Commentary Magazine


Topic: evangelical vote

Huckabee Should Have Stayed on TV

Mike Huckabee’s announcement this past weekend that he was ending his run as host of a show on the Fox News Channel left little doubt that he was seriously considering running for president. The former Arkansas governor made a respectable try for the White House in 2008 earning an upset triumph in the Iowa caucus and had a reasonable argument for his claim that he, rather than Mitt Romney, was the runner-up to eventual winner John McCain. With a popular folksy manner and the loyalty of fellow evangelicals, Huckabee might be said to have as good a chance as any of the long list of potential contenders or at least to the title of leading conservative candidate. But such optimism about his chances fails to take into account the fact that 2016 isn’t 2008.

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Mike Huckabee’s announcement this past weekend that he was ending his run as host of a show on the Fox News Channel left little doubt that he was seriously considering running for president. The former Arkansas governor made a respectable try for the White House in 2008 earning an upset triumph in the Iowa caucus and had a reasonable argument for his claim that he, rather than Mitt Romney, was the runner-up to eventual winner John McCain. With a popular folksy manner and the loyalty of fellow evangelicals, Huckabee might be said to have as good a chance as any of the long list of potential contenders or at least to the title of leading conservative candidate. But such optimism about his chances fails to take into account the fact that 2016 isn’t 2008.

While few in the GOP establishment are taking him seriously, not everyone is dismissing Huckabee. In an interesting piece on Real Clear Politics, Scott Conroy argues that with Iowa coming first in January as it always does and a Super Southern Primary following early on in March 2016, the thinking in some quarters is that Huckabee can, at the very least, duplicate his early 2008 success if not make a serious run at the nomination. According to this argument, Huckabee’s best ally is the calendar that emphasizes states in which evangelicals play a larger role than in other states later in the campaign.

There’s something to be said for this reasoning, in that Huckabee hasn’t disappeared in the nearly seven years since his presidential campaign ended. By hosting a Fox News show for the last few years, he has managed to stay on the radar of conservatives. While not among the higher-rated cable shows, Huckabee has nevertheless burnished his reputation as a genial and intelligent speaker often as interested in human-interest stories as in political controversies. That continued popularity in some parts of the right has enabled him to maintain decent polling numbers that often place him above or even with more talked-about 2016 contenders such as Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, or Rand Paul. It’s likely that with that profile he can raise enough money to be at least competitive in the early stages when the terrain is most favorable to his hopes.

But the notion that Huckabee can pick up where he left off in 2008 is still somewhat fanciful.

Let’s start with the fact that the field that Huckabee snuck up on to score an unexpected win in Iowa is nothing like the one he will face a year from now. Chief among those challengers for his particular niche of Republican voters is Rick Santorum who narrowly won Iowa in 2012 with the same formula of beating the bushes in every county of the state. But both of them will also be up against Ted Cruz who will have his own appeal to evangelicals as well as Tea Partiers and other conservatives. And that’s not even counting, among others, the second coming of Rick Perry and the possible candidacy of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who may be able to bridge the gap between the party’s establishment and activist wings.

Just as important is that his opponents will see him coming this time. The fact that the conservative Club For Growth is already starting to attack him for what it claims is his big government pro-tax and spending record in Arkansas is damaging by itself. But it’s also a harbinger of the kind of opposition research that will raise his negatives in ways he never experienced in 2008.

Time has not stood still in the last eight years and Huckabee will find that the room he once had to himself in the party is not only crowded but filled with younger, hungrier candidates who are better prepared to fight for it out. Considering that his chances of actually winning the nomination are slim and those of his being elected in November even slimmer, his decision to abandon his TV perch seems like more a case of hubris than of sound planning. A year from now, as he seeks to get back into the media after what is likely to be an unsuccessful second try for the presidency, he may rue his decision to leave Fox for what seems like a rather unlikely scenario for success.

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Obama Solidifies the GOP Base for Romney

The rationale behind President Obama’s decision to flip-flop on gay marriage and come out in favor of the idea isn’t any mystery. Democratic strategists rightly believe that any issue – no matter how divisive — that diverts attention from a failing economy is good for the president’s re-election campaign. That is why most Republicans have reacted to the matter with an impatient desire to get people talking about discouraging employment and growth figures. But that doesn’t mean the GOP didn’t reap an important dividend from last week’s big story.

The mainstream media has lionized the president for his stand, and most Americans may be either pleased or at least unopposed to gay marriage. But by choosing to embark on this initiative, President Obama has done his opponent in the November election a big favor. One of Mitt Romney’s biggest problems was the clear lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy on the part of his party’s base. But the endorsement of gay marriage is exactly what the Republican standard bearer needed to mobilize an army of evangelicals who were looking for a reason to get excited about an election in which they weren’t very happy about their choices. As the warm reception that Romney got at Liberty University this past weekend shows, he needn’t worry about his centrist image depressing the turnout figures among this key sector of Republican voters.

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The rationale behind President Obama’s decision to flip-flop on gay marriage and come out in favor of the idea isn’t any mystery. Democratic strategists rightly believe that any issue – no matter how divisive — that diverts attention from a failing economy is good for the president’s re-election campaign. That is why most Republicans have reacted to the matter with an impatient desire to get people talking about discouraging employment and growth figures. But that doesn’t mean the GOP didn’t reap an important dividend from last week’s big story.

The mainstream media has lionized the president for his stand, and most Americans may be either pleased or at least unopposed to gay marriage. But by choosing to embark on this initiative, President Obama has done his opponent in the November election a big favor. One of Mitt Romney’s biggest problems was the clear lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy on the part of his party’s base. But the endorsement of gay marriage is exactly what the Republican standard bearer needed to mobilize an army of evangelicals who were looking for a reason to get excited about an election in which they weren’t very happy about their choices. As the warm reception that Romney got at Liberty University this past weekend shows, he needn’t worry about his centrist image depressing the turnout figures among this key sector of Republican voters.

Throughout the campaign, the conventional wisdom has been that like 2008 GOP nominee John McCain, Romney would have trouble getting conservatives to care enough about his candidacy to work hard for his election. Moreover, even after he wrapped up the nomination, the fear has been that he would be caught between the twin perils of having to either continue to pander to evangelicals in the general election or losing them by shifting back to the center for the general election.

But Obama solved that problem for Romney with a single stroke that reminded Christian conservatives why they have no alternative but to turn out in November. When weighed against this blow to their values, factors such as Romney’s history of changed positions on abortion, his lack of fluency with the idiom of social conservative rhetoric and the unfortunate hesitancy on the part of some evangelicals to back a Mormon count for nothing.

After the administration’s assault on the Catholic Church in which the president’s signature health care program was used to force it to pay for practices it preaches against, there is a heightened awareness that religious freedom is going to be an issue in the election. And though, as the New York Times reports, the president has sought in the days after his decision to allay the fears of many pastors that his gay marriage stand will lead to government punishment of those faiths that don’t go along with his view, there is little doubt this is an unstated threat that scares many religious Americans. The example of Catholic and Orthodox Jewish institutions being run out of the adoption field in some states because of their views on gays is instructive.

President Obama needn’t fear African-American disaffection because of this issue even though many share the social conservative views of their white evangelical counterparts. In spite of their differences with this president on this point, black churches will continue to be rallying points for the president’s re-election.

But by pinning hopes on a belief that pushing liberal stands on social issues is the key to re-election, Obama has relieved Romney of the burden of having to spend any of the next six months worrying about whether evangelicals will turn out for him.

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