Ever since Huckabee turned in a dominating performance at a summit of Christian voters in Washington a few weeks ago, he has been riding a surge among likely Iowa voters (he's now second to Mitt Romney, and gaining). The media, like me, have been charmed by their initial impression: "It's hard not to like Mike Huckabee," gushed Newsweek. Even The Nation said he has "real charm."
But all the attention on his salesmanship skills obscures the real significance of his rise within the Republican Party. Mike Huckabee represents something that is either tremendously encouraging or deeply disturbing, depending on your point of view: a marriage of Christian fundamentalism with economic populism. Rather than employing the patented Bush-Rove tactic of using abortion and gay rights to hoodwink low-income Christians into supporting patrician, pro-corporate policies, Huckabee is a bigger-government Republican who emphasizes prison reform and poverty relief. In the world of GOP politics, he represents something entirely new -- a cross between John Edwards and Jerry Falwell, an ordained Southern Baptist preacher who actually seems to give a **** about the working poor.
But Huckabee is also something else: full-blown nuts, a Christian goofball of the highest order. He believes the Earth may be only 6,000 years old, angrily rejects the evidence that human beings evolved from "primates" and thinks America wouldn't need so much Mexican labor if we allowed every aborted fetus to grow up and enter the workforce. To top it off, Huckabee also left behind a record of ethical missteps in the swamp of Arkansas politics that make Whitewater seem like a jaywalking ticket.
All of which begs the question: If this religious zealot's rise represents the end of corporate dominance of the Republican Party, is that a good thing? Or is the real thing even worse than the fraud?