The mainstream media seems to think it has uncovered dirt on “surprise” Republican contender Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas. This only helps to highlight how profoundly out of touch beltway conventional wisdom is with political reality in the heartland.
Slate posts Huckabee’s 1992 responses to a political questionnaire under their “Hot Document” column, with the subheadline, “A homophobic comment comes back to haunt him.”
CNN.com’s “Political Ticker” reports that “Huckabee takes fire for Mormon comment.”
USAToday rapped him last week for not keeping abreast of major U.S. foreign policy developments.
But this is not evidence that the governor’s “come from nowhere” meteoric rise in the polls is going to quickly fizzle once people know him better. Quite the contrary.
First, Huckabee didn’t come from “nowhere.” It was the media that picked the early front-runners based on name recognition: McCain, Giuliani, Romney, and, later, Thompson. But anyone really in touch with the political dynamics in this country had to know that the evangelical base the Republican Party has been working so hard to cultivate for the last decade was not going to be able to fall in lock-step behind any of these guys. The open question for them has been, “For which lesser evil shall we settle?”
When you have a group that deals primarily in non-negotiable moral absolutes, this is not an easy decision. Hence, you get Pat Robertson on the one hand endorsing thrice-married, pro-gay, pro-choice, anti-gun Rudy Giuliani, while James Dobson issues a fatwa against his candidacy. Those who feel that defeating Hillary* is objective #1 and are willing to make the necessary political calculations can’t rally support from fellow partisans who are unwilling to compromise on abortion and gay rights.
I’ve been waiting for a long time for Huckabee to get the national attention I knew was coming. He’s folksy and plainspoken without effort; this already sets him widely apart from the rest of the pack, especially high-strung, urban Giuliani and robotic, aloof Romney.
These recent “exposures” of Huckabee’s views from 17 years ago – of which he said, "I'm not going to recant or retract from the statement that I did make” – are not a collective bucket of water about to douse his sudden campaign fire. It’s lighter fluid.
While those of us in the reality-based community might react in horror at the prospect of a president who wants to isolate people with HIV and find it appallingly irresponsible that someone running for the White House didn’t even know about the NIE that completely reversed the Bush Administration’s assertions about Iran, this is music to evangelical ears. This is what they’ve been waiting to hear. It’s Huckabee’s frankness on issues where the frontrunners have been transparently calculating that is propelling him to the front of the pack.
To the Rovian base, homosexuality is a national health risk, Mormons aren’t Christians, and any foreign-policy related news that seems to contradict the End Times Countdown to Armageddon is to be ignored or openly challenged. Huckabee’s comments aren’t gaffes; they reflect the views of millions of Americans. And they’re going to vote for him.
*To defeat Hillary, you simply have to nominate her. Polls indicate she’s likely to lose against any of the Republican frontrunners; Edwards and Obama can win.