Peel them away and, underneath, you have Mike Huckabee, the last survivor in the elimination tournament of the Christian right. And they could do a whole lot worse!
Start with the dreams about Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), who became former Sen. George Allen before he could become a viable presidential candidate. Then go to Mitt Romney, his putative opponent for the designation of the right wing. But that was before he ran straight into a wall of bigotry against Mormons. The most recent polling suggests that while a majority of voters agree that “other Americans” would be amenable to a black or female candidate for president, only 36 percent feel that way about a Mormon. Unjustified. Unfair. Outrageous as it is — it nevertheless is. That prejudice and the justifiable cynicism that his flip-flop-flip on abortion engendered have held down his vote share despite massive advertising. (He was pro-life before he ran against Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) in Massachusetts, at which point he discovered a relative who died after an illegal abortion, which, convenie ntly, induced a change of heart. He remained pro-choice as a governor of the most liberal state in America until, as he contemplated entering the GOP primary for president, he realized that abortion had cultivated a contempt for life and so decided to become pro-life — equally conveniently.)
Whatever the reason, Mitt Romney’s lack of appeal led conservatives to search under various other burning bushes (no pun) to find a new standard-bearer. Their choice became Fred Thompson. But then it turned out that he had actually accepted a fee to lobby for a weakening of anti-abortion regulations and had waffled on the issue in the ’90s in candidate questionnaires. That fact, combined with his lack of knowledge of issues and his aversion to hard work, have sent his candidacy into a downward spiral. Voters on the right understand that Fred can’t stand up to Hillary in a debate. Hey, he might not stay awake that long.
So it became “Where have you gone, Newt Gingrich? The nation turns its lonely eyes to you.” But Newt took one look at Hillary and decided he really wanted to head a nonprofit foundation educating voters on solutions for America instead of being president of the Unit ed States, so he pulled out before he ever got in.
In the meantime, plugging away in the shadows, with no money and no political backing, an articulate, principled, knowledgeable, conservative Christian, Mike Huckabee, has been plowing the fields in Iowa hoping to catch a break. He is witty, sincere, dedicated and courageous in his own way. With a minus share of the vote, he kept at it and refused to pander on the one hand or give up on the other.
I first met Mike when I became his consultant in his race for lieutenant governor of Arkansas. He was a refreshing change from my previous Arkansas client, but you probably know that story. I was impressed when I first asked Mike about his views on parole for violent felons. I anticipated a standard right-wing response. Instead, he said, “Oh, no, the Christian concept of forgiveness requires that we allow parole. We just have to use it wisely.” I was amazed … and sold.
What, I wondered, would a right-wing Christian activist do as governor of a state? He would sign off on the death penalty, veto abortion, oppose gay rights and insist on the Pledge of Allegiance, but then what would he do for the balance of his term in office? Mike Huckabee answered the question. He set up programs to fight childhood obesity, reformed prisons to emphasize reforming inmates, put values back in education and became a highly popular governor.
Now he churns his way to the forefront of the pack in the Republican primary. He’s still broke, but still finished a strong second in the Ames, Iowa, straw poll with 18 percent of the vote.
Now in Iowa polls he has moved ahead of McCain and, in some trial heats, ahead of Romney. Rasmussen has him rising to 7 percent nationally. (Full disclosure: If he breaks 10, I win a dinner from Bill O’Reilly.) But he has the best of all possible worlds: Rivals who are falling of their own weight. So here comes Mike.