Saturday, January 26, 2008
Unintended Consequences Of A Vote For Huckabee
I like Mike Huckabee. He is the candidate whose values are most like mine. His communication skills and ability to think on his feet are remarkable. His ascendance from truly humble beginnings is compelling and inspiring. And, unlike most conservatives, I even agree with Huckabee’s charge that Republicans in recent years have been overly kind to Wall Street while turning a tin ear to Main Street.
But I won’t be voting for Huckabee and I hope that most evangelical voters in Florida and beyond reach the same politically pragmatic decision.
First, even the most ardent supporter has to face the reality that Huckabee will not win the Republican nomination. His marginal victory in Iowa and close second in South Carolina were only possible because 60% of the voters in those two states were evangelicals who voted heavily in his favor. Nationwide, only around one third of all Republicans are evangelicals. The proportion of evangelicals participating in upcoming primaries will average about half of the Iowa and South Carolina levels. More tellingly, Huckabee’s level of support from non-evangelical Republicans has been almost miniscule, averaging less than 9% in all primaries to date. Huckabee may score well in the few remaining states where evangelicals exist in large numbers, but in most states it’s not mathematically likely that Huckabee will finish any better than third or fourth.
And if you think Huckabee can significantly increase his proportion of non-evangelical support, think again. Primary results to date prove that he can’t seriously compete with McCain or Giuliani for voters most concerned with national security, and because of his somewhat populist economic views, cannot compete with Romney, McCain or Giuliani for voters most concerned with economic issues.
Secondly, one has to recognize that a vote for Huckabee is likely a vote that would otherwise have gone to Romney. It’s true that many evangelicals have significant heartburn over Romney’s religion and his recent pro-life conversion, but any concerns evangelicals have with Romney pale in comparison with the heartburn caused by Giuliani and McCain. Giuliani openly supports abortion and gay marriage. McCain has refused to support constitutional amendments to ban abortion and gay marriage, is the author of the infamous McCain-Feingold Act that stifles evangelical political advocacy and not so long ago repeatedly expressed his extreme displeasure with the influence certain evangelical leaders have in the Republican party.
Conversely, though many evangelicals reject Mormon theology, they recognize the Christian values Romney tries to live by are the same Christian values they try to live by. And though many in the pro-life movement—including this writer—have taken Romney to task for not being pro-life from the start, they recognize it’s better to work with a convert than someone who ignores or even works against the cause. Romney’s 100% pro-life record as governor of Massachusetts is a good indication that it’s highly unlikely he would revert to his former position. It’s probably more likely that Romney will be like many converts to new causes who are anxious to prove their fidelity and make amends for past mistakes.
And finally—and most importantly—if Romney can’t significantly increase his share of the evangelical vote, the survivor between McCain and Giuliani will consolidate the national security vote and pick up enough support from the fiscal conservative faction to win the Republican nomination.
Many Huckabee supporters will conversely argue that Republicans should coalesce around Huckabee and not Romney. But that idealistic argument doesn’t align with reality. Huckabee has been and will continue to be soundly rejected by fiscal conservatives. If Romney recedes, those votes go to McCain or Giuliani, not Huckabee.
That’s why evangelicals who vote for Huckabee are almost certainly aiding the nomination of either McCain or Giuliani. Hopefully, evangelicals will pragmatically recognize the very real danger of such an unintended and undesirable outcome and coalesce around Romney before it’s too late.