Mike Huckabee and the Republican Rift

So here we are less than a week away from the January 3 Iowa Caucuses, a date that many of us have been anticipating for years. We have been anticipating change, anticipating history. Most of the nation’s focus is centered on the race among the Democratic candidates. The nomination of either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama as the Democratic candidate for president could represent a significant mile marker in this nation’s history. Personally, I’m supporting John Edwards, so I guess I just lack a flair for the dramatic.

History could be made in the Democratic primaries, but an even larger story might be happening among the Republicans, and this story could represent an even larger shift in this country’s political landscape.

For the last 40 years, the union between the interests of big business and the fundamentalist Christian community has been the cornerstone of the Republican Party. Born of Goldwater and cultivated by presidents from Nixon to W, the Republicans have used this formula to win the White House in the last seven out of ten presidential elections. George W. has always been the ultimate personification of this marriage. He is a hybrid of a Connecticut Yalie and a born-again Texan. He is at once the money that funds the party and the people that work the polls and pews to get out the vote.

However, in this election cycle some cracks have been created in this long-lasting union.

The leaders of the Republican Party have put forth their handpicked candidates. Rudy Giuliani impressed the nation by not shitting in his pants on 9/11. When you consider how frightened and ineffective GW was in the aftermath of the attacks, you do have to give Rudy some credit. Mitt Romney comes from a respected Republican political family, looks good on TV, and could carry on the lie of “compassionate conservatism.” He may be the most reprehensible of the lot: a political wind sock who will say anything that’s convenient at the time. He also looks like he should be playing a philandering U.S. Senator on Days of Our Lives. Then there is the tragic tale of John McCain. Even though he has been playing ball and sucking up to the right people in the party, there still is that little matter of him standing up for his principals. He got his knees cut out from under him on both the immigration issue and his unwavering support for the war in Iraq — though now it looks like he may be rising in the polls, perhaps because last year’s troop surge seems to be paying some dividends.

The leaders of the GOP put forth these candidates — but by and large the base of the party turned their noses up at them. Rudy and Romney both fail the party faithful litmus tests on “God, Guns, and Gays.” John McCain’s common sense policies on immigration are not in line with the GOP base, which wants to start rounding up and deporting people. Immigration will be the Republicans’ wedge issue in the general election.

Since the party faithful was not enamored with the top three candidates, they started looking elsewhere. In an act of desperation, they drafted the sullen and uninterested Fred Thompson. I’m not really sure why Thompson said yes, since it’s obvious that he really doesn’t want to be there. Then there is the interesting candidacy of Ron Paul. While it’s great to see the Libertarian branch of the Republican Party back, I do question if many of his supporters are aware of his positions beyond the war in Iraq and the war on drugs. Paul proves that you still need to be careful about what you buy over the Web sight unseen. Do your research. Know the seller.

Out of this extremely muddy field has arisen the former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee. Why the hell has Arkansas played such a major role in American politics over the last two decades? Does the chicken industry hold that much power in this country? First you get the chicken, then you get Arkansas, then you’re the leader of the free world. Who knew? At this point it really looks as if Huckabee is going to pull off the upset and win Iowa. If he wins Iowa, he will be a legitimate contender — and that is when Democrats should be concerned.

Very concerned.

Mike Huckabee is a perfect blend of Christian fundamentalism and pocketbook populism. He is actually quite similar to many of the candidates the Democrats put forth in their successful 2006 mid-term elections. He is staunchly pro-life, pro-gun, and anti-gay, which makes him acceptable to the Republicans’ religious ground troops. But then he adds a new dimension. When Huckabee talks about trade, taxes, and jobs, he sounds like a Democrat. If Huckabee were to win the Republican nomination, the party of free and unfettered trade would have a candidate that questions NAFTA and talks about wage inequality. Pocketbook issues like job security, health care, and social security are the issues on which Democrats hold their ground in Midwestern, Western, and Great Lakes states. Just as in 2000 and 2004, this is where the 2008 presidential election will be decided. The people who believe that life begins at conception and staunchly support Social Security are the people that decide elections. Call them what you will: swing voters, Reagan Democrats, or Nixon’s Silent Majority, they will again decide this election. They will swing the same swing states.

Huckabee’s nomination could be a winner for the Republican Party, but he still has a long way to go. He could very well suffer the same fate as John McCain did in 2000. Those same people who politically assassinated McCain in South Carolina could do the same to Huckabee, possibly again in South Carolina. The leaders of the Republican Party don’t want a populist; they want another face man for their organization, another guy who can do the sleight-of-hand trick that W does so well: keep the nation focused on external (terrorism) or internal (immigration) threats while our citizens get fleeced and the social safety net is dismantled. Wouldn’t Mitt Romney be a much more suitable face man?

There is a general uneasiness in Middle America over the loss of manufacturing jobs and growing wage inequalities. While Democratic candidates like John Edwards talk about the root causes of these problems, most of the candidates in the Republican field point their fingers at immigrants. According to them, the reason that wages have stagnated since 1970? Immigrants. The reason why companies get tax incentives to move their production over seas? Immigrants. Mike Huckabee, on the other hand, talks about reorganizing the tax code to favor middle-income families. He talks about re-examining trade deals like NAFTA and the WTO that lack labor and environmental standards. This kind of talk is unthinkable to the leadership of the Republican Party, but it is more in line with the grassroots.

If Huckabee is taken down by his party's leadership, it could create a schism within the party that could last for decades. The real leaders of the Republican Party have never really cared about the core issues that motivate most of the party’s base. They have strung simple god-fearing folk along for decades now with empty promises of constitutional bans on abortion and gay marriage — knowing damn well that they will never really make that happen. These bans are politically impossible, requiring majorities that neither party possesses. Roe v. Wade will never be overturned because the Supreme Court usually defers to the prior courts’ decisions. Packing the court with enough judges to overturn Roe is also politically impossible. The Republican Party has fed Christian conservatives empty promises for a very long time. If the religious base of the party were to bolt, the GOP’s mask would be removed and people would be able to see who they have always really supported: the haves and the have-mores. Huckabee started off as a third-tier Republican presidential candidate, but it now looks as if he is going to win Iowa and be a contender. His fortunes have risen because his views are in line with much of Middle America.

If Huckabee wins the Republican primary, he could create huge problems for any Democratic candidate. His populist talk on trade would cancel out the Democrats’ advantage on this issue. While Edwards and Obama would both have problems with Huckabee, Hillary Clinton would have an especially enormous difficulty facing him head-to-head. Huckabee would be kryptonite to a Hillary Clinton candidacy. He would represent such a contrast to Clinton. Stand Hillary next to Romney, Rudy, or McCain and she looks like a viable candidate for President of the Untied States. Stand her next to Mike Huckabee and she’ll look like a mix between Martha Stewart and Jane Fonda. Can you think of a more unpopular hypothetical presidential candidate than an elitist liberal supporter of big business?

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