Humorous Mike Huckabee has become the sum of all fears for many members of the GOP establishment. Some of the attacks arise out of plain old Christophobia, and Huckabee can’t do much about that. But some come from concern that he’s a Christian-only candidate: On these matters he can take lessons from Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry.
Adams failed as an 18th-century brewmaster but mastered the art of building coalitions without losing a biblical edge. Adams, sometimes called “the last Puritan,” prayed every morning, read the Bible with his family every evening, and frequently emphasized the importance of “Endeavors to Promote the spiritual kingdom of Jesus Christ.”
And yet, Adams in his political writings emphasized not Isaiah but the understanding that “security of right and property is the great end of government.” He argued that “the religion and public liberty of a people are so intimately connected, that their interests are interwoven and cannot exist separately.” He worked hard to convince Christians and anti-tax libertarians that they were fighting the same battle.
For example, Adams opposed the Stamp Act in 1765 not only because it imposed a tax but also because it mandated that church documents be on stamped paper sold only by government-selected distributors. He brought together opponents of taxation without representation and opponents of governmental interference with churches.
Patrick Henry acted similarly in Virginia. He became famous in 1763 for opposing a pay increase to corrupt, government-supported Anglican priests. He supported good Anglican reverends but opposed those like John Brunskill who perpetrated “monstrous immoralities.” Henry criticized “rapacious harpies [who] snatch from the hearth of their honest parishioner his last hoe-cake.”
Henry united financial and spiritual concerns by seeing the salary debate as both economic and moral. Later, he personally paid the fines that some Baptist ministers received for preaching without a license, and thus made new allies.
Christians like Adams and Henry allied with deists like Benjamin Franklin and libertarians like Thomas Jefferson who believed that the miracles of the Bible never happened. Agnostics or atheists like Richard Henry Lee and Ethan Allen, uncomfortable with sermons about original sin, relished allusions by Adams and Henry to the corrupting nature of power.
When Henry spoke in the Virginia House of Burgesses on March 23, 1775, he proclaimed that a war for independence would be a “holy cause” under the care of “a just God who presides over the destinies of nations.” Speaking before some who were ardent patriots and others still lukewarm, he quoted the prophet Jeremiah’s criticism of those who cried “peace, peace, when there is no peace.” He then brought in non-Christians as well with his famous conclusion: “Give me liberty, or give me death!”
From Henry to Huckabee, “I like Mike” works for many evangelicals, but Huckabee cannot gain a nomination by appealing only to one part of the GOP coalition — and if he could on that basis, the general election would be a disaster. He’s reached out through an attractive personality, but he needs to counter the fears of non-evangelical Republicans.
One way to do so would be to give his own version of the John F. Kennedy/Mitt Romney speech about not being beholden to Catholic or Mormon bishops. While doing so, he could point out that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution assume a biblical worldview, so the founding documents of Christianity and America generally complement each other.
Huckabee could also put compassionate conservatism on the right track again – with support from both Christians and libertarians — by showing a commitment to decentralization in education and poverty fighting. Since non-Christian conservatives fear a nanny state, Huckabee needs to show a commitment to voluntary action by individuals and religious or civic groups.
If he can’t do that, he’s lost — and some of his supporters will become Sam Adams Republicans of a different kind, sipping in taverns as they wonder about what might have been.