The Evangelical Perplex

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Huckabee and Flag.jpgRichard Land.jpg
So what’s up with white evangelicals? David Brody quotes what the grizzled (well, henna’d) Richard Land offers by way of advice to John McCain, which boils down to: Talk to me and my kind and embrace the old values voter agenda as tightly as you possibly can. Then you’ve got Jim Wallis and company who keep shouting from the rooftops that yes, Virginia, there are evangelicals who vote Democratic. (But who knows whether there are more of them now than heretofore?) You can talk with Time‘s Amy Sullivan on how to be evangelical and liberal tomorrow, if that interests you. Meanwhile, David Kuo, in today’s Washington Post, offers his take on the question, which is only a little less familiar: Evangelicals, especially young ones like Kuo, are expanding their agenda, but it’s not liberal and they’re not likely to become Democratic voters. So the question for him becomes: Who next presides over the Religious Right (assuming that’s the right word for it)?

His answer is Mike Huckabee, a thought that has occurred in these purlieus as well. Contemplating the Huckabee run, Politico‘s Jonathan Martin quotes Max Brantley, the shrewd editor of the Arkansas Times who is under no illusions about Huck:

Here was a guy that had tremendous success in defying the stereotype as a preacher-politician. He was viewed as something of a moderate and had some crossover appeal. Now he’s ending his campaign by driving himself into the corner that he avoided as governor, casting himself as a one-dimensional, religious-right figure. He’s decided to define himself as somebody who doesn’t have as broad an appeal.

You might say that the only way for Huckabee to succeed to the extent he did was to establish himself with the most unreconstructed part of the evangelical base. So he gave up his more moderate stance on immigration and failed to embrace the issues that progressive evangelicals have begun to champion: third-world debt, AIDS in Africa, climate change, etc., and focused instead on the idiosyncratic “Fair Tax” and marginal state issues like teaching art and music in the public schools. Sure, there was some neo-populist rhetoric, but he never seemed to get much traction with it. In a word, Huckabee not only failed to appeal to voters beyond the evangelical niche in the GOP, he hasn’t, at least so far, done a good job positioning himself as the standard bearer of the New Evangelical Politics that Kuo and others see around the corner.