Last night Arkansas governor turned cancer-cure pitchman Mike Huckabee suspended his presidential campaign. Most of Huckabee's press coverage stressed the candidate's socially conservative views, but he was more than just another Christian conservative. On issues like trade and entitlements—and even more than that, with the endorsements he sought and the rhetoric he used—Huckabee aimed for voters who didn't mix their social conservatism with Club for Growth economics.
Last May I started telling people that Huckabee was trying to tap into the populist currents described in Donald Warren's 1976 book The Radical Center: Middle Americans and the Politics of Alienation. Warren, a sociologist at the University of Michigan, sketched the views of the group he called Middle American Radicals, or MARs:
On some issues, MARs are likely to take a "liberal" stand, on others a "conservative" one. For example, the MAR expresses a desire for more police power. He feels that granting the police a heavier hand will help control crime, i.e., [George] Wallace's Law and Order program. However, MARs are adamant about keeping many social reforms, often wrought by the left, such as medicare, aid to education and social security.
Often MARs feel their problems stem from the rich and the government working together to defraud the rest of the country. They blame the situation on defects in the system such as bad taxes.
Warren's book has been getting more attention than usual lately, thanks to an October article about it by John Judis in the National Journal. But the Judis piece didn't mention Huckabee—and why should it? Huckabee's campaign was going nowhere. The candidate collecting most of the MARs' support was Donald Trump.
That makes a sort of ideological sense. The "social conservatism" embraced by MARs tends to give more weight to resenting the underclass than to quoting the Bible. And while Huckabee cast himself as a law-and-order candidate this time around, his record in that area is relatively liberal by Republican standards. Not so with Trump, who was spouting Wallace-worthy rhetoric way back in 1989: "How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits? Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!"
But you never know where the MAR vote is going to end up, or even if it's going to show up at all. One theme of Warren's book is that MARs don't tend to be big on voting—they don't trust most politicians, they doubt they can have much impact on the system, and they generally prefer to act on a local level. Another is that when they do vote, their mix of ideas can lead them in all sorts of directions. In a survey at the outset of the 1975-76 presidential campaign, Warren found that the two Democratic candidates who were most popular with MARs were George Wallace and Ted Kennedy, a couple even odder than Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump.
Last night Ted Cruz finished first in Iowa, thanks largely to the Christian conservatives who handed the state to Huckabee back in 2008; Trump finished second, with a big boost no doubt from the MAR vote. Mike Huckabee was ninth, with just 2 percent. Huckabee is not going to become president—not next year and probably not ever. But Huckabeeism seems to be doing rather well.