Saturday, February 09, 2008

Huckabee Could be Force in Party's Future

Mike Huckabee is convinced he can still win. He won’t. Mathematics preclude a Huckabee miracle. But his candidacy and its success could very well be a forecast of things to come. I can certainly see the future Republican party looking a lot more Huckabee and a lot less Romney.

Romney represents nothing more than a sack into which the party has thrown all the disparate parts of a moribund ideology. Huckabee, on the other hand, is a much more cohesive beast. He represents the hopes (and fears) of the lower middleclass, rural and working class voters upon which the Republicans have built much of their recent electoral success. These are people who voted Democratic for decades before that party became exceedingly secular, increasingly dovish and overly committed to identity politics. Republicans offered a better option, but not the perfect one.

Huckabee is more perfect. He’s a conservative populist, a man whose religion is as much tied to lifting people up as it is to opposing social change. He may welcome the endorsements of James Dobson and other conservative sycophants, but Huckabee is not like other Republican Christians, willing to sell his religion to the big business wing of the party. He speaks out against corporate greed in a way that rouses his supporters even as it risks offending party elders.

From his audacious tax plan to his immigration stance to his foreign policy (what little there is), his ideology is centered on giving the average family a better shot at succeeding. He sounds like a Democrat, except instead of promising more government programs he’s promising that government programs will stop getting in their way. It’s a revised Reaganism with a twang and a “Praise the Lord!”

Huckabee connects with people’s exasperation at being screwed over by big powers, be they governmental or corporate. He appeals to those who see their way of life (their religious values, their jobs, their apple pie Americanism) being submerged by larger forces they themselves are powerless to stop. Huckabee promises to be the levy against those forces. Where Barack Obama is offering a change-forward message, Huckabee has a change-back message. Change back to simpler times when jobs were secure, Mexicans were in Mexico, terrorists weren’t a threat and Christianity was the accepted moral guide for the nation.

We would be foolish to discount the allure of Huckabee’s message. Much of what he believes is already well-woven into the fabric of the Republican party. But instead of just offering a grab-bag of positions, Huckabee has a hard populist core around which other ideas naturally cling. Those that don’t stick, like overly favoring big business, are not forced into belonging. They are jettisoned, leaving a more pure ideology. It’s one that could provide the energy for a reconstitution of the Republican party.

A lot of us could never sign on to such a protectionist ideology. But many others eagerly would and that’s why, even though he’ll fail to get the nomination this year, Mike Huckabee could be a real force in the party’s future.

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2 Comments:

Blogger bucyrus said...

I see it more as a matter of the pendulum swinging. But I suppose that if it swings far enough, the magnetic poles of American politics could reverse.

It is indeed possible that social conservatism could align with blue-collar economic concerns. I'm not sure what forces might conclusively preclude this sort of populist alliance along class lines. As near as i could see it, the reformation would lead to 2 parties that would basically resemble socialists and libertarians.

But if there is a force that prevents it, it's probably the lines of the American culture war, with the identity politics folks on the left, and the anti-gay, anti-abortion folks on the right.

If Huckabee's power continues to grow past 2008 as you suggest, I think it can only end in one of two ways. It either ends with the sort of reformation I've described above, or it repeats the cycle. Huckabee leads half the GOP into the purifying wilderness while democrats re-take the federal government for a time. And then the uneasy GOP alliance gradually reforms. Opposition to "liberalism" forces a semblance of unity.

My money is on the latter.

12:58 PM  
Blogger bucyrus said...

Here's an additional thought. Let's leave aside mixed metaphor, and simply talk about the possibility that folks would relign politically along the lines I've loosely described...socialists against libertarians.

For folks to re-align, you need a really big increase in a couple things....first you need attention, and then you need the willingness to really think outside the box.

We've got some passion now, but how great is the rise in overall turnout which would show an increase in REAL attention? I don't see it. And even then, if you got a really high attention rate, you'd still have to get folks to be willing to think along new lines. The current lines have inertia on their side. Folks may pay closer attention but still ultimately reject the new formulation because it doesn't fit their "tribal alliance schemas" for lack of a better description.

So my sense is that a reformation along socialist/libertarian lines might have to be preceded by some sort of great fear-based social upheaval such as an economic downturn similar in scope to the great depression, or substantial domestic outbreaks of terrorism.

1:17 PM  

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