Talking heads are saying that the race for the GOP nomination is now between John McCain and Mitt Romney. But as Lee Corson would say on College Game Day, “not so fast.”
Gov. Mike Huckabee’s campaign has already startled the wearisome herd of pundits who visit the same watering holes in the Boston, New York, Washington corridor. Last September he was considered “peaking” as the national favorite of 9 percent of GOP voters which put him behind the anointed media winner Rudolph Giuliani, followed by Fred Thompson, John McCain, Mitt Romney and even New Gingrich, who had already signaled he wasn’t going to run.
In January, the same ABC polls showed him second only to McCain nationwide and leading in Iowa.
While the same mindless herd now gives it all to John McCain, with the same certainty that they had once consistently held for two years for Rudolph Giuliani, and while this time the herd is probably right, there are still some looming stories on the horizon for the Feb. 5 Super Tuesday primary. As Lee Corso would say, “not so fast.”
As of today, McCain will carry New York and California, which is, gulp, saying a lot, and neighboring states like New Jersey, Connecticut, and his home state of Arizona. Romney will try to make his stand in Illinois and carry Colorado, Utah, and Idaho. And Giuliani states, New Mexico, Delaware, and Minnesota will probably abandon the mayor after his expected trouncing in Florida.
With Huck and Romney splitting the conservative vote in those states (oh, yes, there are conservatives in moderate-liberal states, and they are usually more conservative than many in the South,) McCain will probably pick up those too.
But while Huckabee is being written off, perhaps a good thing leading into Super Tuesday, Huckabee is still leading in Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Alabama and his home state of Arkansas, all Southern states with higher delegate counts to the GOP convention than proportionate population. At this writing he is still ahead of McCain in the big Texas event set for March 4.
The three, McCain, Romney, and Huckabee are virtually tied for Missouri.
So why then is this being portrayed as a McCain-Romney contest? Who decided that Gov. Mike Huckabee is out? Obviously not the voters.
Huckabee may have been partly done in by an unlikely source. “The Fair and Balanced” Fox television network. Remember, you were warned, it is fair and balanced, (wink, wink) but evangelical Christians failed to believe it.
They became lazy, relying on Fox, who does indeed show some cultural diversity in its programming, to sort all of this out for them.
There is good evidence to suggest that Huckabee has been “Miered.”
Now, to explain what it means to become “Miered” you will have to venture back into my archives at Newsmax.com. You know what it means to be “Borked”? That’s when you’re denied something that you should probably get. As in Robert Bork, America’s premier judicial mind being denied his Supreme Court spot because liberals in the Senate decided he was too conservative.
Well, being “Miered” is different. It is when you are accused by conservatives of being liberal even when you aren’t. As when Judicial Committee Chairman, Sam Brownback, Ann Coulter, Bill Bennet, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Paul Weyrich all openly questioned the conservative bona fides of George W. Bush’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Harriet Miers.
Now, Harriet Miers, everyone now knows, is very conservative and always was.
Her problem was that she was an evangelical Christian and her antagonists on television, those who questioned her conservatism, from Brownback to Weyrich, were all so-called movement conservatives. They were all Catholic, wanting another appointment of their own. Can’t fault that. Someone who they knew and saw at the G.K. Chesterton night dinners.
Of course, the evangelicals need the Catholic spokesmen and thinkers and activists. In the past, they enthusiastically supported the nominations of Catholic Supreme Court appointments, Richard Bork, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and John Roberts. And although Bork didn’t make it, they tried hard for him too.
Today, along with Anthony Kennedy, there are now five Catholic justices on the Supreme Court, two Jewish Justices, a woman justice, and two blacks, all commendable. Even the gay community proudly claims one: Justice John Souter, who although not gay, was embraced by many in the community and has consistently supported them on almost every issue. (Souter was a puzzling appointment by George H.W. Bush. I was on staff in the White House at the time and was curious to learn of the immediate support of Ted Kennedy.)
So why not a born again justice? Someone to represent the 42 percent of Americans who according to Gallup claim to be born again Christians? I had had that discussion with George W. Bush a dozen times since 1987, how evangelicals chaffed under an IRS and INS devoid of anyone of their faith and how it led to abuse and how the absence of evangelical federal judges led to nuisance lawsuits that crippled evangelical congregations.
So I was delighted that he remembered and made the Harriet Mier’s nomination.
It was a wrong he was trying to make right. The problem was that the evangelicals were asleep at the switch. They didn’t even see it happening. And the movement conservatives where appalled. What? We don’t know her? Why not Sam Alito? Or someone we know? And so they rushed to their stations at Fox to declare she was not one of them, not a true conservative and her nomination collapsed.
Now, we evangelicals are good sports. And we rallied to good old Catholic, Samuel Alito, and we put him on the Court too, with our phone calls and letters. And most conservative evangelicals would say he sure beats anyone who Obama or Clinton will pick, but couldn’t we have had just one? Just one?
This is what happened when Mike Huckabee appeared on the scene.
Fox had been talking about Catholic Giuliani for two years. Can’t blame em. They all live in New York City. It isn’t often that a politician actually does something you can see and they could all see the end of crime at the hands of the mayor. Impressive. And they held out for Newt Gingrich, teasing us for months, and finally poured on the gas for Fred Thompson. So when Southern Baptist, Gov. Mike Huckabee appeared out of nowhere, well, who was he?
He didn’t quote G. K. Chesterton, he quoted Francis Schaeffer.
Fox may have actually learned something since the Miers episode, at least behind the scenes. It knows that it needs evangelical viewers too, that Catholic conservatives are the intelligentsia, the spokesmen of conservatives, the leaders, but the money and numbers are almost all evangelical.
So this time the attacks were less impulsive than they were for Miers. Nonetheless, Phyllis Schaffly and others challenged Huckabee’s conservative credentials and enough damage was done. Of course, it was pure nonsense.
The problem was that many evangelicals fell asleep at the wheel, trusting Fox to look out for them, failing to do their due diligence, failing to believe that Fox really is fair and balanced and not their conservative watch dog. Many are only now waking up to the fact that Huck was their man all the time and they just didn’t see it.
This past week I received a call from the pastor of a large Florida church who had just met Huck and was blown away and quite surprised. “I had been watching Fox,” he said, “I didn’t realize Huckabee was a true conservative. In the Bush, senior campaign of 1988, we met this same pastor, had our photo with him, and had him promoting us for two years before the Florida primary.
This time he was just coming around, too late to do much.
Evangelicals and movement conservatives need each other. Without evangelicals, Ann Coulter’s books would have never made the best-seller lists, Ed Feulner’s buildings would not have been purchased, and Phyllis Schlafly would have run out of hair spray long ago. But sorting all of this out in advance was critical to a Mike Huckabee’s shot at the White House. And now?
The GOP will likely get John McCain but even so, as Lee Corso would say, squinting into the camera lens and pinching a little bit of air with his thumb and finger, “Yes, yes, it will be McCain, but this one will be closer than they think! Closer than they think!”
Doug Wead, presidential historian, is The New York Times best-selling author of "All the Presidents’ Children." He also wrote biographies for both the Reagan and Bush campaigns. He has served as an adviser on evangelical matters to two presidents. Visit http://dougwead.wordpress.com/.
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