HH: Pleased to welcome now the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, my friend, Albert Mohler. Al, good evening to you.
AM: Hugh, it’s always great to be with you. What a night.
HH: Oh, I love days like this. You know, I’m a Romney guy. If he loses, I’ll be down in the mouth for a day. But I just love American politics. What are you hearing, Al Mohler, from around the country?
AM: Well, I just hear an awful lot of interest in Iowa. Frankly, you know, part of what I’ve heard today is a lot of head scratching about why in the world Iowa has such importance in this entire process. But here we are, paying attention to something like 10-15% of the Iowa electorate making a decision that’s got the entire world holding its breath.
HH: Now Al, I don’t believe you’d declared support for anyone, right?
AM: That’s right.
HH: Okay, so on the perspective of someone who’s held back, what do you make of the identity politics of Mike Huckabee? And do you actually think it’s fair to call them identity politics?
AM: Well, I think insofar as he’s used to the kind of Evangelical symbolism and language so clearly, there’s an aspect of identity politics there, undeniably.
HH: And does it make you uneasy, or are you glad that Evangelicals, whether you agree with them or don’t agree with them, are in the process in this manner?
AM: Well, I’m very thankful that he’s an Evangelical Christian. As an Evangelical Christian, I’m very thankful that Mike Huckabee is very public about his professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I am very uncomfortable with having a candidate identified as an Evangelical candidate. I just don’t think that’s the appropriate kind of political engagement.
AM: Well, let’s put it this way. Evangelical Christians are very much committed to a Christian worldview that reaches every aspect of life. But there really isn’t an Evangelical foreign policy. There’s really not an Evangelical tariff or tax policy. And I think when everything’s identified that way, well, I’m going to be honest, there’s a bit of self-protectionism here.
AM: I don’t want to get blamed for everything that a supposedly Evangelical president might do that in terms of policy would be disagreeable.
HH: Now one example of that is my Townhall.com colleague, and yours, Amanda Carpenter, was in an eatery tonight next to Ed Rollins, senior advisor to Mike Huckabee, and overheard an amazing conversation which she’s reproduced at Townhall.com, which includes the F bombs flying all over the place, a lot of jokes about going negative in South Carolina, criticizing another candidate as believing the presidency was their birthright. That’s got to be McCain, talking to Lou Dobbs, talking to Andrea Mitchell, talking about Rudy Giuliani’s “done, has no money.” It’s the kind of stuff that makes you cringe, and it violates Stu Spencer’s old rule, which is whatever is said in a restaurant is meant to be overheard. Does it make you uneasy that the Evangelical candidate has a campaign advisor like this?
AM: Well, of course it does. I think this goes right back to 1976, with the first really well understood Evangelical candidate, Newsweek Magazine, you know, the born again year, the year of the Evangelical, Jimmy Carter, identified as an Evangelical. You know, the fact is that a lot of Evangelicals didn’t agree with Jimmy Carter. But nonetheless, we got postured in terms of a candidate who identified himself that way. And just look at some of the stuff that was going on behind the scenes in the Carter administration and campaign.
HH: Yeah. I’ve had a couple of e-mails, one from a very good friend of mine out here in Southern California, a retired accountant with a Big 8 firm, Big 5 firm now, and a professor of business, a Jewish guy, sent me a note saying I will never vote for Mike Huckabee, he alarms me as a Jew. Does that bother you, Al Mohler?
AM: Well, it bothers me. I mean, I think that’s a misapprehension in the sense that I would argue that Evangelical Christians are the best friends that the Jewish people have. But on the other hand, I do understand some sense of off putting that comes from, well, for instance, the ad with the Cross in the background, and that kind of thing. It does appear to be something of an intentional mixing. I think your term is right, identity politics. That doesn’t mean that I think that Mike Huckabee would be the worst candidate possible in the Republican side. You know, given my pro-life commitments, I’m very thankful for where he is. I’m thankful that if you put the frontrunners now together, there’s a very clear pro-life agenda. So I’m thankful for that. But a lot’s going to get clarified over the next three or four days.
