Politics & Policy

The Eve of Destruction?

Is Mike Huckabee the stake in the heart of the Reagan coalition?

Republicans have enjoyed victories in five of the last seven presidential elections by uniting the Reagan coalition of social conservatives, economic conservatives and foreign-policy conservatives. Mike Huckabee’s campaign manager, Ed Rollins, however, declared Sunday in the New York Times that the Reagan coalition “is gone.” In designing the Huckabee campaign strategy, Rollins has decided that some, unspecified, part of the original triad must “go by the wayside.”

If the Reagan coalition is to be torn asunder, major credit for its dismantling would have to go to Ed Rollins, who, after engineering President Reagan’s spectacular reelection campaign in 1984, has spent most of his time supporting candidates who were at odds with one part or another of the Reagan coalition.

At first, it seems that social conservatives were to be the first to go. For a time in 1992, Rollins ran Ross Perot’s aggressively pro-choice presidential campaign, which ultimately provided the margin of victory for Bill Clinton’s plurality win and set the stage for Senator Hillary Clinton’s current run for the presidency. In 1993, he managed Christie Todd Whitman’s successful gubernatorial reelection and, after a stint in President George W. Bush’s Cabinet, she can now be found at the Republican Leadership Council, supporting pro-choice Republican moderates. In 1994, Rollins was Congressman Michael Huffington’s campaign manager for the U.S. Senate. Huffington ran as a social liberal and narrowly lost.

And in mid-2007 Rollins penned a Washington Post column right after liberal New York mayor Michael Bloomberg abandoned the Republican party. Noting that both Teddy Roosevelt’s and Ross Perot’s independent runs handed the presidency to the Democrats, Rollins declared that “I still tend to think that having another serious independent running would be good for the country.” Unfortunately, Rollins may yet get his wish, as Bloomberg has scheduled a meeting on January 7 to explore an independent bid for the presidency.

But now, it is Mike Huckabee who “fits [Rollins’s] bill,” and this time it is the economic and foreign-policy conservatives who must “go by the wayside.” While adamantly pro-life and opposed to gay marriage, Huckabee has struck a populist cord on economics. He is hostile to free trade, promoted across-the-board tax hikes, and more than doubled Arkansas’s state budget, from $6.6 billion to $16.1 billion. His proposal to extend state-funded college scholarships to illegal aliens was defeated in the Arkansas legislature. Huckabee is the only GOP candidate to refuse to endorse President Bush’s veto of the Democrat’s bill to vastly expand the S-CHIP health-care program and he supports the discredited cap-and-trade system to limit global-warming. And the liberal National Education Association of New Hampshire has found something they like in Mike Huckabee and gave him their endorsement.

Huckabee defends many of these proposals as “compassionate,” but such misguided Christian compassion is not the antidote for conservative dissatisfaction with out-of-control government spending in Washington.

And Huckabee has criticized President Bush’s foreign policy with lines straight from the liberal’s playbook. Huckabee’s recent Foreign Affairs essay condemned Bush’s “arrogant bunker mentality,” criticized Bush’s failure to sit down and talk nice to Iran, and then bizarrely took the President to task for not invading Pakistan. His recent “apology” for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto mirrors the inclination of liberals to blame America first.

Ironically, Huckabee’s attack on Bush’s foreign policy comes at a time of remarkable success in Iraq, as the surge has brought violence under control, and the Democrat presidential candidates have muted their criticism.

But the social-conservative coalition is also put at risk by Huckabee’s campaign tactics. Most social conservatives are religious conservatives — evangelical Christians, practicing Catholics, Mormons, and Orthodox Jews. They are united in their desire to have people of faith in public office and their strong belief in the sanctity of innocent human life and traditional family values. But in taking their faiths seriously, they also have profound theological differences. These theological differences have been set aside in the public square as religious conservatives have joined together to support candidates who reflect their values.

By emphasizing his qualification for office as a “Christian leader,” the Huckabee campaign, however, has implicitly, and some of his supporters have explicitly, promoted a religious test for office. This threatens to tear this religious coalition apart. And if evangelical Christians legitimize a religious test for public office, they will pay the heaviest price. The liberal elites have long sought to drive people of faith from the public square. They view Mormons as a curiosity, like Christians on steroids, but they loath and fear evangelicals. If a religious test is legitimate for public office, then the Democrats will drive evangelicals out of our democracy.

So will the Huckabee campaign be the stake in the heart of the Reagan coalition? It is apparent that the Democrat National Committee hopes so, as Huckabee has largely escaped their criticism. Mitt Romney, however, has been the focal point of their attacks. That is because he is a full-spectrum conservative who will reunite the Reagan coalition. This is the Republican voter’s choice, are we to unite together, or will some of us simply “go by the wayside?”

 James Bopp Jr. is an attorney and Supreme Court advocate whose clientele spans the conservative spectrum from Focus on the Family, the National Right to Life Committee and the Christian Broadcasting Network to the Club for Growth, Citizens United, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses. He is special adviser on life issues for the Mitt Romney presidential campaign.


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