On the Republican side, my message is: Be not afraid. Some people are going to tell you that Mike Huckabee’s victory Thursday night in Iowa represents a triumph for the rapture brigades, a crusade for the creationists. Wrong.
Huckabee won not for his sermons but because he tapped into realities that other Republicans have been slow to recognize. First, evangelicals have changed. Huckabee is the first ironic evangelical on the national stage. He’s funny, campy (see his Chuck Norris fixation) and he’s not at war with modern culture.
Second, Huckabee understands much better than Mitt Romney that we have a crisis of authority in this country. People have lost faith in their leaders’ ability to respond to problems. While Romney embodies the leadership class, Huckabee went after it. He’s criticized Wall Street and K Street. Most importantly, he sensed that conservatives do not believe their own movement is well led. He took on Rush Limbaugh, the free market Club for Growth and even President Bush. The old guard threw everything they had at him, and their diminished power is now exposed.
Third, Huckabee understands how middle-class anxiety is really lived. Democrats are good at talking about wages and jobs. But real middle-class families have more to fear economically from divorce than from a free trade pact. A person’s lifetime prospects will be threatened more by single parenting than by outsourcing. Huckabee understands that economical well-being is fused with social and moral well-being, and he talks about the inter-relationship in a way no other candidate has.
In that sense, Huckabee’s victory is not a step into the past. It threatens the Reagan coalition of libertarians and social conservatives to be sure, but it opens up the way for a new coalition.
A conservatism that recognizes stable families as the foundation of economic growth is not hard to imagine. A conservatism that loves capitalism but distrusts capitalists is not hard to imagine, either. Adam Smith felt this way. A conservatism that pays attention to people making less than $50,000 a year is the only conservatism worth defending.
Will Huckabee move on and lead this new conservatism? Highly doubtful. The past few weeks have exposed his serious flaws as a presidential candidate. His foreign policy knowledge is minimal. His lapses into amateurishness simply won’t fly in a national campaign.
So the race will move on to New Hampshire. Romney is now grievously wounded. Romney represents what’s left of Republicanism 1.0. Huckabee and McCain represent half-formed iterations of Republicanism 2.0. My guess is Republicans will now swing behind McCain in order to stop Mike.
Huckabee probably won’t be the nominee, but starting Thursday night, an evangelical began the Republican Reformation.