Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's threat to leave the Republican Party over the same-sex marriage issue could prove damaging to the GOP as it struggles to build a national strategy to win the White House in 2016, political observers told Newsmax on Thursday.
"Given the mood in the country, Mike Huckabee can do serious damage to the Republican nominee if he runs as a tea party independent against a mainstream republican nominee," said Democratic analyst and pollster Doug Schoen. "Best news Hillary Clinton has had all week."
Matt Towery, a GOP pollster and debate expert, said that Huckabee potentially bolting from the party would "be a huge issue for Republicans."
"They can ill-afford a very credible conservative leader shearing away any of their vote in the general election, if he were to get on the ballot in some of the states where that is an issue of significance," he said.
But Maggie Gallagher, senior fellow of the conservative American Principles Project, said that "many ordinary voters are going to be grateful" should Huckabee strike out on his own.
"He is the kind of man who speaks from the heart, not the pundits' polling playbook," she said. "For the last eight years, 'professional Republicans' in D.C. have urged GOP candidates to remain silent on some of the core moral issues of our time."
Bradley Blakeman, an adviser for former President George W. Bush, also welcomed a possible Huckabee departure — but for a different reason.
"If he wants to leave the party, I wish him good luck," he told Newsmax. "This party is about more than a person. It's about a lot of different ideas and principles — some of which, if you want to be a member, you don't aspire to and others that you do."
In an interview with the American Family Association on Tuesday, Huckabee charged that establishment Republicans had "abdicated" on gay marriage and other social issues, vowing that he might run for the White House in 2016 as an independent candidate.
"If the Republicans want to lose guys like me, and a whole bunch of still God-fearing, Bible-believing people, go ahead and just abdicate on this issue — and go ahead and say abortion doesn't matter, either," he said. "Because at that point, you lose me, I'm gone."
Huckabee was interviewed on AFA's "Today's Issues" radio show by Tim Wildmon, the association's president, and Ed Vitigliano, the association’s research director.
"I'll become an independent," the former governor continued. "I'll start finding people that have guts to stand. I'm tired of this."
He reiterated his position to Newsmax
"I don’t think the GOP is going to walk away from the entire body of values voters — but if so, then there would likely be no place for me as a voter or candidate," Huckabee said in an email. "I wouldn't be leaving them; they'd be leaving us."
The Supreme Court earlier this week refused to hear appeals from five states that sought to maintain their bans on gay marriage. The decision cleared the way for a broad expansion of same-sex marriage in as many as 30 states and the District of Columbia.
The states affected by the court's action on Monday were Wisconsin, Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, and Virginia. Officials had appealed lower court rulings to keep their bans.
Huckabee, 59, is among many Republicans weighing a White House run. Clinton, the former secretary of state, has said she will announce early next year whether she will run on the Democratic ticket. Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses in 2008. He also hosts a Fox News program.
In sizing up a potential Huckabee defection, the political strategists told Newsmax that the former governor's outrage with his party on gay marriage flies in the face of attitudes among many Republicans and conservatives.
"It shows the difficulty the Republicans are in," Towery said. "Nationwide, the polling continues to show that the swing voters that the Republicans need to attract are voters who are far more willing to accept same-sex marriage and are changing their position on these matters."
According to a Gallup poll
released in May, 55 percent of Americans now approve of same-sex marriage, the highest level ever. That compared with 68 percent who opposed gay marriage in 1996, when Gallup first surveyed Americans on the issue.
Among Republicans, 30 percent backed same-sex marriage in the May survey, versus 16 precent in 1996.
For conservatives, regardless of party affiliation, Gallup found 31 percent in favor in May, compared with only 14 percent in 1996.
"While Governor Huckabee probably would have a very strong following that is critical to a Republican victory, his position probably isn't in line with the direction the GOP needs to go in order to be competitive in years to come," Towery said.
Also citing the Gallup data, Blakeman observed, "This is hardly a liberal agenda."
"Republicans make a mistake when we get bogged down in social issues at the expense of what's really the root cause of America's woes, and that's the economy and national security," he said.
Blakeman now is a professor of public policy, politics, and international affairs at Georgetown University.
"Republicans have a choice: If they don't like same-sex marriage, then they will not marry of the same sex," he said. "Likewise with abortion: If you don't agree with abortion, I don't suppose that you will be getting one.
"The law is the law, and Roe v. Wade, the chance of it being overturned is slim to none," Blakeman said, referring to the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
"Huckabee can dig in his heels, but if being a Republican is only about same-sex marriage, then he's not much of a Republican," he added. "Being a Republican is much more than this."
Towery countered that Huckabee's credibility as an independent presidential candidate could affect Republicans the way Alabama Gov. George Wallace did in a close 1968 election that was won the next morning by former GOP Vice President Richard Nixon.
Nominated by the American Independent Party, Wallace ran on a segregationist platform that was spurned by the Democratic Party. He took five states, all in the Deep South, winning 13.5 percent of the popular vote, to Nixon's 43.4 percent.
The Democratic candidate, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, won 42.7 percent.
"Governor Huckabee would be a formidable independent candidate," Towery said. "Many feel that if Wallace had not been a candidate, that race would have easily gone to Nixon.
"A move by Huckabee, regardless of how one feels about this issue — whether it's a good idea, a bad idea, with him, or against him — from a sheer analytical standpoint, I see it as potentially having the same impact as George Wallace did in 1968."
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