How Mike Huckabee's Evangelical Creds Helped Him Avoid the GOP's Collapse, and Remain a Political Threat for 2012
With evangelical favorites Gov. Mark Sanford and Sen. John Ensign indelibly scarred by sex scandals, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has become the natural Christian right candidate for the 2012 GOP presidential primary. In 2008, Huckabee used his background as a conservative evangelical pastor to electrify the Republican grassroots, emerging practically from nowhere to defeat better funded rivals like Mitt Romney in key primary states.
Since then, Huckabee has remained one of the GOP's most visible figures, hosting his own talk show on Fox News and touring the conservative lecture circuit. But aside from a controversial trip to Israel, where he declared an alliance with radical Jewish settlers seeking to Judaize occupied areas of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Huckabee has managed to avoid the kind of caustic media spectacles that Sarah Palin has generated. He is saving his energy for the next campaign, when he hopes to capitalize on residual support in heavily evangelical states and, at the very least, demonstrate his value as a vice presidential nominee who can bring the Christian right around for an establishment candidate like Romney.
In the following excerpt from my new book, Republican Gomorrah, I explain how Huckabee's success in the 2008 GOP primary stemmed from deeper factors than his positions on the issues. Unlike his adversaries, he understood the nuances of the Christian right -- the movement that controls the party. Huckabee's staying power reveals the movement's consolidation of its grip on the party.
Huckabee's appeal among the Republican base stemmed from more subtle factors than his positions on social issues. Unlike Romney and the rest of his adversaries, Huckabee demonstrated an intimate understanding of the complexities of the Christian right. Most important, he recognized how the movement's underlying culture of personal crisis animated its politics of resentment. His familiarity with this critical nuance was apparent when he spoke before an assemblage of Iowa's most politically active clergy members, the Pastors and Pews conference, in July 2007. Huckabee's speech was a remarkably coherent disquisition on the nexus between private trauma and political conservatism. Echoing his friend Dobson, he insisted that man is too inherently corrupt to stand against the putrid headwinds of modern culture alone and that he must therefore submit to strict Dominionist guidelines:
If you want to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up, just tell me that my experience as a pastor lets you know that I don't have a clue about human life and the struggle of it. ... Name me any profession in this country, on this planet where people touch more the lives of every social pathology today....
To that wife who's trying to use make-up not to enhance her beauty but to hide the scars and the bruises from the abuse of some alcoholic husband who beats the daylights out of her every time he gets drunk -- I've talked to her. From the person who's struggling with who he or she may be in the context of a relationship that believes that he's in love with a person of the same gender -- I've talked to him. Name any problem, any social pathology, name any issue that's confronting, and I'll tell you who's dealing with them. It's the pastors of America who see the tears pouring out day after day after day ... who understand life at a level very few people see because these are the men and women who have front row seats to the real struggles of life....
Chuck Colson said it beautifully, he said, "The problem in today's world of this conflict of faith and secularism is that humanists don't understand humanity, but a lot of Christians don't understand Christianity. In part because we don't understand that the nature of man.... The nature of man is not that he's basically good; the nature of man is that he's basically selfish. We have a sin nature, not a God nature. We have a God who made us, but we come into this world broken. We come into this world with a self-centeredness that only grace can fix. And if we fail to understand that, then we will believe as those who are the secularists do, that man's problems are essentially either economic or educational.