Politics & Policy

Huck’s Spectacularly Unpersuasive Defenders

A campaign theme of "I'm one of you" only works for folks who see themselves as "you."

Notice a particular theme in the following accounts of the Huckabee campaign?

Writing about Mike Huckabee’s rapid ascent in the GOP primary, the Washington Post believed that they had found “how Huckabee did it.” They claim his success may be related to a physician from Montgomery, Ala., named Randy Brinson, who is “the keeper of a massive e-mail list of highly coveted Christian voters that Huckabee is using to reach and organize people in early-voting states such as Iowa.”

#ad#Mark Ambinder of the Atlantic noted:

Sources say that the Renewal Project, whose organizers are partial to Mike Huckabee, is planning three pastors conferences in Florida, one conference in New Hampshire (scheduled for Dec. 13 and 14) two in South Carolina and at least one in Michigan. Huckabee’s opponents suspect the Project is a campaign adjunct in disguise. Its backers are wealthy and anonymous. Last week in Des Moines, they paid for 350 pastors to stay at downtown hotels, fed them good meals and paid Newt Gingrich’s speakers fee. And only Mike Huckabee was invited to speak. (The project’s organizers insisted that all the other candidates were invited, but, funnily enough, no other candidate seems to have gotten the invitation.)

Last week, Huckabee announced his campaign’s “Iowa Pastors Coalition, the endorsement of Iowa family values leader Chuck Hurley and the support of nationally known religious leader Tim LaHaye and his spouse, Beverly LaHaye, who founded Concerned Women of America.”

Tack onto that some of the more controversial moments of the Huckabee campaign in recent weeks: Both the candidate and his wife have compared elements of their campaigns to the miracle of the loaves and fishes; he in reference to his rise in the polls, she in reference to his fundraising.

One of his first ads refers to the candidate as a “Christian Leader.” His spokesman insisted this label was simply touting his resume as pastor of several Southern Baptist churches and service as president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, but one can’t help but notice that the ad didn’t say, “pastor” or “Baptist Convention President.”

Finally, Huckabee declared on Fox News Sunday, “In fact, I’ve done everything I can to say I’ll be happy to talk about my faith. I’m not going to evaluate someone else’s.” The New York Times reported the following conversation of a week earlier:

I asked Huckabee, who describes himself as the only Republican candidate with a degree in theology, if he considered Mormonism a cult or a religion. ‘‘I think it’s a religion,’’ he said. ‘‘I really don’t know much about it.’’

I was about to jot down this piece of boilerplate when Huckabee surprised me with a question of his own: ‘‘Don’t Mormons,’’ he asked in an innocent voice, ‘‘believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?’’

#page#Reader e-mail is far from a perfect measuring stick of the thinking of a candidate’s supporters. Every candidate is going to have his yahoos, loudmouths, obnoxious out-spokens, etc. But there’s a particular theme in the mailbag when the topic turns to Huckbee:

Tim:

I am amazed at how most of you at NR are getting it wrong when interpreting and explaining the views and words of evangelical Christians. It almost sounds like it’s coming from the clueless secular non-Christian folks. There’s a good bit politically with which to disagree with Mike Huckabee, but his religious comments are quite innocuous. As for Mormonism, hardly any theologically conservative Christian would consider it a Christian denomination. Don’t you have any evangelical Christian writers at NRO?

#ad#Neil:

Personally, I’m sympathetic to Huck since he’s an underdog, although I’ll probably vote McCain. But the more you attack Huckabee on spurious grounds (“Huckabee gave thanks to God!!! He thinks he’s been chosen by divine right!!”), the more I’m thinking of voting for him!

Frankly it also annoys Christians to hear such charges. Attempting to embarrass Huck on religious grounds elicits defensiveness in us Christian voters. By all means go after his (nonexistent) foreign policy ideas. If you had embarrassed him over that in the first place he would never have been a surprise front runner! But noooo, you and the MSM keep needling him on religion.

David:

On the Huckabee “Christian leader” thing, I think you are off base because you don’t understand a “dog whistle” term correctly. The term “Christian leader” does not connote “not Jewish” or “not Mormon” to most evangelicals. Rather, it is a generic term that roughly means “super pastor” or “foundation organizer” or “conference speaker.” In evangelical circles, there are no “bishops” since most churches are independent. Yet there are still people who are “higher” than the standard local pastor. These people are typically called “Christian leaders.”

Owen:

You guys are attacking Huckabee with so much zeal that you are likely to destroy your credibility on the subject. The attacks on his religious beliefs are about to drive me (a supporter of Thompson and Romney) to supporting him, and I suspect others may start thinking the same way.

Ken:

Do you honestly listen to Huckabee with a furrowed brow? Are you so out of touch with mainstream Christian thought that attributing one’s temporary success to God sounds to your ear like “I know God wants me to win?”

I can tell you for a fact that many in my church are downright giddy that there is a Christian like Huckabee running for president and doing well. We talk about it before services, we talk about it at church events and we talk about it in our small groups. Huckabee is going to get some level of support for being Christian, and as soon as it looks like he has a chance to win it, others will pile on the bandwagon.

In the annals of unconvincing and counterproductive candidate defenses, the argument “You don’t get it because you’re not an evangelical” will rank up there with “I didn’t inhale.”

#page#Because one shouldn’t have to be an evangelical to “get” Huckabee. His campaign has been marked by a disturbing pattern — he says something that appears to be a strikingly controversial statement intertwining his faith and modern politics, it gets a negative response, and then we are reassured that we didn’t really hear what we heard; that his words had a much more innocuous meaning. It’s hinted that the benevolent interpretation was obvious to evangelicals, and that only those on the outside would interpret such comments uncharitably; as his campaign spokesman put it regarding the “not human” comment, “most people” would recognize what “most Christians” do.

Once or twice it’s believable; after that it starts to sound like that old refrain, “who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

#ad#Evangelical conservative Christians are a powerful and influential group within the Republican party. But they’re not enough to get the nomination, much less the presidency.

After the 2004 election, the Pew Center calculated white evangelicals made up 23-percent of the population, and 37-percent of the Republican Party.

Huckabee already had questions about whether he really could appeal to economic conservatives or foreign policy conservatives. It seems, judging by his supporters and his rhetoric, that the one message that has worked like gangbusters for Huckabee since he entered the race, has been his message to evangelical conservatives, “I’m one of you.” Judging by the polls, that community has responded enthusiastically: “Yes, you’re one of us.”

That’s a nice bond. But it’s not enough. And for those of us outside that bond, what’s the pitch to get us to mark Huckabee’s name on the box? Good jokes? The irony of seeing Hillary defeated by a guy from Hope, Arkansas? A campaign theme of “I’m one of you” only works for folks who see themselves as “you”, not as “the other guys.”

At the end of the day, becoming the president of Evangelical America will do Huckabee no more good than being the “president of black America” did Jesse Jackson.

– Jim Geraghty writes The Campaign Spot for NRO.

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