The standard line leading up to the Iowa victory was that Mitt Romney was losing support because of the evangelical rejection of his Mormon faith.  In fact, most pundits preferred to ignore evidence to the contrary, labeling Mike Huckabee’s rise as due to evangelical “identity politics” rather than as a result of any real or perceived weaknesses in Mitt Romney.

That line was given a boost in the Iowa caucuses.  Unfortunately, like many of the catch phrases of this election, it’s not accurate. Michael Medved argues not only that Huckabee’s appeal extends beyond the evangelical subculture, but that he also appeals to demographics that Republicans have had a difficult time reaching:

Yes, Huckabee’s 46% of Evangelicals was a strong showing, but it was directly comparable to his commanding 40% of women, or 40% of all voters under the age of 30, or 41% of those earning less than $30,000 a year. His powerful appeal to females, the young and the poor make him a different kind of Republican, who connects with voting blocs the GOP needs to win back. He’s hardly the one-dimensional religious candidate of media caricature.

Medved’s analysis is worth taking into account when considering Mike Huckabee’s candidacy.  As are Romney supporter John Mark Reynolds’ astute observations:

Huckabee is talking about the environment, the working poor, and social justice at every turn. Talking about these things does not make him a liberal. He is a traditional conservative. Attempts to portray him as a liberal are not going to work, because he is not one and does not come across as one.

Period.

Attack him for being wrong (on the War for example), but don’t try to turn him into Jimmy Carter or Pat Robertson. He isn’t and after the first impact of the blow, it will redound on the attacker, because it is obviously false.

Robertson (it turned out) had bizarre conspiracy theory views of history and Jimmy Carter was a liberal religiously and in every other way.

He is not a “hater” who sees evil conspiracies around every corner. His Iowa victory speech shows that. He is not going to draw his cabinet from the Jimmy Carter pool and to pretend he would govern as anything other than a right-of-center Republican is bizarre.

Huckabee is tolerant in ways Pat Buchanan (to give another example) was not (or did not seem to be).

Unless “inclusion” is just a main stream media code for “homosexuality is good,” he is also an inclusive candidate. He is not a hater . . . period.

I don’t understand why people I like at places like National Review On Line are soft on Rudy getting the nomination (who is bluntly a liberal) and in a lather over Huckabee. There are pro-Rudy writers there. . . but I am hard pressed to find one pro-Huckabee writer.

I don’t agree with Huckabee on some issues, so I will not support him in the primaries, but the reaction (over-reaction) of some conservatives to him is just silly and counter-productive to beating him.

Mike Huckabee isn’t the perfect candidate.*  But I continue to meet evangelicals who are insulted by the identity politics charge and are losing respect for the Republican pundit-class for their wholesale and often irresponsible rejection of Mike Huckabee.  Republican leaders and commentators would do well to heed Medved and Reynolds’ warnings.
*I am concerned about his foreign policy views, though I am (right now) willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on the issue due to his lack of funds, which has handicapped his ability to do the research he needs to and has demanded that he spend all of his time campaigning, not studying for policy positions.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

4 Comments

  1. I read the Reynolds’ post yesterday and thought he made some excellent points. I still wonder about how he could support Romney when there are some major inconsistencies with his positions.

    Honestly I’m not at all concerned with Mike Huckabee’s foriegn policy. I think he has some good ideas, and it really isn’t a bad idea to distance himself from some of the Bush policies. I’m amazed at how people could say that Mitt Romney’s has better experience in that area. I wonder… what experience? Quite frankly they are all (with the exception of Paul) using similar rhetoric. Where Huckabee’s problem lies, and you hit it on the head, is knowledge of specific events. Being able to hire an advisor who can brief him daily will cure that.

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  2. Huck’s evangelical support is different from the other demographics. He polled only 14% of the voters who didn’t identify as born again / evangelical, a whopping disparity, and less than the percentages of both McCain and Thompson.

    Put the numbers in perspective: Huckabee’s 46% evangelical support alone gained him 27.6% of the overall GOP caucus vote. His 40% support among women gained him only 17.6%.

    It’s also important to qualify every one of Medved’s statements. For example, his “powerful appeal” toward Iowa’s Republican poor who could show up for an evening caucus instead of working the late shift at Denny’s. I know it’s an irresistible temptation, but getting carried away by Iowa results is a hasty generalization, period.

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  3. One more thing: head-to-head, at least according to recent polls, Huckabee would lose to Clinton, Obama, or Edwards, and only Clinton would be close. That could change, of course, if Huck becomes the front-runner. But it’s sure interesting.

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  4. Thanks for the links to Reynolds and Medved. Both I think have analyzed Huckabee’s strengths and weaknesses well. I especially agree with Reynolds that Huckabee’s positions on social conservative issues like jobs and family make him a truer conservative than anyone in the race.

    His negative appeal to secularists and liberal Christians will be a very big problem if he gets as far as the general election. And if Obama wins the nomination, there will be no hope at all. Democrats have felt shortchanged since Camelot was killed in 1963, and inexperienced or not, they will sweep Obama to victory to try to regain the “magic” of Camelot once again.

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