Our preferences are shaped by the media we consume.
The more I read my study material for my financial certifications, the less I find myself noticing the gender inclusive pronouns (which normally evoke irritation). In some ways, it’s inevitable. Put yourself in an environment long enough, and it starts to shape you in ways that you do not realize.
The reluctance of evangelical leaders to endorse Mike Huckabee in light of his recent success has been well documented. It’s pretty clear they were hoping for someone else (presumably Romney or Fred) to win the crowd and make their lives easier. It didn’t happen. And now they face the unenviable choice of choosing whom they presume to be the “pragmatic” candidate–Romney–or choosing the upstart whom their base is dying to see succeed (and make no mistake about the base’s eagerness on this score–Huckabee pulled in probably $80,000 today in online donations).
Why the reticence? It’s clear that religious leaders have drunk deeply at the “unelectable” well (Ross Douthat channels it here). They are interested not only in a candidate who represents their values, but a candidate who can win the primary. And who can blame them? Everyone wants to back a winner.
But this is the delicious irony pro-life leaders have placed themselves in. As some people are starting to recognize, Huckabee is both the principled AND the pragmatic choice for pro-life leaders. If he makes it out of the primaries, he’ll win the general handily.
In a race of Hillary and Huck, it’s obvious who inspires more people and speaks their language more effectively, and whose policies have a broader reach across both aisles. It is what my high school teacher used to call a “duh shot”–so obvious that we didn’t see it until now.
If it were Hillary or Romney, however, Romney’s slick demeanor is going to make it hard for him to reach out to people, and his conversion on pro-life issues (even if comparison) will inevitably draw comparisons to another recent northeast presidential candidate. It’s a comparison–regardless of whether it’s deserved–he’s going to struggle to beat.
Then why aren’t the endorsements from pro-life leaders falling from above, like manna to the hungry pro-life crowd? This is the deep irony of this election cycle. It has exposed the fact that pro-life leaders bow to the narratives of the mass media they claim to despise. And in dismissing Mike Huckabee on grounds of electability,they reveal their powerlessness to the world. If values voters were really powerful, we would ignore electability and elect our own candidate because we can. As Noam Shiber writes,
I’d add that social conservative leaders generally prefer to support mainstream, front-running candidates because mainstream front-runners don’t usually need much help winning elections. And when they do win, they can turn around and claim to have put them over the top. Low risk, high reward, in other words. But more marginal candidates like Huckabee need a lot of help winning, probably significantly more so than the elites can deliver. Worse, if you get behind a Huckabee and he comes up short, it exposes your movement as relatively powerless. And, of course, even if he wins you can’t really take credit. So the crass calculation here is the opposite: high risk, low reward.
Pro-life leaders have a candidate before them who clearly and unambiguously adheres to the values they claim to represent within the party, and who is able to electrify their own constituency in a way they are not. But they have refused to endorse him for fear appearing politically impotent should he lose.
Of course, if they had thrown in with Huckabee six months or a year ago, I wouldn’t be writing this. Huckabee would be a solidly top tier candidate with enough money to dismiss any notions that he can’t compete with the Romneys, Giulianis, or Hillary’s of the world.
But they did not. And it is not yet clear that they will. They may have the political hubris to ignore the clear message at the Washington Briefing and endorse Romney. But they should remember that political pride goeth before the political fall; if nothing else, if they refuse to risk their perceived power over politics, they will will lose the respect and admiration of this member of their constituency.
And I doubt I am alone.