It’s a good morning in the Huckabee nation. Written off by experts and urged by a drumbeat of pundits to drop out of the presidential race, Mike Huckabee surged to victories last night in Arkansas, West Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama and came within 1 percentage point of taking Missouri and Oklahoma, as well.
For the last week, as if orchestrated by the very same talking points, all the giants of talk radio and Fox News poured on the heat to force Mike Huckabee out of the race and let Mitt Romney have a chance to stop John McCain.
Huckabee was on the ropes, they said. He had lost the close one in South Carolina and that had been his make or break point for the nomination. They said Huckabee wasn’t a true conservative, anyway. Only Romney had the money and the support now to make the difference.
The networks all caved into this reasoning, relegating Huckabee to the end of the bench at the GOP CNN, Reagan Library debate, making it a defacto race between McCain and Romney.
It seemed to be working.
When the anti-Huckabee campaign began, he was actually tied with Romney in national polls and leading in several Super Tuesday states. Huckabee supporters desperately tried to point all of this out but in the Boston-New York-Washington corridor the perception becomes the reality. The polls, reluctantly but very clearly began moving in the direction the pundits were ordering. Romney seemed to inch up from Huckabee, showed promise in California, and would win Missouri if only Huckabee would only drop out.
By the morning of Super Tuesday, the drumbeats were intense. A commentator on Fox openly sneered at Huckabee’s effrontery at staying in the race. Some were now saying that he would lose his own home state of Arkansas. But they were wrong. Their evidence, their opinions were all incestuous ideas developed over drinks at the same receptions in Georgetown.
The Huckabee nation, give them credit, stayed calm. Their man was the true conservative, they pointed out.
He had not changed his positions on civil unions for gays or abortion or any of the other so called litmus tests that Romney had been forced to violate to win the governor’s mansion in Massachusetts, arguably the most liberal state in the nation. Huck’s tax plan was libertarian. And the votes that left him in Florida did not go to Romney, they went to McCain. And why? The media who had for a year declared Rudolph Giuliani the likely GOP nominee didn’t want to know.
The national media, in their great ignorance of religion in general and evangelicals-Mormons in particular, refused to learn a single lesson from Iowa or Nevada.
In Iowa the Romney support among evangelicals, which had held in national polls for a year, evaporated like snow in the sun when voters finally focused on candidates the week before the caucus. And a few days later, Huckabee, a clear front-runner, was punished, as Mormons in Nevada ignored his emergence and relegated him to 7 percent.
The estrangement was cutting both ways. Didn’t anyone want to know how this would work in other evangelical states in the South? Or in the West?
How could the polls be so wrong? What would have happened had media coverage been “fair and balanced” this week?
What if Huck had been allowed to join the GOP debate on CNN? And if Mitt Romney had dropped out instead, how many other states would have fallen into the Huckabee camp?
The pundits that coronated Rudolph Giuliani and then Romney and warned us that Huckabee may not carry his own state on Super Tuesday are now saying that a mathematical lock on the nomination is certain for John McCain. What is not certain is how the evangelicals and Mormons and their various needs will be addressed within in the party as the convention approaches.
In that sense, within both communities, neither a vote for Huckabee nor Romney was wasted last night and would not be wasted in the future.
Mike Huckabee now carries the aspirations and hopes of the nation’s evangelicals and their children. This is why his campaign may continue. It is a critical time, a time of transition for evangelicals.
Demographics show a much more politically diverse generation is taking the place of their elders. They sense the seismic shifts coming and see the value of staying together.
They took the rejection of Huckabee as a personal rejection of them and their culture and their faith. Every vote Huckabee gets now, every state primary or convention he wins, every new delegate he takes to the Republican National Convention, will be seen as leverage for them, a community believing itself to be more and more under siege from activist judges and intrusive government agencies, with an uncertain future.
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Doug Wead is a presidential historian and the author of the New York Times bestseller All the Presidents’ Children and the Raising of a President. He was a special assistant to the president in the Bush, Senior White House and a religious advisor to two presidents. www.dougwead.wordpress.com
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