Huck! Come Back, Huck!


Via Jonathan Martin, a stirring scene captured by Warren Cole Smith from a March meeting of the Christian right.

Michael Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association, an early supporter of Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, chided the group for cold-shouldering his candidate until it was too late. Others, including Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, disagreed. The meeting quickly threatened to dissolve into accusations, rebuttals, and recriminations.

Then, venerable Paul Weyrich… a Romney supporter and one of those Farris had chastised for not supporting Huckabee, steered his wheelchair to the front of the room and slowly turned to face his compatriots. In a voice barely above a whisper, he said, "Friends, before all of you and before almighty God, I want to say I was wrong."

In a quiet, brief, but passionate speech, Weyrich essentially confessed that he and the other leaders should have backed Huckabee, a candidate who shared their values more fully than any other candidate in a generation. He agreed with Farris that many conservative leaders had blown it. By chasing other candidates with greater visibility, they failed to see what many of their supporters in the trenches saw clearly: Huckabee was their guy.

Why'd they fail to see that? These people aren't stupid, after all. The answer, I think, is because economic conservatives (and some libertarians) outflanked them. Earlier this year I pointed out that the Club for Growth had a bad year at the polls and that the falling salience of tax cuts as an election issue was hurting their candidates at the polls. Exhibit A: Their inability to stop the Huckabee surge in Iowa. But the Club campaign was extraordinary successful at convincing the conservative elite that Huckabee was unacceptable, suspect. Before Huck started his rise, all some of these people knew about him was that he'd gotten a covenant marriage (good!) and crusaded against childhood obesity (mixed at best!). Economic conservatives rushed in to define Huckabee and provide their allies with specific examples of his perfidy on tax hikes, on state spending, and so on. This had two mutually-reinforcing effects: To raise doubts about Huckabee's consistency among religious right leaders, many of whom were also economic conservatives, and to hint that the Club wing of the party would revolt if Huckabee prevailed.

Obviously, this campaign wouldn't have worked if Huckabee wasn't actually a big-government conservative. He supplied the ammo. But the ammo would have just sat around if economic conservatives didn't bring the guns. Reading Smith's article, I don't know if this attack would work again. The Club is convinced that it's tarred Huckabee and prevented him from ever becoming a frontrunner again, but the Weyrichs and the rest of the Beltway Christian right can't afford another wrenching rejection of their base.