fissures. He has been accused by some in the conservative press of tearing the party apart, but it was being torn apart before he got on the scene. His rise is not a cause of collapse but an expression of it. …
Does Mr. Huckabee understand that his approach is making people uncomfortable? Does he see himself as divisive? He’s a bright man, so it’s hard to believe he doesn’t. But it’s working for him. It’s getting him his 30 points in Iowa in a crowded field.
When he first came on the scene, I had a strange urge to be able to say I supported him. But then one learns about the candidate. Why, when there’s a large void in the political landscape, does it seem so rarely to be filled by a person who allows a sigh of relief, rather than of disappointment.