Today, Paul Mirengoff at Powerline raises the concern that Huckabee seems to want a free pass on the issues because of his status as an evangelical.  Paul writes:

Huckabee seems to believe he deserves a “pass” by virtue of his status as an evangelical and the fact that evangelicals have supported Republicans. That’s a dangerous mind set. Other serious Republican candidates have no difficulty understanding that resistance to them flows not from prejudice or elitism but from legitimate policy differences.

Mirengoff is right.  Huckabee shouldn’t get a pass on the issues.  I haven’t had the time of late to address the various and sundry attacks against him, as they have been fast and furious.*  But serious and substantial criticism of him needs to happen.

The problem, however, that Huckabee is responding to and that Mirgenoff ignores is the nature of the attacks against Huckabee.  Rod Dreher penned an excellent analysis of the problem today.  I quote at length:

It’s funny, but when it looked like Rudy Giuliani, a social liberal, was going to be the nominee, we didn’t see many, if any, establishment Republican opinion leaders freaking out over what kind of danger to the future of the party and the nation he represented, even though as Ross points out, Giuliani hasn’t exactly been deep on policy (I had to research Giuliani for our Dallas Morning News editorial board debate on which candidate to endorse, and I was genuinely startled by how vague he was on many things). I think it’s fair to say that it was assumed that Giuliani would be a sound representative of the Republican Party, and that the social and religious conservatives would do like they always do and get in line. Pat Robertson sure did.

But lo, it turns out that the candidate who’s caught fire comes straight out of the religious/social conservative wing of the coalition, and he is unsound on issues most important to the fiscal wing. It’s not supposed to work that way. Nobody at the elite level seems to expect the economic conservatives to suck it up for the sake of party unity. What does that say about the place of social conservatives in the party all these years?

I don’t want to overdo this. I think it’s perfectly fine to be worried about Huckabee’s vagueness, and his unpreparedness. I’m worried about these things too, which is a big reason why I can’t say I’d vote for him (though honestly, any Republican who finds himself worked up over Huckabee’s lack of knowledge about foreign affairs, say, should ask himself if he felt the same way about Gov. Bush in 1999 and 2000, and if not, why not). Still, it’s hard to shake the belief that the real problem with Mike Huckabee, as far as the establishment is concerned, is that he’s not clubbable.

Huckabee’s rise has prompted a more careful analysis not only of the role of religion in politics, but also of the place of social conservatives within the Republican party.  As evangelical political reflection and involvement increases and improves, we will presumably become increasingly more aware of the sort of double standards that Dreher points out.

This is not to say that evangelicals will leave the Republican party.  Until Democrats have a viable pro-life candidate, there’s no place for social conservatives to turn.  But that doesn’t mean social conservatives will continue to march within the party as they have always done.  Rudy Giuliani’s ascension to the top spot was a warning sign–the tone of the attacks on Mike Huckabee have only been further confirmation that social conservatives are second-class citizens within the Republican party.
*Though I was disappointed in his Foreign Policy article, I agree with Dreher that his positions are hardly a disqualification to be president.  What’s more, despite the critiques of the piece, there are a lot of smart Romney supporters who agree with his position that the Bush administration has been “arrogant” in his approach to foreign policy.

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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.

3 Comments

  1. For Dreher to claim that Huckabee’s foreign policy ignorance isn’t such a big deal by comparing the party’s response to pre-9/11 Bush is a little disingenuous. Not only was foreign policy a secondary issue for the GOP, but Bush’s primary opposition, other than McCain, had virtually no FP bona fides. By February of 1999, everyone except Bush, McCain, and Alan Keyes had dropped out, and the Rove machine was running in high gear. The major FP issue of the campaign was backing away from “nation-building” in Bosnia, as Bush famously put it. No wonder the GOP didn’t worry that he had little FP experience.

    Did You Know: in 1999, Mike Huckabee endorsed Lamar Alexander.

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  2. EJ Dionne has a good piece he calls Huckabee the Rebel in today’s Washington Post. Dionne credits Huckabee’s popularity among Evangelicals, and his unpopularity among the elites, to his economic ideas more than his faith. I think Dionne has a good point. One of the biggest disconnects between the conservative, middle-America base and the Republican leadership has to do with concerns about personal economic security, poverty, and the growing gap between the wealthy class and the middle class.

    The Republican elites seem tone deaf when it comes to domestic economics. Wages are stagnant for most working class Americans, families continue to need two wage earners to make do, health care costs are frightening, jobs are going overseas, the mortgage fiasco has put a lot of families at risk of losing their homes, divorce and single motherhood put a larger and larger percentage of Americans on the brink of poverty… Huckabee acknowledges these facts and seems to want government to address them in significant ways.

    That goes against traditional Conservative thinking about the role of government, but it falls right in line with the thinking of social conservatives, who want to see America become a more equitable society for all. Huckabee’s appeal goes beyond abortion politics to the whole idea that Bush introduced but didn’t do much about — compassionate conservatism.

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  3. Matthew Lee Anderson December 21, 2007 at 11:21 pm

    Jim,

    That’s a fair point.

    Charlie,

    I think your point about the concern among conservatives over the economic situation is exactly right. This is also, I think, a part of the reason for Ron Paul’s rise, as he is (oddly) protectionistic in his language about economics. He’s libertarian, yes, but he’s also used pretty protectionist language about the North American Union. Jerome Corsi’s book–disclosure: I edited it–was a NY Times bestseller. Conservative elites have mostly ignored the WND crowd, but my sense is that they are a growing force within the GOP (that is, after all, where Chuck Norris has a weekly column).

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