One of the more interesting developments in the political race this week was the increasing discussion about the tone of the attacks on Mike Huckabee.

While the candidates have managed to put out some substantial criticisms of Huckabee, the tone of many of the conservative intellectuals has been, well, over the top. It culminated in this screed by Lisa Schiffren, which Ross Douthat aptly characterized as “Go Back to Dogpatch, You Stupid Hillbilly!” Ironically, Schiffren’s post validated Joe Carter’s point that National Review become dominated by what he terms “Manhattan conservatives.” Rod Dreher chimed in with a broader analysis of the problem, and Erick at Redstate offered this defense of Huckabee:

I don’t want to defend Mike Huckabee. He’s not my candidate. I don’t yet see any major reasons to trust him on fiscal issues (though he did say he wants to kill the corporate income tax). But it’s a sad day in the conservative movement when the conservative intelligentsia has sustained harsher words for a socially conservative Governor than a serial adulterer who has said this year that the government should provide assistance to poor women wanting abortions.

There is lots to disagree with Huckabee on. But the tenor of the attacks against him has been off-putting to this young social conservative. It has made me wonder whether the palpable loathing of Huckabee by many conservatives stems less from his populist rhetoric and alleged “naivety” on foreign policy and more from a distaste of any candidate being overt in his religious dedication. Being a Christian in politics is fine, as long as you are the “right sort of Christian.”

As John from Verum Serum put it, “This is the enlightenment approach to faith, i.e. religion is fine so long as it doesn’t actually matter. And that’s especially the case when it comes to politics. I don’t care if you believe in God just keep it to yourself. And please, please don’t talk about it in an election.”

Of course, if you happen to mention a specific God that you might worship, like Jesus Christ, the politicos with their post-modern practices (no different in this respect from the identity politics of evangelicals) will deconstruct your motives to pandering to those evangelicals, rather than acknowledging the facts that you simply believe in Him and aren’t afraid to say “Merry Christmas.”

The ferocity of the attacks on Huckabee has risked alienating young voters like myself. Hugh recently wrote that evangelicals are not easily led, or subject to dog whistles,” And in this, he is exactly right. But the story of this campaign is that evangelicals will not follow the dog whistles of the mainstream GOP, which has rejected “compassionate conservatism” wholesale. Our position in the GOP is less secure than it was four years ago, as evidenced by Giuliani’s position as frontrunner for the bulk of this campaign.

If anything, Huckabee’s rise is indicative of evangelicals’ refusal to let the mainstream GOP take them for granted any longer. The pundits said that Huckabee wasn’t a player–evangelicals put him into the top tier. The pundits explained that Huckabee wasn’t electable. Evangelicals have made him electable.

While evangelicals shouldn’t vote for someone out of spite for his critics, the distaste for Huckabee from the Republican intelligentsia raise serious questions about our alliance with the GOP. At the same time, the GOP needs Huckabee’s supporters, many of whom have the time and energy to do the little things that win elections, which makes it’s vitriol against the Second Man from Hope all the more disappointing and perplexing.

Update: John from Article Six asks the pertinent question: “Where are they going to go? This is so reminiscent of the late ’60’s and early ’70’s to me. Everybody wanted to drop out, and suddenly found they were nowhere. Politics is the science of the possible, not the ideal.”

The point of my post is that the alliance with the GOP is increasingly fragile. The GOP is losing ground among younger voters, and it’s voting block is growing smaller, which means it needs all the votes it can get. To repeatedly demean evangelicals by asserting that they only support Huckabee because of religion (while ignoring evidence that suggests evangelicals in Iowa have a very favorable view of Mitt Romney) alienates the very people that the GOP seems to need to win elections.

John’s question also presumes the sort of “dog whistle” mentality that the GOP has toward evangelicals. The implication that there is nowhere else evangelicals can go prevents any serious self-reflection on the part of Republicans–self-reflection that the GOP needs a lot right now. The expectation that evangelicals will enthusiastically support the party on the strength of Democrat-hatred alone is additional confirmation of the low view of evangelicals that many pundits seem to have.

If the Democrats fielded a candidate who had a respectable pro-life record and had a moderately reasonable foreign policy, my hunch is that many evangelicals–especially the younger evangelicals–would vote for him.

That said, I haven’t answered John’s question because I don’t have a good answer to it. But the fact that it has come to the point where we are talking about it seems to be problematic in itself.

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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.

9 Comments

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Dating all the way back to Novak’s original piece on Huck – in which he had a palpable venom for “them”, those silly evangelicals with their single issue voting. He even opened the column with something along the lines of “those evangelicals have really done a lot for our party, but there was always the danger of them nominating one of their own” – I’ve had this sinking feeling that a lot of the punditocracy really does like us.

    While many were quick to defend Romney from things like Huck’s big misstep in bringing up Mormon doctrines, none have condemned others for bringing up things like Huck’s support for wife’s to submit to their husbands. The reasons given for defending the Mormon candidate were that the same tactics would be used on a Christian candidate – yet now we see people using those tactics on a Christian candidate and there’s nothing but silence.