HH: I actually think we’re going to be in a Reagan-Ford campaign scenario of ’76 if Romney loses tonight, comes in second. I think we’re going to have the long campaign that our colleague, Michael Medved, has often discussed. I’ll have on Michael next hour. Al Mohler, does John McCain get forgiven by Evangelicals for the speech in 2000 in Virginia Beach?
AM: Well, he certainly hasn’t been yet, Hugh. You know, there’s an incredible long memory there, and part of it’s because John McCain has the ability to offend his friends all the time. But nonetheless, you know, that John McCain, like so many other candidates, has the opportunity in the midst of certainly a resurgence in his campaign to redefine himself somewhat, so if he reaches out to Evangelicals, we’ll see.
HH: Can you vote for a Mormon yourself?
AM: Yes, I could vote…well, let me put it this way. I could vote for a candidate who’s a Mormon. I wouldn’t vote for him because he is a Mormon.
AM: But there are circumstances under which I certainly would vote for a candidate who might be a Mormon, or hold to any number of religious commitments that I would certainly not share.
HH: You were quoted extensively in my book on Romney, on the issue of that. Since that…that’s a year ago that I talked to you about that. How widespread is the not now, not ever, won’t vote for a Mormon attitude among fundamentalists, Al Mohler?
AM: Well, I think there probably is more than even I thought. And the hesitancy I have here, Hugh, and you and I have talked about this a whole lot, is that as a Christian, I would be very concerned to have anything happen that would raise the profile of Mormonism, and make it likely that more persons would see Mormonism in a positive light. I just have to say that. At the same time, in electing a president of the United States, in a political context, it’s a finite situation, finite choices. You have to make decisions based upon what is the best and right decision to make unto that time. You know, Martin Luther, the reformer in the 16th Century, put it this way. He said I’d rather be governed by a competent Turk than an incompetent Christian.
HH: Now I want to turn to the Democrat side. Obama, the only common currency of today’s speculation is that Obama’s going to win, and win by a surprisingly easy margin. That could be wrong, of course, but let’s assume it’s right for a moment. What do you make of Barack Obama, Al Mohler?
AL: Well, when I look at Barack Obama, I have to do a worldview analysis, and see someone who is probably to the left of Hillary Clinton. I mean, this is a man who was a community organizer, really very much involved in some of the worst kind of identity politics there in Chicago, but someone who certainly has kind of a Kennedy-esque gift of reaching out to a generation. I think if Obama wins, and wins decisively, the big story is going to be that the Democrats are obviously just not buying the Clinton ticket again.
HH: And I will be shocked by that. I have been predicting a Clinton march to the nomination for as long as I’ve watched this, because of how long they’ve been doing this for. What’s that tell us, if it is Obama and a Huckabee win tonight, about politics for the balance of this year?
AL: Well, I think it tells us to expect the unexpected. I mean, when you have Mike Huckabee, you have someone who’s barely spent anything that’s even on the screen in Iowa, but has a grassroots movement. In Obama, it’s really a youth and media movement. And I think it shows that the game on the ground may not be what we were told it was. On the other hand, this time, you know, four years ago, on this night, everyone thought Howard Dean was going to walk away with the Democratic prize, and that didn’t happen. So Obama’s support may be more in terms of poll response than in terms of Caucus goers.
HH: Last question, have you read Faith, Reason and the War Against Jihadism by George Weigel yet?
AL: Yes, I have. An outstanding book.
HH: What did you think of it?
AL: Well, I basically buy his argument. I mean, here is someone who I really appreciate, in that George Weigel has always been ready to defend the Western understanding of life, based upon a Judeo-Christian heritage, and understand the Islam, not just radical Islam, but the logic of Islam will produce a very different civilization.
HH: Al Mohler, I appreciate the time tonight. If we can, we’ll check back with you after the results are known.
End of interview.