The Crucifixtion of Mike Huckabee

He just had his Palm Sunday with his victory in Iowa, now comes the crucifixion part.  He will need more than Chuck Norris covering his back on this one.  He will need Mel Gibson.  Governor Mike Huckabee is about to be pilloried unlike any modern presidential candidate since, well, since Ronald Reagan, who in pre FOX television days was unanimously tarred by the media herd as a racist and a warmonger but got elected anyway.  Huck will probably not have that luck.

This is a rite of passage for any winning candidate in Iowa, it will happen to Barack Obama as well, but the furor over Huckabee will hit new highs on the media shrill meter.  One panel member on MSNBC last night came right out and admitted on air, “I don’t like him.”  And the host openly sneered at Huckabee’s winning comments, saying to his colleagues, “Does that do anything for you?”  No one criticized or even mentioned Huck’s controversial tax plan.  The whole focus was on his religion.  Why?  Because Huckabee is a despised (and feared) evangelical Christian.

Well, you say, didn’t Jimmy Carter prove in 1976 that a born again Christian could get elected president?  Yes, but he was a liberal Democrat and thus many editors and pundits pulled their punches.

And didn’t George W. Bush claim in the Iowa Debates in 2000 that his greatest political philosopher (sic) was Jesus.  Yeah, but editors, debriefing their female writers on the Bush campaign plane, who carried back stories of Bush quizzing them on their private sex lives, couldn’t believe the “testosterone president” (are they all like that?) was doing anything more that mining for votes from a rich religious vein.  Indeed, the evangelicals didn’t believe it either and 4 million of them sat home while Gore and Bush took the contest to the wire.  The evangelicals may believe it now, and the editors too.  But it’s too late now.  And they certainly did not believe it then.  George W. Bush, they told themselves, was of patrician, Episcopal roots and the born again thing was only political.

To get an idea of what Mike Huckabee, an authentic, conservative evangelical Christian will face in the coming weeks you must consider the political fate of former Missouri Governor John Ashcroft who was Bush’s first Attorney General.   Notwithstanding the current public image, John Ashcroft had never been a wide eyed, conservative extremist.  He had been elected Attorney General of Missouri twice and Governor twice and Senator once.  One cycle he was the only Republican elected to statewide office during a Democrat landslide.  Missouri was not some southern, Dixie, safe Republican bastion.  It was a bellwether state that went for Democrats Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton.  Hey, it went with the winner in every presidential election in my lifetime.  So you can imagine the surprise to folks in Missouri, most of whom had no idea what Ashcroft’s religion might be, when they woke up in 2000 to the New York media attack blitz on the president’s Attorney General nominee?  He was a dirty born again Christian.

Ashcroft had integrity.  He wouldn’t fire the names on that infamous White House list of politically contrary states attorneys.  And so Bush-Rove canned him but the fixated, anti-evangelical media was so anti-Ashcroft they missed the whole story until it had long passed over them.  Evangelicals were so bad, so muddy, they couldn’t even rehabilitate an honest one to serve their own ends.

Huckabee will be confronted everywhere he turns by questions about evangelical doctrine much as the ultra liberal media did to Romney last year on the subject of his faith and every evangelical cultural tic will be ridiculed and examined.  It will be extra harsh because the media in their arrogance and ignorance didn’t see him coming.  Like someone who suddenly startles you, they will now jump in fright.  And anger too because they had been talking about this for two years and totally got it wrong.  It is a little embarrassing.  After all, they get paid money to tell us things we all know are way of the mark, ridiculous, out of touch.  And, of course, it’s not their fault, it’s Huckabee’s fault and so he must pay.  And then finally, their isn’t much time to smear him, so it must be full court press, the attacks will have to make up for lost time.

The problem is that the media is so stupid about religion (one of the nation’s most preeminent political observers recently insisted that Iowa had lots of Baptists, thus the Huckabee win,) that they will sometimes miss their target.  In their nervous frenzy, lacking a proper understanding of the numbers and the various subcultures, they will say the wrong things.  They will inadvertently target all Christians or anyone who believes in anything.

The result?  Huckabee will skyrocket.  His funds will pour in.  He will be a player in many states that would never have worked for him.  Heck, he might even get the nomination by pulling off a win somewhere in the Midwest.

But all the damage will have done its work.  He will not win the general election even if he does get the nomination and the media elites, who are now shamelessly calling themselves media elites on the air, will say amongst themselves, “phew, that was close.”  But then, neither will Barack Obama win, by the way.  Running for president is like cooking something new, nobody ever gets it perfect the first time around.  And you know what that means?  She’s going to come baaaaaack.

The “Luck” of Huck: Mike Huckabee will win tomorrow night and everyone will call it a one time, lucky shot, but will they be right?

More than a year ago a minority of political observers, including this author and Dick Morris, to name a few, were predicting that the Republican nominee would come from the so called second tier candidates.  It didn’t take rocket science to calculate that with 42% of the nation claiming to be born again Christians – and Iowa being the buckle in the Bible Belt – either born again candidates, Governor Mike Huckabee or Representative Duncan Hunter, would eventually emerge.  But it certainly defied the conventional wisdom of the time.

