When Mike Huckabee asked a New York Times' reporter, "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers," he crossed a line he cannot uncross.
Previous to this he had played a game of teasing the anti-Mormon vote, and had been called on it by Charles Krauthammer and others.
But Huckabee had maintained deniability.
No more. Huckabee's obvious attempt to salt the mine and get the reporter to carry antt-Mormon rhetoric into the paper without Huckabee's fingerprints on it backfired, and the transparent attempt to use the MSM to further the anti-Mormon message was repulsive.
Until he crossed that line, Huckabee remained a viable protest vote for conservative evangelicals who distrusted Romney's conversion on life issues. The hard core anti-Mormon fanatics are actually few in number and many of them are on the left --like Larry O'Donnell-- and Romney had successfully put the issue of his faith behind him with his speech at the Bush Library.
But Romney still needed to connect with movement social conservatives leery of his embrace of the cause of the unborn. Until he unfurled the banner of Christian identity politics, Huckabee provided these voters with a place to park their vote, even though the effect would be to elevate Rudy Guiliani. Some of these values voters were going to vote their conscience, regardless of the result.
But there are millions and millions of evangelicals who will want no part of the appeal to "vote against the Mormon."
With his recent rise in the polls, Huckabee began to experience a scrutiny of his record that was already eroding his appeal to social conservatives. The Committee for Growth blasted Huckabee for his record of hiking taxes in Arkansas. The former Arkansas governor looked not ready for prime time when he was caught flat-footed on the NIE. Huckabee's advocacy for Wayne DuMond could not be fast-talked away, and the argument for isolating victims of the AIDs virus set off alarms as beyond any reasonable position even though Huckabee made the proposal in 1992. Suddenly Huckabee began to appear as a light-weight, and the charming,,joking second-tier fun guy took on a distinctively different look.