Huck 2.0:The Evangelical Decision
To capitalize on his momentum, Mr. Huckabee is focusing on the parts of his message beyond social conservatism, like the environment, a break from the Bush administration’s foreign policy and a sort of economic populism. He is also shifting his positions by adopting a harder-line stance on immigration.
Mr. Huckabee, in his latest campaign swing through New Hampshire, sounded almost like John Edwards, a Democrat running for president, when he decried what he called “fat cat” chief executive officers and their outsize paychecks.
Since the rise of the New Deal, the GOP has never nominated a candidate who tried to use class warfare as a plank in his platform. Thus Mike Huckabee’s long ball is a desperation move, not a strategy.
Huck’s ideological confusion –the newly minted anti-illegal immigration policy, the anti-Bush salvos, and now the “ruling class” nonsense– are improvisations designed to add numbers to what he considers his evangelical base, but that base that won’t stand by and be played for fools. Evangelical voters care deeply about foreign policy and economic growth as well as abortion and traditional marriage. Huckabee is selling them short with this parade of populist appeals, and he will anger them with his attacks on Bush and the Administration’s foreign policy.
Already the supporters of American intervention in the world against the forces of terrorism and ignorance are blasting back at Huck. Here’s Pete Wehner in today’s NationalReview.com:
Memo to Mike Huckabee: Sometimes we are despised for all the right reasons.
Ronald Reagan engendered anger from nations because he called the Soviet Union an “evil empire;” deploying Cruise and Pershing Missiles in Europe; moving ahead with the Strategic Defense Initiative; and supporting the contras in Nicaragua. Millions took to the streets in Europe to oppose his defense build up. Does Governor Huckabee believe Reagan’s actions were wrong simply because in many countries they were unpopular? Of course we would prefer to have universal support for our actions rather than encounter opposition. But does Huckabee understand that sometimes right and wise actions elicit opposition, and sometimes even intense and widespread opposition?
The popularity of the United States decreased in many Muslim nations in the aftermath of taking down the Taliban regime for its role in harboring and supporting al-Qaeda, which in turn was responsible for the worst attack on the American homeland in our history. Was that anger against America justified? Would Huckabee base his foreign-policy decisions on how our actions poll in Waziristan or Gaza under Hamas, or in madrasas throughout the Middle East? Based on his Foreign Affairs essay, it’s reasonable to believe he might.
Huckabee’s brand of populism isn’t nearly as strident (read lunatic) as Buchanan’s. But to describe it as watery doesn’t do it justice. Huckabee’s posture on matters of taxing, trading, and even faith represent something shrewder: Buchananism minus the bombast, the paranoia, the out-front efforts to court the clenched-fist-and-camouflage crowd. And in this regard, the message and the messenger are the same-which could well make them more formidable, and no less disconcerting, than Buchanan and his gospel were in 1996.
This is a good summary of the Huck 2.0 pitch, but Heilemann is wrong –more about Evangelicals than Huckabee– when he says of Huck: “On topics of faith, he readily hits that dog-whistle pitch only Evangelicals can hear.”
The idea that evangelicals run to the sound of the whistle of one of their own is widely shared among the pundit class, but it is the worst sort of stereotyped bigotry, the same sort of assumption that famously prompted a Washington Post reporter in 1993 to brand evangelicals as “poor, uneducated and easily led.”
Mike Huckabee’s skill as a presenter are real, but his appeal as a candidate pursuing an agenda is limited: It isn’t an agenda that has ever been embraced by the GOP. Watch the evangelicals quietly head to the exits as they figure out what Mike Huckabee’s platform is. The MSM has been covering for the former Arkansas governor because it loves a good crack-up, but evangelicals are not easily led, or subject to dog whistles.