Despite a very strong debate performance, Mike Huckabee faces several significant challenges that he will have to overcome in the next ten weeks.  I’ve been overwhelmingly positive about Huckabee, and right now, I don’t see much reason to stop being so.  But for those just getting to know the guy, here are some of the downsides.1) Sadly, Huckabee is a big-government proponent, which isn’t going to play well at all with the fiscal conservatives. In addition to Erick’s article, consider Rob Port’s case against Huckabee (Ht: Instapundit). I don’t know that I agree that conservatism and federalism are the same, but I am concerned that Huckabee wants to build a nanny-state. He is in a bind, too, since he clearly can’t afford to change his mind on this issue (nor would he, I imagine, just to win the nomination).  But it may not be all that bad–his answers tonight on health care and social security were both sufficiently personal to appease me.
2) Taxes. Club for Growth called him a “mixed bag” on tax and economic issues. That is, however, better than the doomsday language I’ve heard some fiscal conservatives use. Also, one person told me that Arkansas has actually prospered during Huckabee’s tenure as governor.

3) Too religious? It will be interesting to see him navigate the relationship between faith and politics, as the more he comes under scrutiny, the more he’s going to get questioned about it.  See, for instance, tonight.  He wasn’t great on it, but he was good enough.
4) The money. This is a big deal. Jill Stanek has a good summary of the pertinent issues and the problem for Huckabee. In some ways, this is the most frustrating aspect of this issue with Huckabee’s campaign. Brownback dropped out because he couldn’t raise support, but he couldn’t raise support because a lot of evangelical leaders said that he wasn’t “electable.” It became a self-fulfilling prophecy in his case, and it threatens to stop Huckabee’s campaign too. Will it? If Huckabee doesn’t report serious gains in the next quarter, then he’s done. If Huckabee’s supporters want him to win it, they need to donate cash, and do it now.

On the plus side, there was a little reported endorsement that may help Huckabee and be of interest to evangelicals thinking about supporting him. Stephen Strang, the owner of New Man magazine, which is a pentecostal magazine with a rather large readership, challenged readers to support Huckabee:

Huckabee is a good man. He just needs other good men (and women) to get behind him at this critical stage.

Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Let’s do what we can to change the moral direction of our country. Is it possible our joint efforts will lead to a “tipping point” in this campaign that will send a faithful Christian to the White House who can inspire the nation to return to our Judeo-Christian roots?

Huckabee’s hurdles probably aren’t insurmountable, but they are significant.  But if he pulls it off, it will be one of the best stories in recent political memory.  “The unknown from Arkansas without any money rises up to defeat his richer and more famous opponents”–that’s the sort of story that I wouldn’t mind watching.

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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 think the Clinton comparison is interesting, and not just because he was an Arkansas governor: like Clinton he’s comfortable in his skin, well spoken but casual (less stiff than Rudy, Mitt, Fred, and John), and even has a bit of charm, but his radical weight loss and fitness implies he has the personal discipline Clinton lacked in more than one area (Huck’s various marathons are more credible than the 1993 jogging track which Bush ended up using more than Clinton).

    As for the relevance of faith to the office, I think the fact that he’s a minister might actually work in his favor reverse-psychologically: if the fact creates in people the expectation that he’ll be a Bible-thumping televangelist, they’ll actually give him credit for every time he doesn’t fulfill that stereotype (which is practically most of the time).

    If anything, since his ordination is already the ultimate Christian endorsement, it virtually eliminates his need to convince anyone of his religious sincerity, leaving Obama and Hillary as the ones flogging their faith the most.

    Not to say he’ll never talk about it because no doubt he’ll be asked about being a pastor endlessly by the media, but he needn’t act too defensive about it because he’s already passed the public office test more than once. He’s not a high-profile minister deciding on a whim to take a stab at the White House.

    Without Romney in the race Huckabee might have been more defensive as the religious wildcard, but the candidate with the religious freak status is still Romney, making Huckabee’s commitment to faith seem safe and familiar by comparison.

    Romney will always get questions about his faith just because Mormonism is still outside the experience of most Americans, and every answer is fraught with the possibility that this will be the time he finally spouts some secret Mormon crazytalk. But there’s no possibility for titillation from any answer given by Huckabee because Baptist ministers are about as generic as apple pie. Even if it’s a stereotype, people think they already know everything about Baptist ministers, and it’s probably boring.

    One thing though is that the media will hold Huckabee to an exponentially higher ethical standard, and any scandal that reflects on him, even if it’s in his staff and not personal, will be magnified and he’ll be criticized all the more for it. By contrast Rudy has never claimed to subscribe to an exceptional standard of morality so despite his lapses he is more immune from the media’s favorite charge of hypocrisy.