    Now my feeling alienated from the Republican party is nothing new (I’m a decidedly small l libertarian, and lately they’ve done nothing but grow government, particularly pork), but it is quite new to see the venom turned on us for being evangelicals. I may also take it a bit more personally now that I live in the South when people start acting like any Southerner must be stupid or he wouldn’t be Southern.

    Anyway, well said, I’ll stop venting :)

    Oh, and I still don’t think this is enough for me to vote for Huck. The revelations of the last few weeks have been a bit much for me. I still like the guy, but he’s bringing some serious liabilities to the table.

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  2. As you may know, Matthew, I’m a Democrat. At least that’s what it says on my voter registration. But the truth is that I haven’t felt comfortable in the Democratic party for a long time. Their social compassion dovetails with my faith, but their love affair with abortion rights does not.

    I haven’t felt particularly thrilled with Republicanism either, as much as I support their positions on embryonic stem cell research and other respect for life issue
    And I just wonder if what you’re expressing is a dilemma that all Christians have — politics is what we must do to govern ourselves, but it rarely gets all of its priorities right. And at times, it can be downright disgusting.

    Politics has become very combative, very black and white, power-seeking, demonizing. To borrow from Bush I, Huckabee is a kinder, gentler politician, and I think a lot of the intelligentsia wants war, power, a majority back in Congress.

    And, let’s face it, more and more Republicans are secularists. They don’t care about the Christian social agenda. They want a strong economy, personal security, and a government that won’t tell them how to live their lives. They’re more libertarian than conservative.

    So Huckabee just pushes all the wrong buttons for that wing of the Republican party. Giuliani is their guy. He doesn’t take his faith too seriously, he isn’t too serious about marriage, he’s pro-choice, he’s big on keeping government out of people’s lives, and he has that east coast sophistication.

    Really, I think the problem is that Christians don’t quite fit in. But we already knew that, didn’t we?

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  3. I’m with you, Matt. While I am decidedly cooling on Huckabee over some of his foreign policy statements, this is despite the tone of his conservative blogosphere critics. Like the Schiffren “shut up, you idiot pastor” column, one group of pundits seems to wish that evangelicals would go back to being a single-minded, docile captured constituency. Or accusing evangelicals of more anti-Mormon prejudice than the polls have demonstrated. Or deride as a “populist” a candidate who reflects the economic views of many of your constituents, as well as some constituents of the other party.

    The only thing that most of the anti-Huck columns give me it reason to dislike Huckabee, not reasons to like Romney. They are also the only thing that has succeeded in making me almost sick of being a Republican. Is this the way to build a consensus around a candidate who has yet to top 15% in the national polls?

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  4. […] …an interesting meme that broke big yesterday – Huckabee as the non-establishment candidate. This meme was a lot of places, but one of the better descriptions was from my friend, and Huckbee supporter, Matt Anderson. While evangelicals shouldn’t vote for someone out of spite for his critics, the distaste for Huckabee from the Republican intelligentsia raise serious questions about our alliance with the GOP. […]

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  5. John’s question “Where are they going to go?” reminds me of the way the Democratic party thumbed its nose at working class Catholics when it made abortion rights a litmus test for running under the Democratic banner. Because of their labor union roots, those Catholics had always mindlessly voted Democratic. But when Reagan came along, they defected in droves.

    If Giuliani ends up running against Obama, for instance, will evangelicals see any reason to vote Republican? If Huckabee gets slapped down by the Republican establishment, will evangelicals begin looking elsewhere for someone who respects their political interests?

    Except for abortion, Democrats are much more interested in education, health care access, justice, poverty, etc., etc., than the Republican elite seems to be. I can imagine a great many evangelicals moving left in response to the lack of respect they seem to have these days in the Republican party.

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  6. […] Matthew Lee Anderson of Mere Orthodoxy had a two part series on Huckabee Versus the Establishment which sheds some light on why this is the case.  You can read part one here, and part two here. […]

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  7. Absolutely. In my mind, the alliance is dead, dead as a doornail already. I and a lot of others have removed Fox, National Review, Limbaugh, Coulter, Malkin, etc. from our web browser list. The character assassination is over the top. They are just lying in wait for any misstep.
    I am a member of a large urban evangelical church with a large number of 20somethings. None of them are comfortable being part of the Republican party, which they view as xenophobic, and in the pocket of big business. Huckabee is the only candidate that stands a chance in the general election with that generation.
    Has no one learned anything from Santorum’s defeat? He ran on anti-immigration, a generally angry right wing campaign exactly what these people would say he should do, and he went down in flames. Evangelicals and Catholics I know voted for the pro-life Democrat, Casey, in droves.

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  8. […] supported (Huckabee) was painted by the Republican establishment as a closet Democrat.  Around that time, I wrote: The ferocity of the attacks on Huckabee has risked alienating young voters like myself. Hugh […]

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