Mike Huckabee: Not a good first choiceNearly every political pundit is surprised by Mike Huckabee's rise to the top of the field in Iowa and his sudden competative race in South Carolina and other Southern States. Early in the race it now appears that Huckabee is the man to beat, and that in Iowa and the South, other candidates must knock into Huckabee's voter base if they are going to win the Republican nomination. I have long maintained that in a two-man race Huckabee is preferable to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, as Huckabee's positions on issues have been more consistent than Romney's, and few can doubt the rectitude of Huckabee's character. At most however, we can say with honesty that Mike Huckabee-for all of his theological conservatism and personal character and nature-is a pro-life liberal.
Some have come to the mistaken belief that the theological conservatives backing Huckabee are out to establish some sort of theocratic state, but nothing could be further from the truth. The perception that many on the Left have of evangelical and other Christian voters being stupid or easily led is a false perception that tends to be nurtured by a faction of the Democratic Party that is often hostile to organized religion. The reason that many evangelicals are supporting Huckabee in spite of his obvious faults is the same reason some evangelicals and other conservatives are supporting Mitt Romney: They had hoped for the conservative Knight in Shining Armor who could ride in and save the Republican Party in Reaganesque fashion, and the Knight did not come quickly enough. As a result, they've chosen a horse in the race that many of them know is not the best candidate, but they can at least say that he has good moral character.
Mike Huckabee's conservative credentials are very much up for debate. The man who says that Phyllis Schlafly (the political godmother of modern social conservatism) is his inspiration for entering public life does not receive high marks from his mentor. She said of Huckabee:
He destroyed the conservative movement in Arkansas, and left the Republican Party a shambles. Yet some of the same evangelicals who sold us on George W. Bush as a ‘compassionate conservative’ are now trying to sell us on Mike Huckabee.”
Schlafly's words ought to carry great weight because not only is she an evangelical, she was a conservative before being conservative was cool. She made being a theologically conservative Christian woman "chic" in some quarters, and the social Right largely owes her for its prominence in the Republican Party today. If Schlafly says someone isn't a conservative, they have to somehow prove they are one compared to her, and she is not a woman I would want to challenge if I am not a true-blue conservative to the highest possible degree.
Mike Huckabee is without a doubt a person of good moral character, but the mark of a leader is that you can balance both justice and compassion. When Governor Huckabee paroled a serial killing monster (as he had done several times while in office) he did so in the name of Christian compassion and mercy. Apparently he gave little thought to the guilt of those involved or thought that they might kill again.
Peggy Noonan said it best when she echoed the concerns of many social and cultural conservatives in her column at Opinion Journal last week:
He plays the victim well. Others want to "trip him up," but he'll "get my message out there." His foes are "Wall Street-Washington" insiders, elitists. On the "Today" show he said his critics are the type who never liked evangelical Christians. When one of them runs, these establishment types say " 'Oh my gosh, now they're serious, they don't want to just show up and vote, they actually would want to be part of the discussion and really talk about issues that include hunger and poverty and things.' "
This is a form of populist manipulation. Evangelical Christians have been strong in the Republican Party since the 1970s. President Bush and Karl Rove helped them become more important. The suggestion that they are a small and abused group within the GOP is strange. It is as if the Reagan Democrats, largely Catholic and suburban, who buoyed the Republican Party from the late '70s through 2004, and who were very much part of the GOP coalition, decided to announce that Catholics have been abused within the party, and it's time for Christmas commercials with floating Miraculous Medals.
Although I disagree with Peggy Noonan's impressions of the "floating cross" ad (I think it is clear that the secular press over-reacted), I think her concerns about Huckabee's mentality are quite correct. He apparently believes that his base is gullible enough that they will accept him because he is a good Christian rather than a good leader. If I had my druthers, I would rather have a President who is both.
Peggy Noonan is (like yours truly) a Catholic, and one who understands because of experience the importance of the evangelical-Catholic coalition that has evolved within the Republican Party. The primary philosophical underpinning of the coalition has been that conservatism is a series of social, cultural, and economic ideas that all sides have a real stake in. Mike Huckabee is attempting to redefine the perameters of that coalition, and it could result in disaster for the GOP.
There are candidates in the Republican field who I believe Huckabee would be preferable to in a two-man Primary race if it came down to that. This preference would be solely based on the reality that the Supreme Court could be shot to Kingdom Come with the wrong person in office. Huckabee vs. Hillary is a no-contest-as a Catholic, if my choice is between a pro-life liberal and a pro-abortion liberal, I'll take the pro-lifer. None of that means that Republican Primary voters should choose Huckabee, when Fred Thompson or even John McCain are clearly more conservative choices. Huckabee's language reminds me a great deal of Bush in 2000-in some cases almost word-for-word. As a Republican, re-living the current administration would not be my first choice for the right direction of our party or our country. Both the Republican Party and its evangelical wing can do better than that.
(Hat Tip: Rob Huddleston)
Labels: Presidential Election