Big Money Conservatives Do Not Heart Huckabee

Election '08

With Mike Huckabee's continuing surge, the Republican Party now has an Iowa front-runner whose religious beliefs are virtually identical to those of George Bush. He's anti-choice, born-again, against gay-marriage, and gets political advice directly from God.

So why is the Republican establishment suddenly in a state of near-apoplexy about Mike Huckabee? Shouldn't they be happy? They've been cultivating evangelicals and fundamentalists for 30 years. Now they finally have a candidate who's truly part of the movement. So what's the problem?

Actually, that is the problem. The evangelical crowd was fine when it was just a resource to be cynically exploited every few years in demagogic anti-gay get-out-the-vote campaigns. But now the holy-rolling monster the GOP's Dr. Frankensteins have created has thrown off the shackles, fled the lab, and is currently leading in Iowa. And the party doesn't know what to do.

It's actually fun to watch the consternation. Ross Douthat has dubbed this feeling "Huckenfreude," which he defines as "pleasure derived from the outrage of prominent conservative pundits over the rising poll numbers of Mike Huckabee."

And there is certainly no shortage of outrage among hyperventilating conservative columnists across the country. The National Review's Rich Lowry has coined a neologism of his own: "Huckacide." This is when a national party commits suicide by nominating an "under-vetted former governor who is manifestly unprepared to be president of the United States."

Yeah, that would certainly be crazy, wouldn't it? Makes you wonder where these people have been for the last seven years.

Over at the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer is wringing his hands about an "overdose of public piety," "scriptural literalism," and how the 2008 campaign is "knee-deep in religion."

At the Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes worries about the fact that Huckabee "told a producer for Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network that his religious background made him most qualified to lead the war on terror," and that he "seems to believe the best foreign policy is one guided by the Golden Rule." Scoffing at the Golden Rule? What's next, attacking the Boy Scout Oath? And what it is about Huckabee's name that inspires a whole new lexicon? The Weekly Standard's headline writers couldn't resist, dubbing his perceived foreign policy shortcomings "The Perils of Huckaplomacy."

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan frets that the Republican Party of today wouldn't like Ronald Reagan much now that "faith has been heightened as a determining factor in how to vote," and says that voters in Iowa "may be deciding if Republicans are becoming a different kind of party."

If? If??

Turns out that when you define your party a certain way for a two or three decades, people actually start to believe it, and that definition can, in fact, become your party.

According to Andrew Sullivan, "it is certainly too late for fellow-traveling Christianists like Lowry and Krauthammer to start whining now. This is their party. And they asked for every last bit of it."

The Republican establishment is tying itself in knots trying to land on a publicly acceptable rationale for their Huckabhorrence (I told you, it's irresistible). Some criticize his "fair tax" plan -- but since when have nutty economic plans ever disqualified a Republican presidential candidate?

No, the real reason is class. As Kevin Drum puts it, "mainstream conservatives are mostly urban sophisticates with a libertarian bent, not rural evangelicals with a social conservative bent. They're happy to talk up NASCAR and pickup trucks in public, but in real life they mostly couldn't care less about either. Ditto for opposing abortion and the odd bit of gay bashing via proxy. But when it comes to Ten Commandments monuments and end times eschatology, they shiver inside just like any mainstream liberal."

As Steve Benen writes at TPM, "The Republican Party's religious right base is supposed to be seen, not heard. Candidates are supposed to pander to this crowd, not actually come from this crowd."

They want their base to be a kind of electoral cicada: wake up every four years, vote, and then go underground and shut-up.

Will Huckabee win the nomination? No one knows. But win or lose, I can't see this genie going back in the bottle. One danger for the Huckabee haters is that right wing social positions aren't the only thing they've been nurturing for 30 years -- there's also this sense of aggrieved, martyred hatred of "the elites." Of course, it's usually completely manufactured. But this time, there really is a group looking down its nose at the evangelicals -- and it's not godless liberals. It's the supporters of Romney, McCain, Thompson and Giuliani. So what's going to happen when evangelicals realize this and tap into the hatred of "the elites" the GOP establishment has been whipping up in them for three decades?

Mark Kleiman points out that Huckabee is the only non-millionaire among the serious GOP contenders, and the only one who doesn't court what Kevin Drum calls the "money-cons" -- those Republicans for whom globalization is the only true religion.

Republicans have been running on a faux populist/religiously conservative platform ever since Richard Nixon. It was refined and heightened by Lee Atwater and again by Karl Rove. And now that they have a rising candidate who truly represents that platform, the movers and shakers of the party are doing all they can to kneecap him.

But as the Good Book says: "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."

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