Harassing Huckabee

The GOP’s “Big Tent” looks more and more like a Circus Tent, and the barkers inside it never wanted Mike Huckabee under its spotlight. To his success, he has ignored them, picking up victories even as they instructed him to “get out of the race.”

Usually party operatives tell a candidate to drop out of the race because he is likely to do badly; in Huckabee’s case, they told him to get out because they feared he would do well. On the weekend before Super Tuesday, prominent GOP operatives called Huckabee “selfish” for staying in the race. He then proceeded to sweep much of the South.

How selfish of him to win. Doesn’t this Arkansas hillbilly know that he belongs in coach with the other Christian conservatives? Doesn’t he see that he should let the gents from the Squash Club call the shots in the party? 

Even after winning in Kansas and Louisiana, the harassing question dogged him. Surely Huckabee is one of the only candidates in American political history who, upon winning, received as the first question: So when will you be getting out of the race?

And then there is Rick Perry‘s now-reported phone call to Huckabee, in which the Texas governor and John McCain supporter, behaving like a Soviet party hack, demanded that Huckabee drop out of the race there. How pathetic. So much for the GOP as the party of “rugged individualism.”

Huckabee is right to mock GOP officials for their fear of competition and clamoring for “coronation.” If Huckabee is too threatening to McCain in Texas, how could McCain possibly defeat Obama or Hillary in the fall? Anxious calls for McCain’s coronation are a measure not of his strength as a candidate but his shakiness.

Whatever happens on Tuesday and beyond — Huckabee’s talk of a miracle tacitly acknowledges that it is a very long shot — he has shown considerable pluck in bucking the establishment. Far from threatening his future, staying in the race this long has made it. Moreover, why should he listen to the counsel of Republicans who spent much of the campaign belittling him? Since they didn’t make him, they are powerless to unmake him; if anything, their heedless hostility furnished him with a powerful motive to keep going.

Even conservatives who don’t particularly like Huckabee should see that the longer he stays in the race, the better, if only because his presence stimulates much-needed debate about pervasive liberalism in the party. A vote for the Southerner at this point is a vote against the coastal Circus Tent Republicans who turned the GOP into a PC party.

Perhaps if Huckabee does well in a few more states McCain will get the message: that in order to get the conservative base out in the fall, he must knock off the liberal babble. Anybody who thinks McCain can defeat Hillary or Obama by poaching moderates and independents from them is dreaming.

Imagine McCain getting into a bidding war with Obama for independents: Obama’s pitch is sure to be more seductive, and in any case, for every moderate or independent McCain, through PC Republicanism, could woo to the polls, he would thereby kill the interest of  a host of conservative Republicans from even showing up.

With no resources save the fat of the free media, Huckabee has inspired a devoted following — an instructive lesson for McCain who will despartely need those rank-and-file conservatives, many of them religious, to stay interested in politics.

Has the GOP already forgotten that the fear of gay marriage under the Dems handed victory to Bush in 2004? That it was the cultural contrast between the parties which got conservatives to the polls? In their pouting post-mortems, the Democrats acknowledged that aggressive secularism had turned off a lot of Americans and they scurried to find religion. The defeat scared Hillary enough that she, if only for a moment, changed her tune on abortion, casting it more in terms of regret than celebration.

The relative success of Huckabee’s candidacy is a reminder to the GOP that many Americans still want a culturally conservative choice, not a secularist echo. If McCain remains blind to this and runs a campaign of muddled moderation and PC pieties, what we have seen in the primary elections — Democrats rushing to the polls in huge numbers, demoralized Republicans staying home — ill spill over into the general one.

The GOP ignores the Huckabee phenomenon at its own peril.