Today’s flurry of speculation about the intentions of Dr. Dobson underscores (1)the influence of the Focus on the Family leader, and (2)the desperation of the Huckabee forces to keep hope alive. The statement from Dobson’s long time associate Tim Minnery that “Dr. Dobson isn’t close to an endorsement of anyone in the 2008 race,” is a clear signal to the Huckabee forces to stop trading on the Dobson brand, and may itself undermine Huckabee’s appeal to evangelicals by focusing a light on Dobson’s non-endorsement of the former Arkansas governor and Southern Baptist pastor.
Why Dobson and many other leading evangelicals have withheld support from Huckabee is up for them to explain or not, but clearly there are two possible explanations: (1)Governor Huckabee’s record in Arkansas isn’t conservative on crucial issues like personnel and taxes, and/or (2)Governor Huckabee cannot possibly win the nomination so an endorsement or vote for Huckabee is really an assist to Rudy Giuliani as it diverts energy from the conservative most likely to stop Giuliani –Mitt Romney.
Of course I am favorably impressed with Romney, but I am also fully prepared to work as hard for Rudy if he is the nominee. Many evangelicals are not, however, and here is what gives many conservatives pause about even dallying with Huckabee. They know that if Huckabee beats Romney in Iowa or bleeds him in New Hampshire, the Giuliani nomination is almost guaranteed.
Let me break this down for the Steelers’ fans.
First, the campaign calendar is so compressed that there is very little time for momentum unassisted by money to make a race for the Florida primary in the last week of January or for the big delegate haul on February 2. To be competitive in Florida or the following week in California, New York, New Jersey and elsewhere requires an infrastructure to be in place and firing on all cylinders now. Most of these states will have absentee ballots available even before New Hampshire votes, and in some of them the early voting numbers are huge. Only Romney and Giuliani have anything like the finances necessary to compete, and those finances cannot materialize for Huckabee even if he scored an upset win in Iowa. If Huckabee had established his viability with fundraising during the money primary he might have made a plausible case about his chance of parlaying the Big Mo of Iowa into the nomination, but an Iowa win is a necessary but not sufficient condition of momentum. Money is the second part of that equation when you are facing an extraordinarily well-funded front runner with enormous positive name identification.
Second, if Huckabee beat Romney in Iowa, and drained some votes from Romney in New Hampshire, where would the vast majority of Romney voters go? Not to Huckabee, I think. A Romney voter is looking for a completely different sort of conservative candidate –a pro-life, pro-marriage conservative, yes, but one who also understands the economy and the war, is rock solid reliable on judges and is most certainly free trade to the core. Huckabee’s neo-protectionist rhetoric and fair tax endorsement cost him with this group.
Finally, everybody likes Mike, but very few people –and zero political professionals who aren’t on the payroll– think he stands a chance against Team Hillary despite his claims to have been successfully battling the Clintons in Arkansas this past decade. The idea that a country tired of an evangelical former Texas governor in the White House who has pushed unpopular immigration policies might be persuaded to be enthusiastic about evangelical former Arkansas governor who is also pro-regularization of illegals is not just far fetched. It is hallucinatory. Sure I’ll work for Huckabee if lightning strikes, but with the same certain dread of defeat that dogged the Dole campaign in 1996. I think both Rudy and Mitt can beat Senator Clinton because they change they expand the map for the GOP and have tremendous media power. Huckabee would start out dogged by the similarities in background and region to President Bush, and without Ohio and zero hopes of reaching into Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Jersey or Connecticut.
These three factors led me at dinner last night to ask a gathering of evangelicals in Las Vegas for the GodBlogCon two questions.
The first was how many could never bring themselves to vote for Rudy Giuliani. Of about 25 at dinner, at least five raised their hands and spoke in the most emphatic terms as to why they would never vote for him. Whether others agreed and kept silent, or whether these five would relent when the prospect of a Hillary presidency confronted them I can’t say, but this was a sure sign of trouble for a Giuliani-led GOP.
The second question was directed at those Huckabee supporters among the Giuliani irreconciliables: Did they not understand that a vote for Huckabee was a vote for Giuliani given the quite obvious dynamics of the primaries. They might like Huckabee. They might love Huckabee. But Huckabee isn’t going to be the nominee, and thus a vote for him is a vote thrown away from establishing Romney as a conservative alternative to Giuliani.
Long ago I taught Torts. The concept of foreseeability as a component of liability is second nature to lawyers, but perhaps it is not intuitive outside of the law. If an action will foreseeably result in a consequence, even if that consequence is not an immediate one, then the action is understood to cause the consequence. Voting for Huckabee has only one foreseeable result –weakening Romney– which itslef has one foreseeable result: nominating Rudy. Jaw, jaw, jaw all day, but those are the facts.
Which is why I fully expect Giuliani (and McCain) supporters in Iowa to cast ballots for Huckabee, inflating his numbers (and momentum, just as happened at the straw poll in the fall) and perhaps wounding Romney. The true-believers will dismiss such an analysis but that’s what I would do if I was a Giuliani supporter in Iowa, and that’s what you would do if you were a Giuliani supporter in Iowa. If Romney gets knocked out, it is on to the general with Rudy.
Which is why I will be surprised if Jim Dobson endorses Huckabee. Justice Stevens is 87. Justice Ginberg is 74. Justices Scalia and Kennedy are 71. Justice Beyer is 69. Justice Souter is 68. A President Clinton or a President Giuliani will have at least two and could have perhaps as many as six Supreme Court appointments to make over the next eight years. A vote for Huckabee by a voter who doesn’t trust Rudy on judicial nominations –I do, but this is about the choice facing the anti-Giuliani Huckabee voter–is a vote to abandon the Supreme Court to activist justices for more than a generation.
Go ahead, Huckabee people, try and make Rudy’s day. I don’t think a Huckabee win in Iowa will materialize any more than the endorsements of Dr. Dobson materialized today. The values voter who cares deeply about beating Hillary and also about policies to protect marriage and the unborn will not be frivolous with their vote, a dynamic that is working to assist the Romney campaign every day as clarity about the race develops.
What I shake my head in anticipation of is the day in March when I hear a former Huckabee supporter tell me that he or she won’t vote for much less work for or contribute to a Giuliani campaign.
UPDATE: Robert Redford thinks Mitt Romney and all Mormons are “plastic,” which is one of the funniest Hollywood yelps in a long, long time. I guess he’s in a position to know plastic. The Professor of the Vines, no Romney fan, has details as well as the observation that “[i]f Redford had said anything remotely that bigoted about a candidate who was, say, Jewish, gay, or black, Hollywood would be screaming for his head. But when you’re a liberal icon, I guess it’s okay to be a bigot, as long as you chose the right targets.”