 

More than a year ago national pundits assured us that either Rudolph Giuliani, John McCain or Mitt Romney had a lock on the nomination with maybe the possibility of an outside, dark horse, challenge from Newt Gingrich or Fred Thompson.  There was a problem to this reasoning, a socio-cultural-religious problem.  Giuliani, Gingrich and Thompson would all be splitting the minority conservative Catholic vote in the GOP, Romney was Mormon and McCain had already publicly attacked evangelical leaders during his run in 2000, making him the darling of the media but virtually killing any hope of winning a Republican nomination.  That left the born againers a simple choice, Huckabee or Hunter.

 

There was always a problem for Gingrich and Thompson.  Running for president is a little like building a shopping mall.  If you are well connected and have all the money in the world and can get the zoning and building permits that others can’t and can have your workers busy around the clock with big lights allowing work at night, it still takes a certain amount of time to build a shopping mall.  And running for president, with trillions of dollars at stake, even with a TV network behind you, takes time.  There are little things that have to be done.  Not since the days of Dwight Eisenhower has someone come in late and won and today, even an Eisenhower, may not be able to finesse the arcane party and state rules.

 

Newt Gingrich wisely tested the waters and backed off.  Thompson dove right in and was stunned to find his “Reagan act” going nowhere.  Stories of his personal life were running rampant along the word of mouth network among the evangelicals now controlling the levers of power in the local GOP political machines.

 

Now, some pundits are telling us that Romney will actually win tomorrow night because he has a paid organization and indeed that should close the gap and make a big difference, paid beats volunteer every time.  And all the other pundits are saying that even if Huckabee wins it doesn’t do anything but hurt Romney, Huckabee’s win cannot translate into anything more.

 

This reasoning is based on three arguments.  One, that Huckabee has no money and thus cannot compete with television advertising in the big primaries that will quickly follow.  Two, Huckabee is not even on the radar screen in New Hampshire, showing that Iowa is a fluke.  And three, there are a lot of Baptists in Iowa and Huckabee is a Baptist, which explains his win.

 

That last point is so ignorant and irritating to Americans with some religious sense about them I’m going to address it first.  Governor Mike Huckabee is not a Baptist, he is a Southern Baptist.  Only 2% of Iowans identify themselves as Southern Baptists.  Yes, there are approximately 16 million Southern Baptists in the country, it is the largest Protestant denomination in America but 95% of them live in 13 southern states.  Less than 2% of Iowa is Southern Baptist and the Northern American Baptists who do live in Iowa are half evangelical and half liberal Protestants.  When I worked the Bush campaign in 1988, very few North American Baptists were involved in the Republican process.  Huckabee’s evangelical support in Iowa, like ours and Bob Dole’s and Pat Roberson’s comes from Pentecostals and Charismatics.  They, more than any other religious block, control the state GOP.

 

And all of this explains why Huckabee can’t win in New Hampshire.  This is one region of the country where there aren’t many Southern Baptist nor Pentecostals nor Charismatics.  It is also a region of the country where Republicans have done poorly in recent general elections, notwithstanding New Hampshire’s long Republican tradition.

 

Well, the pundits are saying, Pat Robertson did well in Iowa, coming in second in the Iowa Caucuses of 1988 but later did nothing in the South.  Huckabee should follow that pattern.  This too shows the media ignorance of religion.

 

Robertson was not a viable candidate. It was just as absurd to most evangelicals that a religious broadcaster was running for president as it was to non evangelicals.  And Robertson was a Pentecostal-Charismatic who won with Pentecostal-Charismatic voters in Iowa but was rejected by Southern Baptists in South Carolina who despised his religious doctrines. 

 

Now, this gets complicated and may be hard for outsiders to understand.  But if Southern Baptists are hostile to Pentecostal-Charismatic doctrines, it does not work the other way around.  So unlike Robertson, Huckabee will have it working for him both ways.  Like Jimmy Carter, he will have both groups sympathetic to him.  And like Carter, Huckabee is not a religious broadcaster but a Southern Governor. 

 

If Pentecostals and Charismatics control the GOP in many Mid Western and Western States, the Southern Baptists own it lock, stock and barrel in the South.  So if Huckabee wins tomorrow, as I expect him to, he will be very hard to beat in South Carolina and the rest of the South, advertising dollars or no.  For Huckabee will have what no other candidate in the GOP has, the hearts and minds of the Party activists who are overwhelmingly evangelical Christian.  It is a built in political machine that money can’t buy.

 

So what does it mean?  Won’t Huck still lose in New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois and California, where television advertising will dominate?  And won’t Romney beat him in many Mountain States?  Without money, yes, Huckabee will theoretically lose them all.  But with wins in Iowa and in the South an alarmed, knee jerk, reactive, anti-religious media will likely go on the attack, blasting Huckabee’s faith and a backlash of Internet dollars could make him viable in those state too.

 

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

republic monetary exchange