November 25, 2008
The future of the Republican Party-6: The Huckabee puzzle
The clue to the real problem facing the Republican party lies in what happened to Mike Huckabee's candidacy when he ran for the Republican nomination in the last election. I thought that he had the perfect credentials for the party and was surprised that he did not do much better. He is a former two-term governor of Arkansas (1996-2007), showing that he has executive experience and the preferred rural Southern profile. He is an ordained Baptist pastor who worked as an actual minister from 1980 to 1992. He has been married to the same woman for 33 years and there has been no hint of personal sex scandals or even impropriety.
The scandals that he was involved in while governor tended to be the kind of fairly petty financial ones that politicians from smaller states tend to get embroiled in. In the hands of a determined prosecutor they can be blown up into a major issue (like Ken Starr did with Whitewater for Bill Clinton, Huckabee's predecessor as Arkansas governor) but more often are treated as business as usual and blow away.
He has all the right positions on social issues to appeal to the party's religious base, showing him to be a hard-core conservative. He believes in the inerrancy of the Bible and even favors amending the US constitution if necessary to reflect his belief that the country is founded on Christian principles. Austin Cline, creator of the excellent website About Atheism/Agnosticism, analyzes Huckabee's views on church and state relations and claims that his views make him a theocratic fascist.
At the same time he is affable, telegenic, has a sense of humor, plays bass guitar in a rock band, has an engaging personality, and can appear on programs like The Colbert Report and win over an audience that would not be at all sympathetic to his views. Even I, who disagree strongly with him on almost every position he holds and cannot imagine myself ever voting for him, find myself liking him. He seems thoughtful and intelligent and articulate, a persuasive spokesman for his positions. He looks like someone with whom you could seek common ground by having a civil and reasoned discussion, even while the two of you hold opposing views.
He should be the dream candidate of the religious and conservative right, having qualities that could appeal to centrist voters despite his right-wing conservative views. And yet, after getting a surprisingly big win in the Iowa caucuses, he failed to get the support, especially financial, that he was entitled to expect from religious leaders of the social values base that should have propelled his candidacy.
All the Christianists like Pat Robertson, James Dobson, John Hagee, Gary Bauer, Bob Jones, etc. found excuses to not support him and instead pledged their allegiance to pretenders like McCain, who not only has been hostile to them in the past, but gave lukewarm support to their pet issues. McCain is also twice married, a self-confessed adulterer, not overtly religious, and has been tainted with serious sex and financial scandals in the past.
These Christianists were even willing to support the cross-dressing Rudy Giuliani who publicly humiliated his former wife with his open affairs, supported women's choice on abortion, and had been the mayor of gay-friendly New York City, that den of iniquity that epitomizes the very opposite of the 'real America' that Christianists claim to represent.
Mitt Romney was also preferred by some of these conservative religious leaders, even though he is a Mormon and his commitment to their social issues was seen by many as a late conversion based on political expediency, and thus its genuineness was suspect.
Huckabee, who saw himself as the real deal, is understandably peeved at the way he was treated by the people who should have embraced his candidacy and been his most ardent supporters. As a review of his just released memoir reveals:
Many conservative Christian leaders — who never backed Huckabee, despite their holding similar stances on social issues — are spared neither the rod nor the lash. Huckabee writes of Gary Bauer, the conservative Christian leader and former presidential candidate, as having an "ever-changing reason to deny me his support." Of one private meeting with Bauer, Huckabee says, "It was like playing Whac-a-Mole at the arcade — whatever issue I addressed, another one surfaced as a 'problem' that made my candidacy unacceptable." He also accuses Bauer of putting national security before bedrock social issues like the sanctity of life and traditional marriage.
. . .
He calls out Pat Robertson, the Virginia-based televangelist, and Dr. Bob Jones III, chancellor of Bob Jones University in South Carolina, for endorsing Rudy Giuliani and Romney, respectively. He also has words for the Texas-based Rev. John Hagee, who endorsed the more moderate John McCain in the primaries, as someone who was drawn to the eventual Republican nominee because of the lure of power. Huckabee says he spoke to Hagee by phone before the McCain endorsement while preparing for a spot on Saturday Night Live. "I asked if he had prayed about this and believed this was what the Lord wanted him to do," Huckabee writes of the conversation. "I didn't get a straight answer."
I think Huckabee is justified in being angry at the way he was treated. But what was the problem? Why didn't all these religious right heavyweights rally around Huckabee who had enthusiastically supported all the social issues of the culture wars that they have been agitating for all these years and had proven himself in the Iowa caucuses as someone who had strong appeal with Republican voters?
Next: Why don't the Republican religious right leaders ♥ Huckabee?
POST SCRIPT: Who would you like to have been?
One of the positive developments during the election was the low visibility of Ann Coulter. Her shtick is always the same: say something outrageous to gain attention.
But here is a clip from the past where she and Al Franken discuss the question of which character from the past they would have liked to have been, and where Franken one-ups her shtick and makes her look silly.
(Thanks to Ashali.)