    It might actually be a good reason for a minister not to become president, if only because scandals are inevitable in every administration, and whether perceived or real they may bring national or international disrepute to his faith. I don’t know if it’s possible to resign one’s ordination in his denomination but holding an even minor role of leadership in the church while also being the president might be more unwise for the church’s sake than for the nation’s. It may have to be made more clear to Americans that just being ordained doesn’t make him a pastor unless he has a “calling” in a particular congregation, and without such a position it is not an active role. Henry VIII he would not be.

    Apologies for the length but these were just spontaneous observations as they streamed through my consciousness.

    Reply

  2. Matthew Lee Anderson October 23, 2007 at 8:01 pm

    Nobody,

    Sorry for the delay. To be honest, I almost moved your post up on the main page because I think it’s so insightful. That said, a few thoughts:

    “Not to say he’ll never talk about it because no doubt he’ll be asked about being a pastor endlessly by the media, but he needn’t act too defensive about it because he’s already passed the public office test more than once. He’s not a high-profile minister deciding on a whim to take a stab at the White House.”

    This is a great point that a lot of people will need to keep in mind if the “pastor” critique starts sticking. What’s more, to dismiss his role as Governor because it was Arkansas is impossible, given Bill was gov there.

    “Romney will always get questions about his faith just because Mormonism is still outside the experience of most Americans, and every answer is fraught with the possibility that this will be the time he finally spouts some secret Mormon crazytalk. But there’s no possibility for titillation from any answer given by Huckabee because Baptist ministers are about as generic as apple pie. Even if it’s a stereotype, people think they already know everything about Baptist ministers, and it’s probably boring.”

    In fact, Huckabee is going to break the sterotype on the “boring baptist” score, too (in addition to the “only religious” stereotype). He plays bass in a band that has opened for some fairly notable bands in the past, which is pretty hilarious given most people’s impressions of Baptists. It’s far cooler than being a saxaphone player, too.

    “One thing though is that the media will hold Huckabee to an exponentially higher ethical standard, and any scandal that reflects on him, even if it’s in his staff and not personal, will be magnified and he’ll be criticized all the more for it. By contrast Rudy has never claimed to subscribe to an exceptional standard of morality so despite his lapses he is more immune from the media’s favorite charge of hypocrisy.”

    This is a good point. Of course, Huckabee has already had some scandals in office (an ethics violation, the details of which I haven’t researched yet) and has survived.

    I would say he’s like Clinton in his charm, but he’s different in a very important way. Clinton can sell anyone anything, but does so in a slick fashion. Huckabee can sell anything, but only because he understands his own position and is able to establish a sense of common humanity with those he is talking to. Audience, press–it doesn’t matter. It’s clear everyone is on level ground with him, and I think that makes him a lot more forgiveable. If held to a higher standard, I think that it won’t be a problem for him, even if he trips up.

    “It might actually be a good reason for a minister not to become president, if only because scandals are inevitable in every administration, and whether perceived or real they may bring national or international disrepute to his faith. I don’t know if it’s possible to resign one’s ordination in his denomination but holding an even minor role of leadership in the church while also being the president might be more unwise for the church’s sake than for the nation’s. It may have to be made more clear to Americans that just being ordained doesn’t make him a pastor unless he has a “calling” in a particular congregation, and without such a position it is not an active role. Henry VIII he would not be.”

    My only response is that it may be good to have someone who knows how to be honest with his shortcomings as the leader of our country, and to have a Christian who is willing to take responsibility for his actions in office can’t be a bad thing for the faith. I’m skeptical of anyone in public who posits themselves as “genuine” (including myself), but I can’t describe Huckabee any other way. The fact that he has run his campaign without a national fundraiser is insane, but it’s the sort of thing that someone who is deeply committed to his principles will do. Given that I agree with his principles–honesty, love, consistency, etc–I think his deep commitment to them can’t but reflect well on the Christian faith, even if he occasionally falls short of them.

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  3. What do you think of this article? If nothing eles, it might just serve as a tempering warning.
    http://opinionjournal.com/diary/?id=110010782

    Reply

  4. Matthew Lee Anderson October 26, 2007 at 12:02 pm

    Soccerwannabe,

    I like Fund a lot. However, I can’t help but agree with this articles’ analysis of the piece.

    http://roebuckreport.blogspot.com/2007/10/funds-column-assassination-of-huckabee.html

    Reply

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