With little more than a week left until the Iowa Caucuses, it seems that conventional wisdom has been swept aside and the candidacy of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is for real. Huckabee is formidable not for his resources – his war-chest is anemic – nor for his ideas – few folks really want a theocracy. His story, however, resonates.
Huckabee is the man from Hope, Ark., who, as governor of a small southern state, balanced its budget and is a compassionate conservative. If that sounds familiar it is because it is pretty much the same narrative that swept the last two presidents – Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – into office.
In the Republican Primary, Huckabee is finding support among Christian Conservatives who heretofore had been disappointed in the field of candidates. Rudy Giuliani never appealed to them, John McCain had scorned them when he went after George Bush in 2000, and they know not whether to trust Mitt Romney’s words or his record.
A former pastor, Huckabee appeals to the Christian Conservatives because no one can question his authenticity on their issues. He’s anti-abortion, wants to quarantine the gays who have AIDS and has never wavered from the idea that he should build God’s kindom – rather HIS God’s kingdom on earth – when he suggests that the global war on terror is a “theocratic war.”
Republicans are divided between economic libertarians and theocratic statists. That is why those who find Huckabee appealing in the GOP primary turn a blind eye to his more-compassionate-than-conservative views on immigration and his embrace of tax increases as budget-balancing solutions whilst governor of Arkansas.
If logic ruled politics, positions like those wouldn’t get Huckabee more than 20% of the vote even in a GOP primary. But political logic has its own pattern and Huckabee, gaining steam in Iowa as I type, may well be a factor in the February primaries and in November. Why? Well, the very thing that makes Huckabee intriguing to GOP voters – his narrative – would also make for an interesting match-up in a general election. In a way, we’ve seen this story before. And voters liked it.
Nearly a year ago my friends laughed at me when I suggested that the best November election for 2008 would be Hillary Clinton against Huckabee. In a sense, the race would be pitting Bill Clinton’s wife and sometimes acknowledged political partner (sometimes not) against Bill Clinton’s background. Who could lay claim to being more like Clinton – the one who married him, campaigned with him and bore him a child? Or the one with pretty much the same record – born in Hope, grew up to be governor of Arkansas, kept the budget balanced and ran for president as the Comeback Kid?
Even better, Gov. Huckabee comes without Bill Clinton’s flaws. As an ordained minister, the only person he’s cheated with was God. While Bill Clinton struggled with his weight, resulting in heart disease – Huckabee fought obesity and won – something many Americans wish they could do themselves.
Ideas and campaign cash aside – and if he does well next week, he’ll have both on hand in short order – Mike Huckabee is steamrolling into the New Year on the wave of his greatest asset, his narrative. If voters don’t get a chance to examine his record or his principles, that may just be enough to take him into November – and the rest of our Gods forbid – beyond.