Huckabee 2.0

According to John Nichols of the Nation, there's a big difference between the Mike Huckabee of the Iowa caucuses and his New Hampshire successor.

"[T]he Huckabee campaign is retooling itself fast," Nichols writes at AlterNet. "Suddenly, the "Christian leader" is just a 'leader.' Huckabee arrived in New Hampshire Friday morning with new literature that drops the religious references used in Iowa and plans for a television advertising campaign that will eschew the crosses and fish that meant so much to his Iowa base."

Will this play in the Granite State? Hard to say. On the one hand, the citizens of New Hampshire are pretty sharp political consumers, and Nichols surely won't be the only member of the press to notice Huckabee's metamorphosis. What's more, New Hampshire looks to be a two-person race between Mitt Romney and John McCain, with the X-factor of Ron Paul lurking in the background.

Then again, one of Huckabee's great political talents is the ability to make his hard-core evangelicism unobjectionable to non-evangelical audiences. Hendrik Hertzberg details this nicely in the current New Yorker:
[H]uckabee’s sensational rise has been made possible by his success, so far, at speaking in tongues that evangelicals and non-evangelicals understand differently. “I always tell the story of a lady who asked me, was I a narrow-minded Baptist who thinks only Baptists go to Heaven?” he likes to say. “And I told her, ‘No, ma’am, I’m more narrow than that. I don’t think all the Baptists are going to make it, either.’ ” Does he mean “Let’s not take this eternal damnation stuff so darn seriously”? Or is it “Everybody roasts in Hell except selected evangelicals”?

And then there was his instantly famous sound bite at the November 28th YouTube debate, when he was asked where history’s most revered victim of the death penalty would stand on that issue. “Jesus,” Huckabee replied with a rueful smile, “was too smart to ever run for public office.” This was a clever sally, allowing moderates to infer that he, Huckabee, realizes that capital punishment is morally dubious but (like his gubernatorial predecessor Bill Clinton) supports it for prudential political reasons, while assuring his co-religionists that he, Huckabee, is a humble sinner, albeit one on easy terms with the Lord—who will forgive His flock the minor sin of clamoring for the modern equivalent of crucifixion.
Huckabee doesn't need to finish first in New Hampshire--he just needs to do well enough to prove that he can appeal to non-evangelicals, too. The guess here is that Huckabee 2.0 will work better than anyone expects.

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