THE BLOG
12/17/2007 04:12 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Huckabee: The GOP's Cynical Use of Religion Has Come Home to Roost

With Mike Huckabee's continuing surge, the Republican Party now has an
Iowa front-runner whose religious beliefs are virtually identical to
those of George Bush. He's anti-choice, born-again, against
gay-marriage, and gets political advice directly from God.

So why is the Republican establishment suddenly in a state of
near-apoplexy about Mike Huckabee? Shouldn't they be happy? They've
been cultivating evangelicals and fundamentalists for 30 years. Now
they finally have a candidate who's truly part of the movement. So
what's the problem?

Actually, that is the problem. The evangelical crowd was fine when it
was just a resource to be cynically exploited every few years in
demagogic anti-gay get-out-the-vote campaigns. But now the holy-rolling
monster the GOP's Dr. Frankensteins have created has thrown off the
shackles, fled the lab, and is currently leading in Iowa. And the party
doesn't know what to do.

It's actually fun to watch the consternation. Ross Douthat has dubbed
this feeling "Huckenfreude,"
which he defines as "pleasure derived from
the outrage of prominent conservative pundits over the rising poll
numbers of Mike Huckabee."

And there is certainly no shortage of outrage among hyperventilating
conservative columnists across the country. The National Review's Rich
Lowry has coined a neologism of his own: "Huckacide."
This is when a national party commits suicide by nominating an
"under-vetted former governor who is manifestly unprepared to be
president of the United
States."

Yeah, that would certainly be crazy, wouldn't it? Makes you wonder
where these people have been for the last seven years.

Over at the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer is wringing his hands
about an "overdose of public piety," "scriptural literalism," and how
the 2008 campaign is "knee-deep in religion."

At the Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes worries about the fact that
Huckabee "told a producer for Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting
Network that his religious background made him most qualified to lead
the war on terror," and that he "seems to believe the best foreign
policy is one guided by the Golden Rule." Scoffing at the Golden Rule?
What's next, attacking the Boy Scout Oath? And what it is about
Huckabee's name that inspires a whole new lexicon? The Weekly
Standard's headline writers couldn't resist, dubbing his perceived
foreign policy shortcomings "The Perils of Huckaplomacy."

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan frets that the Republican
Party of today wouldn't like Ronald Reagan much now that "faith has
been heightened as a determining factor in how to vote," and says that
voters in Iowa "may be deciding if Republicans are becoming a different
kind of party."

If? If??

Turns out that when you define your party a certain way for a two or
three decades, people actually start to believe it, and that definition
can, in fact, become your party.

According to Andrew Sullivan,
"it is certainly too late for fellow-traveling Christianists like Lowry
and Krauthammer to start whining now. This is their party. And they
asked for every last bit of it."

The Republican establishment is tying itself in knots trying to land on
a publicly acceptable rationale for their Huckabhorrence (I told you,
it's irresistible). Some criticize his "fair tax" plan -- but since
when have nutty economic plans ever disqualified a Republican
presidential candidate?

No, the real reason is class. As Kevin Drum puts it, "mainstream conservatives are mostly urban sophisticates with a
libertarian bent, not rural evangelicals with a social conservative
bent. They're happy to talk up NASCAR and pickup trucks in public, but
in real life they mostly couldn't care less about either. Ditto for
opposing abortion and the odd bit of gay bashing via proxy. But when it
comes to Ten Commandments monuments and end times eschatology, they
shiver inside just like any mainstream liberal."

As Steve Benen writes at TPM, "The Republican
Party's religious right base is supposed to be seen, not heard.
Candidates are supposed to pander to this crowd, not actually come from
this crowd."

They want their base to be a kind of electoral cicada: wake up every
four years, vote, and then go underground and shut-up.

Will Huckabee win the nomination? No one knows. But win or lose, I
can't see this genie going back in the bottle. One danger for the
Huckabee haters is that right wing social positions aren't the only
thing they've been nurturing for 30 years -- there's also this sense of
aggrieved, martyred hatred of "the elites." Of course, it's usually
completely manufactured. But this time, there really is a group looking
down its nose at the evangelicals -- and it's not godless liberals.
It's the supporters of Romney, McCain, Thompson and Giuliani. So what's
going to happen when evangelicals realize this and tap into the hatred
of "the elites" the GOP establishment has been whipping up in them for
three decades?


Mark Kleiman points out
that Huckabee is the only non-millionaire among
the serious GOP contenders, and the only one who doesn't court what
Kevin Drum calls
the "money-cons" -- those Republicans for whom
globalization is the only true religion.

Republicans have been running on a faux populist/religiously
conservative platform ever since Richard Nixon. It was refined and
heightened by Lee Atwater and again by Karl Rove. And now that they
have a rising candidate who truly represents that platform, the movers
and shakers of the party are doing all they can to kneecap him.

But as the Good Book says: "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also
reap."